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House of Commons Hansard #204 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was work.

Topics

Public Sector Integrity CommissionerRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I have the honour, pursuant to section 38 of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, to lay upon the table the special report of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner concerning an investigation into a disclosure of wrongdoing.

This report is deemed permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to lay upon the table, pursuant to subsection 23(5) of the Auditor General Act, the report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the House of Commons for the year 2012, with an addendum on environmental petitions from January 1 to June 30, 2012.

This report is permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

AfghanistanPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition here signed by nearly 1,000 Afghani Canadians, including those from my riding of Pickering—Scarborough East, calling for the establishment of a consular and immigration office in Kabul, Afghanistan. The petitioners note, among other things, the deteriorating conditions in the Islamabad office in Pakistan, which currently handles many of the consular and immigration requests originating in Afghanistan.

Dental MercuryPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present 10 petitions regarding mercury, one of the most toxic substances. Mercury used in dentistry may contaminate the environment through the disposal of solid waste products and contaminate air from dental clinics. Dental mercury is now unnecessary because there are many alternatives to amalgam that are effective, available and affordable.

The petitioners request that the government recognize that the World Health Organization recommends the phasing out of dental amalgam and recognize the work of the intergovernmental negotiating committee. They request that the government assume global leadership in recommending the phase-out of dental mercury and the phase-in of non-mercury alternatives within Canada.

Lyme DiseasePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

February 5th, 2013 / 10:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am so pleased to rise today to present more than 500 names on petitions in favour of my private member's bill, Bill C-442, to put in place a national strategy on Lyme disease.

The petitions that I am presenting today come from Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Alberta and coast to coast, calling for this bill to be passed.

Foreign InvestmentPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, very briefly, the second petition of 100 signatures is from residents of the Victoria area asking that the House do everything possible to obstruct, delay and prevent the ratification of the Canada-China investment treaty, which has still not been ratified, thank goodness.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

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

moved:

That the House call on the government to reverse devastating changes it has made to Employment Insurance which restrict access and benefits, depress wages, push vulnerable Canadians into poverty and download costs to the provinces; and reinstate the Extra Five Weeks pilot project to avoid the impending “black hole” of financial insecurity facing workers in seasonal industries and the regional economies they support.

Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Hamilton Mountain.

I am speaking today to move a motion on behalf of the official opposition concerning the employment insurance reform that was announced in the last Conservative budget.

Before I begin, I would like to emphasize a very important point. The government tried to hide employment insurance changes in its massive budget bill. It hoped that Canadians would not notice and limited debate. We had to wait until May to learn more about the government's intentions. Then, very discreetly, in December, the minister announced that new rules would be imposed on workers looking for a job.

I think this way of doing things is very cavalier and absolutely unacceptable, but unfortunately, it seems to have become the Conservatives' day-to-day modus operandi. How many times do we have to remind them that the employment insurance fund is paid for by employee and employer contributions only? The government has not contributed to this fund for over 20 years. How many times do we have to say it?

Before the government begins its attacks on unemployed workers, it first should have to explain to Canadians what right it has to interfere in the management of a fund that does not even belong to it. The government should then, through an open and clearly defined process, consult and have discussions with the stakeholders involved, namely, employees and employers. This was never done. This undemocratic way of doing things is harmful to employees, employers and economies and undermines parliamentarians' credibility with Canadians.

The employment insurance fund should be available when Canadians need it. They are the ones who contribute to it and so it is only natural that this insurance should be available to them when they fall on hard times. If we examine the figures for last July more closely, we see that 1,377,000 Canadians were unemployed. That same month, only 508,000 Canadians were receiving employment insurance benefits, which means that 869,000 Canadians were not receiving benefits. In other words, less than 40% of unemployed workers are receiving employment insurance benefits. It is shameful.

In the past, the rate of EI coverage was much higher than 40%. Before the Liberal reforms in the 1990s, access rates were between 70% and 90%. As a result of the cuts made in the 1990s, access rates plummeted before stabilizing at about 40%, the rate that we are discussing today. Right now, the most recent figures show that less than 40% of unemployed workers have access to benefits, even though everyone contributes to the fund.

