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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

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government often says that it holds public consultations to get people's opinions. I would like to ask the hon. member, who is from New Brunswick, whether he spoke to small and medium-sized business owners in his riding who depend on seasonal workers about the government's proposed changes to employment insurance.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, the answer is yes.

Just about 10 days ago, I was in my riding and, as I usually do when I am back home, I met some of my constituents while I was out and about in the riding.

That morning, I met a contractor who came up to me as I was leaving a Tim Hortons. He said, “Finally.” I asked him what he meant. He said that he was referring to the EI reforms. This contractor has five employees. He told me that, last fall, at the beginning of the winter, he won a contract to build a nice big house. He called his employees, who were on employment insurance, to have them come back to work and they refused. He is a small contractor and he had jobs available.

The member could consult small and medium-sized businesses. Unfortunately, we have to admit that this occurs everywhere in Quebec, in Atlantic Canada, out west and in central Canada.

It does not happen all the time, but it does happen. I met a young woman in my riding who simply told me that if she could receive information about available jobs from Service Canada, or the manpower centre as it was called back then, she would thank us because it would help her family.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, for the minister to stand in the House and accuse the mover of this motion of having a thirst for power leading to demagoguery is crazy. This is a government whose ideology is increasing poverty in this country, and the policies of this government are going to increase unemployment. The latest action in my area, in Prince Edward Island, of the minister responsible for ACOA with regard to closing down the economic development organizations is one of the dumbest things the government could do. Those economic development organizations, at hardly any cost, create jobs.

Central Development Corporation, CDC, last year created 130 jobs using local business as a board of directors with small assistance from the Government of Canada. What did that minister do? He cut them off. He cut all that economic development. I would accuse that minister of failing in his responsibility as the Minister of State for ACOA with regard to creating economic development.

What does the minister have to say for himself with regard to increasing unemployment in Atlantic Canada and failing in his responsibilities as minister.?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have been called worse before by better than the hon. member.

He is talking about the employment situation. He should talk about the situation in P.E.I. where he is from. Let us just consider 2011. During 2011 farm cash receipts in P.E.I. increased by 17.5% to $474 million, along with nearly a 60% increase in non-residential building construction investment throughout the province. That was as a result of our economic action plan.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

An. hon. member

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

The member may laugh, but he should look in the mirror and maybe he would find something horrific.

The fact of the matter is P.E.I., among Atlantic provinces, is where the jobs lost during the recession have been recovered, and more. We have positive results for P.E.I., and that is surely not because of the mimicry of the member.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean Québec

Conservative

Denis Lebel ConservativeMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to take the floor after my colleague to speak about employment insurance reform. What has been interesting since this debate began is the constant misinformation. It is amazing to hear all the outrageous remarks that have been made.

I come from a region. I have been the director general of several tourism organizations. I have spent my life on the ground, in Lac-Saint-Jean. I have known people working in forestry, in tourism and in other industries. Some people who have most certainly never set foot in such organizations now want to teach us a lesson. I find that particularly interesting.

How is the employment insurance fund managed today?

In 2008, our government created the Employment Insurance Financing Board, a totally independent organization whose people make decisions about costs and premiums. When there is a surplus, they decide how to manage it to reduce premiums.

I cannot believe the opposition party is saying that we are doing this to fund government operations. Our government spent $56 billion. We have been hearing those brazen lies for two weeks now. If they can tell lies about this, what can we expect from them regarding other matters? It is unbelievable.

Before we came to power, the Liberal Party basically emptied the employment insurance coffers, but that will never happen again because there is an organization managing the fund on behalf of all workers and business owners. The fund belongs to employers too.

The official opposition likes to say that the employment insurance fund belongs to workers, but for every dollar contributed by workers, employers pay $1.40. Employers pay even more than workers.

This fund is for everyone and it gives people access to income so they can support their families during periods of unemployment that are temporary, not permanent.

We are not the only ones calling for this change. The economy is suffering across Canada and in Quebec. There is a worker shortage in many areas that rely on tourism. In some regions of Quebec, restaurants are closing because there are no cooks or servers. That is the point we are at, and we have to deal with the situation, taking into account all of the variables.

Some members of the House have said over and over that seasonal workers will no longer be entitled to anything. They have also said that seasonal tourism and forestry workers in the regions will lose their jobs if there is no suitable job available in their region. Today they were talking about a one-hour commute. One hour is an average commute time because people in cities who live just 30 km from their workplace often take over an hour to get there.

