Mr. Chair, throughout this crisis, the official opposition has been asking questions and proposing policies to the government, policy ideas that would support Canadians dealing with the pandemic and eventual recovery.
Unfortunately, the government has refused to listen to the good ideas or even listen to the pleas of Canadians. From the very beginning of this crisis, we have been hearing from new and expectant parents who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and who will not have the qualifying hours to access parental benefits through employment insurance. I heard from one parent this week who will be eight hours short.
Over the last number of months I have repeatedly asked the minister why she has not yet fixed this problem. She stated that it would be fixed, maybe, at some point in the future.
This is not a “tomorrow” problem. People are having children today, right now, with zero certainty on where they stand. Service Canada is telling them that they simply do not qualify unless policy changes. In at least one case, a new parent was callously told by government staff to go back to work.
Just imagine a young parent, perhaps a single parent, who is already scared to be having a baby during a pandemic, and who is just 25 hours short of qualifying for benefits.
People are being told to go back to work, but now their job is gone. Not only do new parents need time with their newborn, but they are being asked to go back to work. Many sectors quite simply do not exist right now, and there is no work to go back to.
Having a baby should be the happiest time of a person's life, but because of the government's refusal to address this problem, it has become a time of anxiety and fear.
If the government does not intend to fix this problem, it needs to stop saying it will and stop raising false hopes. The government is letting down an entire generation of Canadian families, and we will never stop fighting on their behalf.
Another major issue is that people who are on the CERB, but now have jobs to go back to, are unable to do so if their employers are using a work-sharing agreement. Work share allows employers and the government to split the wages of workers in an effort to get people back to work, and has been a part of the EI system for some time. Unfortunately, people who were on the CERB are being told they are not able to access work share until the minister makes a policy change allowing that transfer.
Again, Service Canada staff are telling employers and members of Parliament's offices that the only delay is coming from the minister's office.
Why will the government not make this change? It is baffling. These people have job opportunities. They want to work, but a technicality is preventing them from working, a technicality the minister can fix today.
When we asked the minister's staff when this would be fixed, they told us that the real problem was that the worker had made a mistake and incorrectly applied for the CERB rather than the work-sharing program. They blame the victims and refuse to fix the problem.
Fixing parental leave and adjusting the work-sharing program are simple changes that would help people immediately. The minister could go back to her office and fix these problems today. I hope she does.
A major policy suggestion the opposition has made was for a back-to-work bonus. The CERB is punitive in that it cuts off someone's entire benefit the moment they make over $1,000 a month. No government program should dis-incentivize work, but that is exactly what the CERB does when it does not have to.
We have provided a perfect policy option that would make the CERB more generous, more flexible, and make work more attractive. The government, of course, has ignored it completely. Canadians need support to transition into the work force and ensure that local businesses can still fill their shifts and get back on their feet.
At the same time, we know that the CERB is still essential for a great many Canadians.
Our economic recovery will be driven by Canadians' hard work, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. We tried our best to make sure Canadians would get the support they needed. However, the government rejected our fixes over and over, without explaining why.
What was its response to new parents? Crickets. The response to people interested in work-sharing? Crickets.
What was the response to a proposal to make sure that people can work more and keep their benefits? Crickets.
The government is bending over backward to reward their friends with hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts while ignoring average Canadians who need the help getting back on their feet. For new parents begging for help, they are told to go back to work. For Liberal friends, it is buckets of cash heading out the door.
Now we come to the subject of the future of EI. The government announced that the CERB would be coming to an end and that people could go on EI. The millions of Canadians who do not qualify for EI will probably get something else, but who knows what that will be?
All that Canadians have gotten from this government is uncertainty and not enough information. Making sure people will be able to pay their rent and provide for their families is certainly one political issue that the government is responding to as ambiguously as possible.
When I first got the honour of filling this shadow cabinet position, I had a series of briefings with the ESDC staff. One of the topics was the future of the EI system. The expert in charge told me that if everything went well, it might still take a decade to transition to a new and modern EI system. They also said that implementing any change to EI would take 16 months to implement, yet the Prime Minister seems to be saying that such a transfer will happen next month, but that the government can't give us any details, but just to hang tight.
CERB is ending, but there are still millions of active claims and the minister herself said earlier this year they had to put in CERB because the EI system could not handle that many claims. However, now the Liberals want people to just trust them, saying that it will all go well, without providing any proof that anything has been improved.
This week, the minister announced that he would set the unemployment rate at less than 13% across the country since young people need to work fewer hours to be eligible for regular EI benefits in regions where the unemployment rate is not as high. This seems like a makeshift technical solution to get the outmoded system to allow applicants to work fewer hours. This is not a new system. This is the same system that failed in March, requiring the implementation of the CERB, for which there was no oversight whatsoever. Just like parental leave, this is not a future problem, it is a current problem, and young people are scared.
Dr. Tammy Schirle from Wilfrid Laurier has posed this hypothetical question that I believe will illustrate a major concern well. It is as follows, “Joe got laid off in mid March and put in an EI claim right away, got CERB. Will that count as part of the 26 weeks of benefits? Or is the transition into EI a new claim?” People who applied for the CERB through EI would presumably have EI files. Will those be transferred to EI? How does the system know that the CERB time does not subtract from future EI time if it is the same claim? Is it the government's assertion that every single CERB claim will seamlessly transfer to an EI claim with zero issues?
What proof can the government give Canadians that it will work, that people should have faith that they will get a payment right away? The government has given none. It took a few days for CERB to get paid and EI took almost a month. Will people have to wait a month from the first transfer to get a payment? That would mean many people would go multiple months with zero support.
I am not asking these questions to scare people or to act like the sky is falling. I am asking these questions because we have zero evidence that the government is going to address them, and people need certainty.
I have not touched on many major aspects of this. For the people who are not EI eligible, the government says there will be something there for them. Will they go to EI? Will CRA manage a CERB-like program or will ESDC? Will this program pay a flat rate like CERB or a percentage of wages like EI? These are important questions that we deserve answers to.
Canadians deserve answers.
The government's response is to just wait and that everything will be fine.
As the official opposition, we are going to make sure that we hold the government to account and to seek real answers. Canadians deserve nothing less than that.