In addition to deliberately reducing access to employment insurance, the Conservatives are now requiring unemployed workers to accept jobs that pay less than their previous employment within a 100 km radius of their home. These new definitions of “suitable employment” and “reasonable job search”, which have been in effect for the past month, will have a negative impact on our economy and on Canadians' living conditions.

We are already hearing horror stories about it. For some, travelling 100 km is not a problem. Big cities usually have extensive public transit systems. What is troubling, is that the same rules are being applied to completely different situations. In the regions, communities are often far apart and jobs are harder to find. The government is not proposing any measures to support regional economic diversification, particularly in areas where the economies have a very high seasonal index.

In addition, the obligation to accept wages as low as 70% of their previous salary will only lead to a downward spiral of ever-lower wages, to the detriment of workers' quality of life.

The Conservatives' way of looking at the economy is rather simplistic, and this only underscores their gross incompetence when it comes to managing public funds. Their approach will weaken our regions, not to mention entire sectors that are vital to our economy.

The Canadian economy cannot be built on just a few key sectors; instead, it will be more prosperous through the diversification of many sectors, including the fishery, tourism, construction, education, retail trade, and so on. All of those economic sectors will be severely affected by this reform. Again yesterday, some staggering figures were published, demonstrating once and for all that Canada's economic performance is not nearly as rosy as the Conservatives would have everyone believe.

A Conference Board of Canada study found that an increase in social and economic inequalities in Canada is tearing the social fabric of our country and that the gap between the rich and the poor is continuing to grow, as is child poverty. Canada is doing a very poor job compared to its OECD counterparts. If Canada's economy is doing so well, as the Conservatives like to shout from the rooftops, should we not be in a better position to offer fair and equitable living conditions and income distribution? Should we not be able to reduce child poverty?

The employment insurance reform will only exacerbate this situation. Contract, part-time and seasonal workers want to be acknowledged and respected for the work they do because they are an integral part of our economy and our prosperity. They are merely a reflection of the seasonal nature of employment in Canada and the economic environment that the government has put in place for them.

Canadians want jobs, growth and prosperity, not a hunt for unemployed workers that will drain the regions and impoverish all workers in unstable jobs, including those in the cities.

It is the provinces that will ultimately absorb the additional costs associated with the lack of access to employment insurance. People with their backs to the wall will opt for the solution of last resort: welfare. Who pays for welfare? Taxpayers, obviously. In short, all taxpayers will once again foot the bill for the Conservatives' mismanagement.

Lastly, we are now well into the month of February. Unemployed seasonal workers are coming to the end of their benefits. This is the black hole of spring. Action must be taken because it is now at our door.

The government need only look at regional unemployment rates to understand that its alleged economic recovery does not warrant putting a stop to the bill extending the benefit period by five weeks. People in the regions with high unemployment rates need it, not so that they can spend frivolously, but rather to put food on the table, heat their homes and put gas in their cars.

Can the Conservative government take quick action and reinstate the pilot project until we have studied the impact of the cancellation of that measure, or is it clearly saying that it is abandoning our regions?

Thousands of people have been protesting for months. Voices have been raised, those of workers, employers, chambers of commerce, elected municipal representatives and the provinces. This government must immediately backpedal on this measure before the problem degenerates into a social crisis and we are faced with serious cases or unfortunate incidents.

I will close by saying that no one denies that the employment insurance system must be reviewed, but the Conservatives' unilateral approach is unfortunately narrow-minded. It avoids all dialogue, even with experts. It is merely an attempt to please an ideological voter base and it quite simply jeopardizes our social safety net.

This approach is not in the interests of all Canadians, who can see through the Conservatives' dangerous game. The government must go back to the drawing board and open a genuine dialogue to determine with Canadians what they want out of their employment insurance programs.

I will be delighted to debate this topic with my colleagues in an effort to advance the dialogue and offer tangible solutions to Canadians in the hope that a genuine consultation can be conducted in this country.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have a simple question for my colleague, who is a member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities and the employment insurance critic.

The government brought in Bill C-38, an omnibus bill, but it was never debated. In a democracy, if the government wants to reform employment insurance, it would usually consult the people, send the bill to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, call the stakeholders concerned to appear before the committee—especially those who pay into the employment insurance fund, that is the workers and employers—and sit down together to try to find solutions to the problem. The workers and employers should be encouraged to participate in this process because the employment insurance system does not belong to the government.