Add to that personal circumstances: illness, family, lack of a car. But that is not what we are talking about. That being said, we want the Canadian economy to work well, to continue working well. That means we need workers to do jobs.

In January, the Prime Minister came with us to the regions to participate in round tables, and people from the tourism industry and the forestry sector in our regions told him that there was already a shortage of workers at that time. We are not creating the shortage; on the contrary, we have created 750,000 net new jobs in Canada.

The Leader of the Opposition said recently that 500,000 factory jobs have been lost in the industrial sector. These losses were caused by global market fluctuations. More jobs were lost in the United States. It is not the government's fault. Canada has had a net gain of 750,000 new jobs. Unfortunately, in regions like mine, where 70% of the economy depends on the forestry industry, jobs that have been lost are not coming back. The United States, which buys 50% of our products, has yet to recover enough demand to start building again.

What Canadians want is simply for the economy to continue moving forward in all regions of the country, with respect for all. And if there are no jobs in the regions where there is unfortunately no longer any work available for seasonal workers, they will have employment insurance benefits. I completely agree with that.

We are talking about 70%. But why can they not find a job that pays even more than the job they occupied during the summer or winter, depending on the sector in which they work? People who work for snowmobile clubs work in the winter. Their jobs are seasonal. They do not work in the summer. It depends where they live. We want to make Canada an even better place and we want to continue creating jobs for these people.

In 2008, all the parties were saying that artists would no longer travel, that it would be the end of the world, that young offenders would be put in prison and abused. None of that has happened. Quebec and Canadian artists continued travelling and have remained successful around the world. The opposition is still trying to scare people, as it often does. We will see. We are confident that we will be able to do things right and that we will meet all expectations in this area.

Let us talk about the 360 hours. The employment insurance fund is self-directed. The premiums paid by the employers and the employees are what pay for the employees' benefits. When we talk about 360 hours, we are working with productivity. We want businesses to operate. We do not want more businesses to close their doors. That is always the issue. People think that money grows on trees. That is wishful thinking. I find it rather interesting to hear.

For the past two weeks, I have been hearing that engineers are going to be pumping gas and doctors will be waiting tables in restaurants. The fearmongering has to stop. There is already a shortage of skilled labour in certain sectors.

There is already a shortage of skilled workers in certain sectors. Headhunters are competing for engineers. All we want is to continue our good work on this and to ensure that our economy runs smoothly. There are a number of measures. What is more, we have introduced a number of new measures to help the self-employed, who were not entitled to employment insurance in the past. Thanks to our government, they are now entitled to it provided that they meet certain criteria and standards.

Naturally, there must be accountability throughout a process like this. In 2009, we were able to help a number of sectors in addition to the self-employed, such as military families, who now have better access to parental leave benefits and employment insurance. The list could be very long.

The thing that matters today is that the goal is not to attack anyone, but to increase the number of jobs and to ensure that Canadians and Canada continue to have high-quality jobs. That is what will allow our businesses to flourish.

At the end of the day, when there are no jobs to offer people, they leave the regions. We have to offer them employment. Some people want to encourage people not to work and to do nothing, but that is not what we want. We want to find jobs for people. If seasonal workers have finished their jobs, they will be entitled to employment insurance, as usual.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, forgive me if I do not agree with everything the hon. member said.

Last week, when I was in my riding, one thing in particular struck me about this employment insurance reform bill.

Obviously, I was expecting strong and intense reactions from workers, but I also noticed that many employers were questioning—this word is not strong enough—the fact that they will have to invest in training seasonal workers year after year. It is not the employees who do not want to work year-round. The very nature of the job makes it impossible for them to do so.

Employers are afraid that they will have to devote more money to their company's production or productivity since their employees will not be able to return each year if they are obligated to accept another job an hour away that pays only 70% of their usual salary. Employers are saying that this will increase their costs considerably and will also make it harder to find workers.

What does the minister think about that?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, according to the explanation by the member opposite, it is impossible that an employer would be scared to lose an employee who might take a job at 70% of the salary he was earning, a one-hour drive away. People will not accept jobs that involve a permanent 30% pay cut and an hour's drive when they know that they will get their jobs back the following year. That is not what we are saying. What he just said cannot happen.

I have met with many employers. They are looking for stability. They want to train their staff so that the business becomes more profitable and stable, and so that it performs better. This will make the business more profitable. That is what they want and what they hope is the future for their workers.

