Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was made.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Liberal MP for Portneuf (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2004, with 28% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply May 6th, 2004

Actually, Mr. Speaker, I will neither debate nor let off steam. I have better to do than to accuse the hon. member or target him as he just did me.

During his speech, he must have said at least 10 to 15 times “to inform the member for Portneuf”, as if we were morons, know nothing and they know everything. That's what makes their strength. This is what the member did all along his speech. I will let him go that way. If he wants to add to what he already said and go on, so be it but I have better things to do. As a matter of fact, instead of complaining, we are working on concrete things.

I will ask a question because he asked me a question earlier about the 88 per cent. I already had the information he previously gave me. However, did he know that the 88 per cent figure is part of a report which was tabled in the House in 1997 and which is about the control and evaluation of employment insurance? That is where the figure of 88 per cent comes from. Was he aware of the existence of that report?

This is the only question I have for him. If he wishes to go on ranting and raving, I will let him do so.

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak, but not in answer to the member for Repentigny. It is not even worth my while. When I spoke earlier, I said clearly that I was doing so to explain exactly what we had done and not to defend the present state of things and say that all is well in the best of worlds. Rather, I will speak in answer to an earlier question of his and let him take it from there.

As you see, it takes but an utterance and you see how our words can be misconstrued...

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, as far as the issue of the self-employed is concerned, I must point out that, at the request of the Prime Minister, I was part of the Task Force on Women Entrepreneurs, which went around the country in order to report on the situation of women entrepreneurs.

I know perfectly well what the self-employed are faced with. I am the first in this government to defend the idea that we must take a position to help them. Which one exactly? I would not be able to tell you tomorrow morning, because this is something the whole government must decide.

However, I am the first to promote the fact that for self-employed workers, we must absolutely find a solution, because more and more, they wield economic power in Canada, and it is really important. We have to look out for them, because they can often find themselves in very difficult situations.

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, those figures are verifiable, and I can provide them to the honourable member so he can check them. They were provided by the department and, according to them, 88% of all Canadians would be eligible to EI if they needed it. Those are the figures provided and we are not afraid to show them. We are not afraid to tell those things.

Earlier, a Bloc member mentioned the possibility of regionalizing EI and he gave some examples from his region. Do you know that, overall, Quebec has drawn $86 billion in EI benefits since 1980, while it collected $73 billion? It is hard to believe that there is a deficit and that Quebec does not draw its fair share.

That does not include the $600 million in benefits related to employment that Quebec gets every year. That is not included in those figures. Do you realize how much money Quebec gets? But that does not mean we condone what is going on now. We now have a specific problem on the Lower North Shore and elsewhere.

I went there, I met people and I wanted to explain to them what we were doing. Just to show you how discussions can sometimes be difficult, I recall very vividly that the Sans-Chemise came here recently. The Bloc proposed a motion which was rejected, because initiatives are being taken to resolve the problem.

I went to talk to the Sans-Chemise to inform them of what we were doing. It seems to me that when one wants to put in place new criteria, new standards or new measures, one is willing to discuss. As I was talking to these people, members from the Bloc arrived and accused us of being liars, stirring up people against me. They all left. It was sheer arrogance, when I wanted to sit down with them and discuss peacefully what we were doing. I was brought up to do that. It might not be the same thing for them, but that is what I was brought up to do.

I was happy to hear the previous speaker say a moment ago that she was ready to sit down and talk. It would be good if all Bloc members could do that so that we could find solutions.

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I want to apologize once again for saying things that I should not have said. I apologize to the Bloc members. There is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, we lose control because things are construed in so many different ways.

Just a while ago, a member said that we do nothing for elderly people. As far as I know, we have launched a pilot program to find solutions in that area. We are taking different measures like that. This is the type of thing we are working on.

An interim report will shortly be delivered to the Prime Minister and the minister responsible for employment insurance. Certain things will be done as has been said. We must find real solutions to a very real problem, in accordance with a plan for standards and legislations.

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I know how to apologize when I have made a mistake. I am sorry for having said that some Bloc members had already left on vacation. When I get slapped on the wrist and it is justified, I have no problem with that.

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I am sometimes at a loss for where to start. The Bloc Quebecois will never form a government. Bloc members can therefore afford to say any odd thing, make any odd statements, whenever they feel like it, because they will never have to be accountable.

Those who say that anything can be done turn a blind eye to the time and money involved. They do not even bother to check the rules to see if indeed it can be done. They accuse us of not doing enough, of not acting. One need only look at how much energy we on this side are putting into our work, looking for solutions to specific problems.

The Minister of Industry was here this afternoon. She is working. Does anyone think that the minister has nothing better to do than sit here all afternoon? Some ministers work seven days a week on finding solutions. We have three ministers working back here, in the lobby, this afternoon, while half of the Bloc members have left already. They are on holiday.

Supply May 6th, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking this afternoon. Given that what we say is often misinterpreted here, let me say at the outset that I will be speaking about the report entitled “Beyond Bill C-2.”This is not to say that everything has been done and that there is no more to do. I would be the first to say that a lot remains to be done and it so happens that we are presently at work on a number of issues in this regard.

I am nevertheless pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the issue of employment insurance, specially with regard to the report entitled “Beyond Bill C-2.”

I will read some brief notes to make sure people are properly informed. It must be said in fact that information given or discussed here is sometimes so skewed, so misinterpreted, that people may be somewhat baffled as to what is going on here.

This government greatly appreciates the work of the Standing committee on Human resource developmentand has examined carefully the recommendations contained in the committee's report. We have always been willing to change to meet the need, as we have shown time and time again with regard to employment insurance.