We should not take the “my way or the highway” approach to a bill, but that is how this government went about it.

Would it not have been truly democratic to have sent the bill to committee and propose that a national study be conducted?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, that is imperative. That is my answer.

It is inconceivable and shameful that we are not asking the people affected by these reforms to come and talk to us. These reforms affect the unemployed, people working on behalf of the unemployed, unions, communities and workers. The reforms in no way affect the Canadian government, which does not contribute a cent.

The workers and the employers are paying for these reforms. Therefore, it is imperative that this matter be sent to committee. $58 billion has been stolen from the unemployed. We need to keep that in mind.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, we certainly do not agree, because our hon. colleague is using words like “stolen”. I am shocked that a reform could be so misunderstood.

Does the hon. member agree that the program has always required that EI claimants look for work? How can she not think it is a good idea to clarify what is considered to be a reasonable job offer?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Denis Coderre

Question!

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

EI claimants who are receiving benefits are required to look for work. We want to clarify what is considered to be a reasonable job offer.

Why is the hon. member against such a reasonable, intelligent and modern reform?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Before I give the floor back to the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles I would just remind the hon. member for Bourassa that after a speech there is a period called questions and comments. He does not need to be shouting, “Question, question, question!”, while the parliamentary secretary is asking the member a question. I would ask him to keep that in mind for the rest of today's debate.

The hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I will respond to both of the hon. member's questions.

First, I stand behind my use of “stolen”. The government continues to steal: it has increased the contribution workers must pay by 5¢ and it has increased the ceiling. It is still pilfering over $1 billion from workers. The government is not putting a single cent into this reform.

Second, with respect to the roofing profession, it is the job that is seasonal; not the workers. So roofers and snow plow operators work when there is work, just like part-time professors. They would like to work full time, but no one gets their roof redone in the middle of the winter, and snow is not being plowed during the summer. So they go from one seasonal job to the next, but that does not cover the entire period.

My colleagues know very well that in some regions of Canada there is no seasonal work, in the winter or the summer, that covers this period.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak in support of our NDP motion to fix Canada's employment insurance system and to help those Canadians who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

The House has only been in session for one week. I rose in question period every single day in that week to hold the government to account for the consequences of the draconian changes to Canada's EI system. We raise these issues to throw the spotlight on the government's failure to address the needs of Canadians, but frankly we also do it in the hopes that the evidence we bring to bear will get the government to reconsider its direction.

Certainly, our efforts have worked in the past, even with the Conservative government. After months of raising questions in the House, the government finally backtracked on the F-35, reversed itself with respect to the export of asbestos and of course, most infamously, we were even able to force the Conservatives to concede that there really was a recession in 2009 and to invest in infrastructure renewal. Even with EI, we saw a partial reversal by the minister when she conceded we were right about the punitive impact of her changes to the working while on claim program. Truthfully though, I am less optimistic this time around. Why? It is because the chasm between the reality faced by unemployed Canadians and the minister's fiction about that reality is widening every day and I do not think that is happening by accident.

Let me just give two quick examples to illustrate the point. To justify the government's agenda of change with respect to employment insurance, Conservative members insist on saying that there are thousands of jobs going unfilled in Canada because the unemployed do not want to work. That is simply not the case and the government knows it is utter nonsense. Statistics Canada has shown that there are five unemployed workers for every reported job vacancy in Canada. In Atlantic Canada there are as many as ten unemployed workers for every job that is available. Clearly, the real issue is the government's abysmal record on job creation, not the desire of Canadians to work. What an inconvenient truth. No wonder the Conservatives are continuously loading the dice against Statistics Canada's ability to do its job effectively.

From that overarching myth, let me give another example of Orwellian doublespeak by the government. On Friday, I called on the government to come clean on the new quotas that the minister has given to her staff for recovering money from EI recipients. She is demanding $150 million a year. The minister denied it vehemently, saying there was no such quota, but outside the House she later conceded that there are indeed objectives to that effect. How can we in the opposition, and more importantly, how can Canadians have a fruitful discussion with the government about the devastating impact of its changes when the government so steadfastly refuses to be honest? I understand spin but the government has taken that notion to a level that is completely unacceptable.