It does not make sense for an administrative assistant in the tourism industry to lose his job in October, when there is a similar job available in the same city and no one can be found to fill the position, and then for the employer to have to look for someone in another region to fill that position. So we pay that person who just finished their job and is receiving employment insurance.

All we are saying is that we must find a smart balance between available jobs and potential employees.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is one thing that I do not understand.

It is true that there are jobs available and that people are looking for jobs. It is true that they want to match people on EI to available jobs. If the goal really is to find people to fill available jobs, why does the government simply not conduct an advertising campaign to better inform people about available jobs, without putting this in the law?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, an advertising campaign targets the entire population.

As more people are already working, an advertising campaign would not target needs. Those who have lost their jobs have needs. In future, these workers will receive job notices twice a day electronically. There are definitely many changes to employment insurance, changes that are positive and progressive because we are increasing automation in the system. We will increase availability of the information. We believe that workers will find out about everything available in their area much more quickly and completely.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. minister for his comments. I think he spoke very well to the proposed changes that we would make and also to some of the challenges that we are facing across our country.

I come from a province that is facing the challenges of connecting Canadians to available jobs. I wonder if he could clarify for the members opposite exactly what we are doing that would address this issue.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will have a chance to be in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, tomorrow to have some discussions about this issue. That is not the main purpose, but there will be some discussions.

We want employees to know what jobs are offered and available. We want to find jobs for people at the best salaries possible in order to help them and their families.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Beaches—East York.

I want to congratulate my colleague from Hamilton Mountain for moving this motion. I am quite pleased and I hope that all members of the House will recognize the importance of this motion and support it because it is essential.

The changes proposed by the government are another attack against the least fortunate in our society. I am talking about people who have lost their job once, twice or perhaps three times, or seasonal workers who need employment insurance benefits. They need those benefits not because they are lazy, but because we have seasons and a climate in Canada that do not allow people to work on farms or in the fisheries 12 months a year.

I repeat, the government is once again attacking the least fortunate in society. It attacked them by increasing the age of eligibility for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement and it is attacking them again with these changes.

With the government's proposed changes, we will lose 60 years of case law that defines suitable employment. Am I the only one who is concerned about this? Are we, on this side of the House, the only ones who are concerned about this?

The local aspect will also be lost. The government is redefining suitable employment, when this should be done by people in the community who really understand what suitable employment is for an individual.

My region is a suburb that is about an hour from Montreal normally, but with traffic, it takes up to three hours to get to Montreal some mornings. The government says that people must accept work that is an hour away from home, but in reality, it may take three hours to get there. This will have a real impact on people's quality of life and that of their families.

Furthermore, the government is attacking seasonal workers. It wants to force them to take jobs at 70% of their current wages because of the nature of their work. Thus, they are going to lose 30% of their income.

Does this government really understand the impact that a 30% loss of income could have on someone or on a family? For some families, this could mean that they can no longer pay their rent. They will be forced to live on the street. Some families are already having a hard time making ends meet. They will have some tough choices to make when they lose 30% of their income. However, the government does not seem to have a problem with imposing these kinds of reforms.

People unlucky enough to lose a job will be forced to take another and lose another 30% of their income. They will end up with even less income. The government is attacking society's least fortunate, those who are unlucky enough to lose their jobs or who work in difficult, seasonal sectors.

I also wonder about the impact of this measure on these sectors in general. I think that it will be much more difficult to find workers if these measures are applied to seasonal jobs.

People are being told that they will have to find work an hour away from home and that the government will decide what “suitable employment” is. The government is ignoring 60 years of legal precedent here. It will also force people to accept lower wages.

I wonder whether a young person, knowing this, would be at all interested in working in forestry. I doubt it, because there are so many negative factors to consider, like it or not. This move will destroy entire sectors of our economy.

The Conservatives are always talking about how important the economy is, but we are the ones who really understand it. We have to consider things like that, things that will have a negative impact. Everyone wins when people find jobs. I know that; everyone knows that. However, we have to be honest. We have to wake up and realize that there are not enough jobs.

Right now, there are 222,000 jobs and 1,336,000 unemployed workers. It does not take a mathematical genius to figure out that the number of jobs available is much smaller than the number of unemployed workers.

According to the government, the solution is simple. Unemployed workers simply have to find another job. I am sorry, but it is not as simple as that. Unfortunately, it is not easy for parents who have had the misfortune of losing their jobs.

