Mr. Speaker, I am proud to be here to discuss some of the highlights of Bill C-38, the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act, and to speak against the NDP and other opposition amendments that are focused on delaying the passage of the bill.
As our economic record shows, Canada has performed well in the face of global economic uncertainty. Both the IMF and the OECD forecast that we will have among the strongest economic growth in the G7 over this year and the next.
This resilient performance did not happen by accident. It is the fruit of hard labour, solid economic principles, and consistent implementation of a plan that works: Canada's economic action plan.
Economic action plan 2012 sets out a comprehensive agenda to bolster Canada's fundamental strengths and addresses the important challenges confronting the economy over the long term. Our economy's strength provides an opportunity for our government to take significant actions today that will position Canada for a secure and prosperous future.
So far, Canada has had every reason to be proud of its successes. Since our government introduced the economic action plan in 2009 to respond to the global economic recession, Canada has created nearly 760,000 net new jobs, which is the best record in the G7.
Nevertheless, the global economy remains fragile, especially in Europe, and too many Canadians are still looking for work. That is why, in this uncertain economic climate, our government is staying focused on our low-tax plan for jobs and growth, a plan that is focused and works toward serving Canadians well. To this end, economic action plan 2012 focuses on the drivers of growth and job creation, innovation, investment, education skills and communities.
Through my remarks today, I would like to highlight some of the measures our government is proposing to keep the labour market healthy and prosperous.
My first point today will focus on employment insurance. EI is Canada's single largest labour market program. It provides temporary income replacement to help individuals and their families, as well as training and other labour market supports to help Canadians return to employment.
Bill C-38 makes targeted changes to make EI a more efficient program that promotes job creation, removes disincentives to work, supports unemployed Canadians and quickly connects Canadians to jobs that improve their quality of life and Canada's economy.
To outline these important measures, I will break this down into some details.
Our government is committed to helping Canadians who are looking for work. That is why our government will invest $74 million in a new national EI pilot project to ensure claimants are not discouraged from accepting work while still receiving EI benefits. This new pilot project, the working while on claim pilot project, will cut the current earnings clawback in half, to 50% of earnings, and apply it to all earnings while on claim. This will ensure EI claimants always benefit from accepting work by allowing them to keep more of what they earn while still on employment insurance.
Second, matching workers with available jobs is critical to supporting economic growth and productivity. Economic action plan 2012 will invest $21 million to enhance the content and timeliness of job and labour market information that is provided to Canadians looking for work. Along with providing relevant and timely job information, we will strengthen and clarify what is required of claimants who are receiving regular EI benefits and looking for work.
Third, our government recognizes that Canadians want stable and predictable EI premium rates and a transparent rate-setting mechanism. Our government would ensure predictability and stability in the EI premium rate. Over the next few years, we will limit annual rate increases to 5¢ until the EI operating account is balanced. Once the account has been returned to balance, the EI premium rate will be set annually on a seven year break-even rate to ensure that EI premiums are no higher than needed to pay for the EI program. After the seven year rate is set, annual adjustments to the rate will also be limited to 5¢.
Overall, these changes to employment insurance have been widely welcomed, especially from small business.
Indeed, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said:
Since the recession, skills and labour shortages have re-emerged as a major concern for Canada’s small business community. We believe the changes to defining suitable employment, based on how frequently EI is claimed, will help to remove disincentives to work and hopefully make it easier for small firms to find the people they need.
Another way we propose to help meet Canadian labour market needs is to solidify our immigration system. Economic action plan 2012 helps set the stage for strengthening our immigration system into one that is targeted, fast and efficient, and can sustain Canada's economic growth and deliver prosperity for the future. Canada needs immigrants who are ready, willing and able to fully integrate into Canada's labour market, particularly when there are essential skills shortages.
Economic action plan 2012 reinforces the government's commitment to move toward a more economically focused immigration system with the following three measures.
First, we will improve the responsiveness of Canada's immigration system by immediately directing our efforts toward addressing modern labour market realities.
Second, we will work with the provinces, territories and stakeholders to support further improvements to foreign credential recognition and to identify the next stages of target occupations beyond 2012. This will help more highly skilled newcomers find work related to their training, allowing them to quickly contribute to Canada's economy.
Third, we will continue to consider additional measures to strengthen and improve the temporary foreign workers program. This will help support our economic recovery and growth by better aligning the program with labour market demands.
Reaction to these changes has been very positive. In the words of the Canadian Construction Association:
The reforms promised by the budget to...immigration will ensure the country is well placed to take advantage of the more than $500 billion in major economic projects expected in Canada over the next ten years.
When it comes to creating a labour market that is strong and efficient, our government continues to take responsible action that meets our changing circumstances. Canadians gave us a strong mandate to stay focused on the economy and that is exactly what we have done and continue to do. We have a record to prove it.
Since July 2009, employment has increased by nearly 760,000 net new jobs, the strongest job growth among G7 countries over the economic recovery. More than 90% of these jobs created since July 2009 have been full-time positions and 80% are in high wage industries and in the private sector. While these are positive signs, Canada cannot rest on its record of success. We need to keep focused on the economy and on creating high quality jobs.
That is why I urge members of the House to pass Bill C-38 without delay because it will help create jobs for Canadians, and that is the right thing to do.