Members may remember Stephen Colbert's term “truthiness”. Well, we have it here in spades. Truthiness is what one wants the facts to be as opposed to what the facts are, what feels like the right answer as opposed to what reality will support. That kind of truthiness is a huge threat to our democracy because the legitimacy of democratic governance relies on an informed citizenry.

Let us try to turn the tide and talk about the challenges facing EI recipients in a realistic way. Let us look at the changes the government has introduced since its spring budget last year and see if we can work our way to a consensus about what needs to be done to reverse the damage. I am not overly optimistic but Canadians depend on us to give it our very best shot.

Throughout the recession the Conservatives largely left the existing EI program in place and in this new spirit of hope for co-operation I will even give them credit for adding several EI related stimulus programs to their economic action plans in 2008 and 2009. However, that was then and this is now.

Despite the fact that the economic recovery is far from complete, the Conservatives are now tightening the screws by making eligibility requirements even stricter so as to further limit access to EI, and by limiting the EI appeals process. These punitive reforms cater to negative stereotypes about EI recipients and ignore the realities of regional labour markets and seasonal industries. They will hurt both workers and communities.

Let us look at the facts. It is a fact that fewer unemployed Canadians will receive EI under these new rules. The government estimates that the changes will lead to 8,000 claimants being denied benefits, amounting to $30 million a year. It is a fact that unemployed Canadians will now be forced to accept lower wage jobs, paying up to 30% less than their previous job. This will drive down wages for all Canadians. It is a fact that valuable skills will now go unused. A skilled tradesperson or teacher on EI will now be pressured to accept a different, often lower skilled job. It is a fact that workers in seasonal industries will be particularly hard hit, since frequent claimants are the most targeted under the Conservatives' reforms.

Clearly, this is an ideological attack on workers. If the government were serious about connecting Canadians with jobs, its agenda would not be focused on tightening EI, but rather it would be focused on the urgent need to create jobs.

The real problem in Canada is that there are too few jobs. Further punishing the innocent victims of Canada's economic turmoil does nothing to right the ship. On the contrary, it adds to the decline of the thriving families and communities whose purchasing power drives local economies. If the government wanted to help workers, then it would be investing in training and apprenticeship programs that would train unemployed and young workers for available jobs. It could have adopted my Bill C-201, which would help tradespeople and apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable income so that they could secure and maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres away from their homes.

Those would be concrete steps in the right direction for connecting people with jobs. However, by focusing on cuts to EI instead, the government is simply laying the groundwork for employers to bring in migrant workers and pay them less than the prevailing wage. Am I surprised by all of this? Of course not.

Members will remember the Prime Minister's comments, in 1997, when he told the American Council for National Policy that, “In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don’t feel particularly bad for many of these people”. Not to be outdone, his colleague, the Conservative member for South Shore—St. Margaret's later called unemployed Canadians “no-good bastards”. The minister is on the record saying that she does not want “to make it lucrative for them to stay home”.

Clearly, Canadians cannot trust the Conservatives on this file. The Liberals pioneered the approach of attacking the unemployed, making EI less accessible and raiding the EI fund to the tune of $54 billion. Only New Democrats have consistently fought on the side of workers. We know and believe that employment insurance is not a government benefit. It is paid for by workers and employers. Canadians pay EI premiums in good faith so that EI will be there for them in times of unemployment.

The reason my colleagues and I brought forward today's motion is to protect that sacred trust from governments' repeated attacks. We will roll back the callous Conservative cuts and we will continue to work with labour, business, provinces and territories to find longer-term solutions to help Canadians find jobs, without treating unemployed workers as the problem.

I invite the Conservatives to reconsider their approach and to support our motion. There is no shame in making a mistake. The shame lies only in the refusal to acknowledge it and correct it.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the opposition member's comments and I have a few simple questions.

I would like the member to clarify if she recognizes the issues of personal circumstances, working conditions, hours of work, and items like that, which are outlined in what is considered to be suitable employment in a reasonable job search, but particularly personal circumstances, which we have emphasized. I wonder if she would clarify if she has heard that.