I would also like to point out that the employment insurance fund belongs to taxpayers. Personally, as a worker, I put money aside because, one day, I might have the misfortune of losing my job. I certainly will not be appointed to the Senate like the members of the Conservative Party who lose their jobs.

So, one day, I may lose my job and I will have to file an EI claim. I put some money aside and I expect that money to be available to me when the time comes because I contributed to the employment insurance fund out of my own pocket, as have all Canadians. It is the same as hiding money under the mattress in case of an emergency. A rainy day may come when things are not going so well, and the money will no longer be available. It does not make any sense. We are contributing to the employment insurance fund and the government is making decisions that make our money less available to us. The government is deciding what is best for those who have the misfortune of losing their jobs and for those who are forced to work in a seasonal industry.

I am also wondering about something else. Unless the Conservatives take action on climate change, there may no longer be any seasons. Global warming may occur quickly, but that is another story.

I would like to take a few moments to highlight what the NDP wants. New Democrats believe that people must have access to social programs, programs that will benefit everyone, all Canadians and all Quebeckers. We must ensure that employment insurance is both accessible and available. Both criteria are necessary. The program must be dependable and available when those who have lost their jobs need to use it.

An NDP government would extend stimulus measures until the unemployment rate drops to pre-recession levels. It would eliminate the two-week waiting period, restore the qualifying period to a minimum of 360 hours of work, independent of the regional rate of unemployment. It would increase benefits to 60% and improve the quality and monitoring of training and retraining.

I would like to take a few more seconds to talk about what is happening in our ridings. Unfortunately, I meet with many people in my riding office who are at the end of their rope and are crying. They tell me that they have lost everything and do not know what to do. They are no longer receiving employment insurance and have nothing. These people have families. What are they going to do?

If such changes persist, I fear there will be more and more people at the end of their rope, with no hope. They no longer have any hope for this country or this government. Nonetheless, I would like to tell them not to despair because in three years, the NDP government will listen to them and implement decent systems and social programs that Canadians can use.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Allen Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for her speech and comments, as well as for elaborating a bit on the local level.

When she talked to some of the points in her speech, I wondered if she has read some of the outlines for the reforms we will be talking about, because the fact is that in places of high unemployment where there are no jobs, EI is going to be there.

Then she talked about something that is very important, that being that the unemployed people who need it will get it. That is very simple. We have said that.

She also said that it is the employees' money. A certain portion of the money that goes into the EI pool is the employees' money, but there is a match on that as well that is made by the employers, which is a multiple of the employees' contributions.

The reforms we are speaking of are about finding jobs for people as well as making sure we have Canadians working before we bring in temporary foreign workers.

I would like to ask her if, when she talks about all the things she would change about the EI program, she has assessed the cost of what that would be. Has she assessed what the additional premiums would be that would be coming out of employees' and employers' pockets to pay for those extra premiums?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for the question.

The fact is that yes, EI will still be there. However, if a job is available to someone an hour away from home and that job pays 70% of that person's current salary, he or she will be forced to take it whether they want to or not. We have to consider the fact that it might take three hours in traffic at rush hour to get there even though it is only an hour away.

Indeed, EI will still be there. However, if there are other options, if someone can find a job that pays 70% of their salary an hour away, they will have to take it. There is no choice in the matter.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 31st, 2012 / 4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member for her speech. It is interesting to hear some of the members from New Brunswick.

I will just give a quick example, and maybe my colleague can comment on it.

Let us say that I own and operate a mill in northern New Brunswick, Cape Breton or anywhere, and the snow is too deep every year so my operator is laid off. That operator says, “I'm not going to get my EI because I'm a repeat offender”, so he moves away and operates equipment somewhere else. What happens the following spring? Do I get the fish plant worker that is on EI to operate a $200,000 machine?

This will cause havoc for the employers out there. They are paying into the system to get these workers, to have reliable and constant workers.

My question to my hon. colleague is this. What does she think about that?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I talked about this in my speech. However, to answer the member's question, I would say that the following must be considered. If someone works in a seasonal sector and is forced to endure these Conservative measures, this will give some sectors and some jobs a negative image. Employers will have to worry about the fact that perhaps someone who has been trained, who is reliable and who returned to work at that company every year, perhaps that person will no longer come back because he or she found a job elsewhere.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it has been a bit of a quiet afternoon here, but there was an extraordinary moment that I would like to point out and ask my colleague about.

When the minister of state for ACOA was talking about his own riding essentially he said that people on EI in his riding were lazy. I found that fairly offensive. He said that he was talking to somebody who owned a business who had some jobs and some people were on EI and they would not take those jobs. He did not ask the workers why they did not take the jobs. He assumed these workers were lazy; that is what was implied by his comments, that they would not take those jobs.

I think it is important for my hon. colleague to comment on how important it is for us to talk to the workers and the businesses.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

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

Workers who receive employment insurance are not lazy. I think it is truly a disgrace that the government has suggested that in this House and that it is accusing people who have unfortunately lost their jobs, or who have seasonal jobs, of being lazy.

Someone who does not want to take a particular job might have a very good reason. Perhaps the working conditions are inadequate. We cannot ask someone who works in the manufacturing sector with machines all day to go and pick strawberries. That would not be acceptable. That is not suitable employment for someone who works with heavy equipment. Everyone agrees on that.

Honestly, it is a disgrace that this government would say that people who receive employment insurance are lazy. It is truly a disgrace.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Before we resume debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, Housing; the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Government Priorities; the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, 40th General Election.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Beaches—East York

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak in favour of the motion put forward by my colleague from Hamilton Mountain.

There are many grounds for such a motion, but I want to situate the Conservative government's effort to restrict access to EI in a broader and historical context that is as something that is ruinous for our country, that is harmful to so many of our citizens and that has to be abandoned before we lose sight of the kind of country Canadians hope for and deserve.

In doing so, I want to talk about the very real impacts of these proposed changes on the city in which I live. That is Toronto.

Urban communities have a specificity, which warrants special consideration when we talk about employment insurance, and Toronto has a particular place in this story.

I will begin with this proposition, which I hold to be true and the vast majority of Canadians, irrespective of their own economic status, hold to be true.

If there is a symptom of what ails our country, it is the re-emergence of income disparity. I say “re-emergence” because, yes, we have seen these conditions co-exist before, private affluence and largely public squalor, but many decades ago.

Those who previously recognized the injustice of this, and the generation or two that succeeded them, made great efforts to escape such circumstances by erecting barriers against income disparity.

Employment insurance was one of those very important barriers erected for this purpose, but now the Conservative government, freed from the constraints of minority government status, is returning us to that place.

To be fair, we have been trending in this direction for a while now. The current government, in many respects, is following in the footsteps of those that came before it. I have spoken in this House a number of times before about how this trend has reshaped my city socially and economically over the last number of decades.

Periodically, this trend seems to be accelerated. Certainly this was done by the savage budget and EI cuts of the Liberal governments in the 1990s. And, certainly it has been accelerated by the corporate tax cut schedule, initiated by the Liberal government, but gleefully picked up, extended and implemented by successive Conservative governments. Now, with the current government and Bill C-38, the foot is firmly planted on the accelerator, hurtling this country downhill, back to a place we wisely made efforts to escape before.

To be sure, it is not all about what is in Bill C-38. Just two nights ago we were all here in this chamber to witness another assault on free collective bargaining, another effort by the Conservative government to undermine the very deliberate, purposeful role that unions play in ensuring the redistribution of corporate surplus to working people and to the creation of a middle class and the consequent revenue base to sustain the kind of goods and services that are properly delivered to Canadians by government; health care and public pensions being the most obvious of these.

The condition of extreme income disparity is certainly a fully Canadian one these days. Canada has the seventh greatest level of income disparity among the OECD's 29 member states, as we know.

However, it is in urban communities in particular that we see affluence and poverty existing cheek by jowl. The condition that afflicts us is most conspicuous by the near and sometimes total absence of infrastructure across great expanses of urban space. We have come to a point in our collective impoverishment where we talk about the existence of food deserts in the city of Toronto.

This social and economic reshaping of our cities reflects dramatically changing labour markets across the country and particularly in Toronto. In the past 10 years, there has been a 59% increase in the number of temporary and contract jobs across the country. These changes have been particularly acute in Toronto, where there has been a 68% increase.

While Toronto had lost well over 100,000 manufacturing jobs before the recession, it has seen a dramatic increase in the number of jobs paying less than $10 per hour. This has led to the rapid increase of working poor in Toronto.