I would also like the member opposite to take the time to clarify for me that she understands that these are not wholesale changes. In fact, these are clarifications of what have been the expectations of employment insurance recipients for quite some time, well before these items were put on the table.

I represent a riding that has a lot of seasonal workers. In fact, we have a huge tourism industry. My constituents are really pleased with the implementation of these changes because they have local opportunity for employment at home. I would like the member opposite to explain what she would say to my constituents, when they are pleased with these decisions that have been made by the government.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted by the questions. When a government has to clarify a broken system such as the EI system and clarifies it by suggesting that EI recipients are bad guys and then expresses surprise that we would be opposed to those changes, I do not really quite know what to do with questions like that.

The member is saying that everybody in her riding loves these changes. I would extend an offer to the member opposite. I would be delighted, with my colleagues, to come to speak to labour councils in her riding. I would love to have that conversation. Let us talk to them about how they feel about these EI changes. Because anyone who is actually on EI, who has contributed to it all of their working lives, who through no fault of their own has lost their job, desperately needs the government's support.

Instead, the government is moving the line, is obfuscating what the rules are and is now treating EI recipients as fraudsters. It is completely unacceptable and I would be delighted to have that conversation in that member's riding.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, two parliamentary secretaries have stood and have tried to present these changes as mere clarifications. This whole side of the House laughed at that one.

The changes are forcing workers in this country to take jobs at 75% of their wages. For example, a person is making $20 an hour, but because there is a gap between jobs, he or she is forced to take a job at $15 an hour while waiting for that next job. If a person is forced in that situation to take that type of reduction, when does that become a clarification? There was nothing written on that before. When does that become a clarification?

When did the downward pressure on wages in seasonal occupations in rural communities become a clarification?

Could the hon. member provide me with some clarification?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always welcome the invitation from the Liberals to get into the heads of Conservatives, but it is a scary place, and I do not want to go there.

Frankly, I think the hon. member is absolutely right. This is no clarification. This is an all-out assault on working people in Canada. It affects people in seasonal industries. That is why we on this side of the House are talking about reversing those trends. It also affects entire communities. That is why mayors, city councillors and communities from coast to coast to coast are opposed to the government's so-called clarifications. They are more than clarifications. They are gutting the EI system. They are a full-out attack on workers, communities and small businesses, which rely on the support of those workers to stay alive.

I really hope the government will reverse its direction and maybe surprise Canadians. Maybe it will clarify its position and vote in favour of our motion tonight.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for talking about workers, communities and small businesses. This is a big concern in my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, where there are so many small communities.

Does the hon. member think there is any relationship between this program the government is undertaking, which is effectively deterring seasonal workers in Canada, and the temporary foreign workers program the government has been promoting assiduously?

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, absolutely there is. It is all about driving down wages and making life more difficult for workers while trying to give employers a leg up. This is completely tilting the balance of the working relationship in Canada.

The hon. member is absolutely right. Members need to stop the senseless driving down of wages. We need to support the creation of good, family-sustaining jobs. That ought to be the government's agenda, not these draconian changes to EI.

Opposition Motion—Employment Insurance ProgramBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Kelowna—Lake Country.

I am pleased to rise today to address the misleading statements and alarmist rhetoric the opposition has been using for some time with regard to the reasonable, common sense changes our government has been proposing be made to EI. Our government remains committed to fostering jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians. This is why our government is investing in better connecting Canadians with available jobs in their local areas.

We know that people who remain active on the labour market are more likely to quickly find a permanent job.

Unlike the NDP members, who stand up in this House and defend those who defraud the EI system, our government is making sure that the EI system is there for Canadians who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, and it is providing the support needed to help them rejoin the labour force. Our common sense clarifications are making it easier for unemployed Canadians to find work, whether it be through the increased job alerts we are sending Canadians or the connection with the temporary foreign workers program, so that Canadians always have first crack at the jobs in their local areas. We are making EI work better for all Canadians.

The changes we have made to employment insurance are necessary to ensure that it is fair and efficient. These changes were especially designed to help Canadians find work more quickly and keep it.

Members know the significant benefits that come from meaningful work. We want Canadians to be better off working than not, with the dignity of a having job. This is why we have clarified the definition of suitable employment and reasonable job search. It is to make sure that those who are on EI have a clear understanding of their responsibilities.