While the Conservative government has taken the position that there is no such thing as a bad job, let me quote from the Metcalf Foundation's recent report entitled, “The 'Working Poor' in the Toronto Region”.

It states:

Although work can provide a ladder out of poverty, this is not always the case. In the Toronto Region, an increasing number of people are both employed and living in poverty. The highest concentration is found in the city of Toronto. We call them the working poor. They live in a region with the highest cost of living in Canada.... They live in a region with the second most expensive housing market in Canada. In this high-cost environment, earnings from a job – even full-time – may not be sufficient to escape poverty.

Indeed, it is not. What we have seen in the Toronto region is an increase in this population of the working poor of 42% between 2000 and 2005, which again is pre-recession.

Employment insurance has failed to stem this tide of income disparity. What has become clear is that employment insurance rules have not kept up with shifting labour market realities. Professor Leah Vosko expressed this succinctly in her report in support of the Mowat Centre's recent study on employment insurance. She said:

A notable overarching finding is that EI’s entry requirements disfavour part-time workers. For instance, in urban areas and metropolises, where entry requirements tend to be highest, more than 50 per cent of workers in this group do not meet the 700 hour threshold.... Insensitivity of regular benefit requirements to the changing nature of employment in this formula contributes to disentitlement of workers falling outside the norm of the full-time permanent job in low-unemployment regions where workers in part-time and temporary forms of employment face high entry requirements.

In Toronto, fewer than 25% of unemployed workers are actually eligible for EI benefits. This is far less than the national average for eligibility, which hovers just above 40%, which is a problem in and of itself. It also compares, woefully, to the pre-Liberal reform levels, when 56% of the unemployed workers in Toronto were eligible for EI benefits and nationally were somewhere in the range of 80%.

It is into this context of these social and economic conditions, of people trying to find work, of people working but still in poverty, of people having nothing to catch them when they fall out of work, that the current government sees fit to tighten eligibility for employment insurance to force people into jobs that would not allow them to keep themselves or their families out of poverty.

How does this make any sense? How in the world can this be considered to be wise policy? In whose perverse economics text can one find such prescriptions for building a prosperous society? In whose strange imagination is this reflective of the kind of society we should be building here in Canada?

The fair and just thing for us to do in our role here is to amend EI, but in a manner that would provide meaningful income security to Canadians in all parts of this country in all labour markets when they lose their jobs, in a manner that would allow Canadians to maintain their dignity in the face of misfortune, in a manner that would facilitate and expedite re-entry into meaningful, productive and, yes, good jobs, and in a manner that would build a barrier against that which ails us most in this country these days: income disparity.

These are the kinds of policy criteria that reflect the generous, compassionate and prosperous Canada that Canadians really want us in this place to build.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, who described the situation in Toronto so well. Exactly the same thing is happening in Montreal.

I would like my colleague to expand on what happens when someone is not eligible for employment insurance and falls through the cracks in the system. What happens then?

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is an important question for consideration by the government when it is contemplating the kind of amendments it is contemplating to EI.

It is important, too, because the story is a common one. As I say, fewer than 25% of unemployed Torontonians are eligible for EI. What they face in Toronto is a life of extreme stress and hardship. This government fails to contemplate, in trying to save money and force people into low-paying jobs, the kinds of economics that understand that it would not be good for this country, it would not be good for government coffers to be forcing people into those positions. It is unhealthy. It would be costly to society. It would be costly to other government programs.

Most of the government programs that it would be costly to, of course, are provincial programs. The sad part in Ontario is that those provincial programs, social assistance, were cut dramatically. Liberal government downloading in the 1990s, to provinces, led to dramatic cuts in social assistance in Ontario. A subsequent Liberal government in Ontario has never done anything about that social assistance either.

Opposition Motion—Employment InsuranceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Allen Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, in listening to the member's response in the House and his speech before, I know he methodically approaches his task and does his research.

During the downturn in the economy the unemployment rate was just slightly over 8%, which probably masked the underlying issue of a shortage of labour. As he would well know, there are about a quarter of a million positions open. A lot of the positions are not advertised at job banks or other places. Probably only about 20% of the jobs in Canada are advertised yet a lot of small businesses and others are looking for people.

Could the member give me his comments on some of the things we are thinking about in this reform, where it looks at making investments in helping people match up their skills to those jobs and to get some of those good jobs that are maybe not necessarily advertised? Does he see these investments as positive reform to make sure people have an opportunity to look at those job opportunities to see what might be there to match their skills?