Let me be clear. These clarifications are not about forcing Canadians to move away from their local labour markets or from their homes. The government has been clear that these measures will help connect Canadians to the jobs in their local labour markets. Personal circumstances will always be taken into consideration when it comes to commuting times and transportation challenges. If Canadians are unable to find work in their local labour markets, employment insurance will continue to be there for them, as it always has been.

We believe that these clarifications reinforce the responsibilities of regular EI claimants and will assist them in their job search to accept suitable employment.

It is not to force people to accept jobs for which they do not have the skills or ask them to move to another area, or to accept low-paying jobs, as some have erroneously claimed.

I apologize, Mr. Speaker. My French is not necessarily the best.

If the opposition had its way, it would institute a 45-day work year that would cost billions of dollars. In fact, the NDP has put forward plans for over $3.8 billion in annual EI spending. This is $3.8 billion that would have to be paid by workers and employers during this fragile economic time. Premiums would need to be increased by over 15% to cover these spending expenditures today.

I was involved in the EI rate-setting consultations that occurred in the fall of 2011. After travelling from coast to coast to coast, I can assure you that neither employers nor employees are looking for increased EI premiums to pay for this NDP-proposed spending.

EI will continue to provide temporary financial support for Canadians who have lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, while they look for work or upgrade their skills. It will provide help for Canadians who are sick or are caring for a newborn or adopted child and for those who must care for a family member who is seriously ill. That is why we continue to focus on strengthening the employment insurance program to ensure that it is fair and flexible and helps Canadians find work, along with balancing their work and family responsibilities.

To that point, there are several other measures we have recently introduced to meet the needs of Canadians and help them get back to work faster. Just this past August, we announced the new national working while on claim pilot project. The pilot project will allow people who are working part time to receive EI benefits and keep more of what they earn by being able to accept more work. A person receiving EI benefits will now be able to keep 50¢ of every dollar earned. This is instead of receiving a dollar for dollar reduction on income earned after their income threshold, as it was under the old program.

We know how important it is to stay in or be connected to the workforce. We know that unemployed people who accept even part-time work while they are getting EI have a much better chance of finding permanent, long-term employment or of finding it faster than those who do not.

Concerns were raised regarding the new rules for these pilot programs. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development listened to those concerns, and adjustments have been made to that pilot program.

If people are in a situation where they cannot find or accept more work, and they worked while on claim last year, they now have the option of reverting to the old program rules, giving them more time to transition to the new program. Making it possible for Canadians to have more money from working than they would have from EI alone is simply common sense.

Working is an important part of our lives. It builds a sense of accomplishment, makes us feel we are contributing to something and means we can support ourselves and our families, resulting in a better quality of life. By making changes to employment insurance, we continue to move in the direction of making sure that work pays and individuals are better off when they are working.

We are continuing to build upon the best job creation record in the G7 with over 920,000 net new jobs created since the end of the recession. Thankfully, Canada has seen some of the strongest growth in the G7. This is why the temporary extra-five-weeks pilot project was allowed to expire. This EI pilot project was a temporary measure brought in during 2008 and extended in 2010 through Canada's economic action plan to help EI recipients during the recession.

This project was always meant to be temporary. In fact, a couple of the regions covered by this pilot project were actually able to end the project early, because their unemployment rate was below 8%. One of the regions under the pilot had almost 5% unemployment for a significant period of time.

Our government will continue to forge ahead with policies that matter to Canadians by focusing on their priorities: jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.

Our government is committed to making targeted and meaningful changes in employment insurance for the benefit of Canadians and the entire country, and that is what we are doing.

Despite the hyperbole coming from the opposition benches, there has always been a requirement for EI recipients to actively look for work while on claim. All these changes have done is further clarify what a reasonable job search and an offer of suitable employment entails. As both the Prime Minister and the minister have said many times in this House, for those who cannot find work, EI will continue to be available to them when they need it.

The government simply cannot support a motion that is full of such misguided rhetoric and faulty information and is not in the best interests of Canadians and their families. Therefore, I call on all members of the House to join me in voting against this flawed motion. I encourage members of this House to embrace the EI components we put forward to make sure that Canadians can be better connected to jobs in their local areas so that they can have the prosperity they need for their families.