However, at the outset, I think it is important to mention that the employment insurance program is working for a majority of Canadians. It is there for people who need it and it will remain in place, as it has for 60 years.

Employment insurance is a reliable program that is meeting the needs of Canadians. In times of economic uncertainty, workers can count on employment insurance to help them re-enter the labour force.

It is also a flexible program. Of course, certain regions and certain groups of workers—those we have been talking about these past few weeks—such as seasonal workers, can have to face special challenges on the labour market, which is not always easy. The establishment of employment insurance economic regions ensures that the employment insurance program takes into account the high unemployment levels in some parts of the country, so that all workers have equal access to the program.

The present government has pursued a flexible approach to adjust the employment insurance economic regions in such a way that the workers living in parts of the country where work is mainly seasonal can continue to collect employment insurance benefits.

Let me give a few examples. Workers in the Lower St. Lawrence and North Shore area of Quebec need 70 hours less than do workers in areas with low unemployment to qualify for EI benefits.

The plan has been designed to adjust quickly and automatically to changes in the labour market. The variable entrance requirement is reviewed every four weeks on the basis of the latest unemployment statistics. In other words, if unemployment goes up in any area, the requirements are automatically adjusted to permit easier access to the program. Therefore, people in areas with higher unemployment need fewer hours of work to be entitled to benefits over an extended period of time.

Access to EI is easy. The Monitoring and Assessment Report indicates that 88% of Canadians who are salaried employees could eventually be eligible if they lost their job.

Moreover, the switch in 1996 to an hour-based system and first dollar coverage means that each hour of work is included in the EI coverage. This change has meant easier access to the plan for seasonal workers, part-time workers and those with multiple jobs.

The employment insurance is a system that is in constant evolution. When we adopted the EI reform in 1996, we made a commitment to control and evaluate the system. We have kept our word. We were and still are committed to ensuring that EI continues to serve the needs of all Canadians. Whenever changes were justified, we have made them.

Since the EI reform, we have made various adjustments, including the improved parental benefits and the integration of the small weeks provision which is now permanently included in the employment insurance system and applied nationwide.

There is also the abolition of the intensity rule, the change to the payback provisions, changes to the rule on undeclared earnings, the introduction this year of a new six-week compassionate benefit for eligible workers who will be looking after a seriously ill parent, child or spouse.

Many of these adjustments were brought specifically in response to the needs of seasonal workers, part-time workers and multiple job holders.

The passage of Bill C-2 illustrates the adaptability of the EI program. This bill speaks to the day to day realities of Canadians.

For example, the intensity rule was designed to discourage the use of employment insurance from one year to the next. We realize that this rule was ineffective and, frankly, punitive; so we abolished it. Seasonal workers were often among these recipients that the intensity rule was affecting. Over 900,000 Canadians received retroactive payments following the abolition of this rule.

We also changed the rule relating to people returning to the workforce. Recipients who leave the workforce and re-enter it are often parents who must balance professional and family responsibilities. Before Bill C-2, these people were considered as new entrants in the workforce, which meant that they had to accumulate more insurable hours of work before being eligible for benefits. Now, parents are eligible for regular benefits, as other workers, when they re-enter the workforce after an extended absence during which they were raising their children.

On the most important measures that the government has taken since the EI reform to respond to the concerns of seasonal workers is the small weeks initiative.

Since it came into effect, this initiative has made the workforce more effective by encouraging Canadians to accept part-time and temporary work, which has helped to make up for short-term manpower shortages that employers had to deal with, particularly in the seasonal employment sector.

The short week provision also helps part-time and seasonal workers to retain their connections with the job market. Our evaluation shows that claimants worked an average of two extra weeks. Across Canada, more than 185,000 Canadians benefited from the short week provision.

We have improved the short week characteristics to better harmonize them with the realities of job market. A combination of regular weeks and short weeks might reduce the rate of benefits the next time a claim is made. By increasing the short week threshold from $150 to $225, we provide workers with greater flexibility to accept short weeks without a reduction in their future benefits rate.

These measures taken by the government clearly show that we intend to adjust employment insurance to the reality of the job market. We will continue to make the necessary changes.

That said, while it is important to understand the unique challenges faced by seasonal workers, it is equally critical to recognize that employment insurance is only a part of the solution. Canadians told us that they do not want to claim employment insurance benefits. They want to have jobs. The answer to that is to develop community capabilities and to strengthen local economies, in order to offer sustainable employment opportunities.

Our goal is to encourage Canadians to work and help them rejoin the workforce. True income security starts with a job. We established local committees in Quebec and in New Brunswick to consider ways to help workers affected in those regions. With our partners, we are pursuing several approaches to address the issues concerning seasonal workers, based on the recommendations made by local committees.

The employment insurance program is effective and is there to help workers in need. We continue to implement control and evaluation measures of the program to make sure that it continues to answer the needs of Canadians.

In conclusion, I will say that committees who travelled across Canada are still doing a lot of work to make a recommendation to bring new faces and to give an up-to-date picture of what is happening in the regions of Quebec and in all of Canada. We must bring about changes to make the situation even better.

Some opposition members say that we are delaying calling an election while others say that we want to call the elections too fast. I for one think that now is the time to help those in need in the regions of Quebec. They are expecting specific measures. I do want these measures to be taken.

We could do as the Bloc is asking and do an in-depth study of EI. We will not have time for that. The fact is that the changes must be made by regulation and we will not have time to make extensive changes. Things are being done however. We can act now while at the time taking a closer look at what could be done.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004 May 4th, 2004

Oh, oh.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004 May 4th, 2004

I am trying to speak, if the member could listen. They are entitled to speak and we listen, but when we speak, they do not listen. Look at how they shout in this House. That is what they do all the time: they do nothing but shout.

What the hon. member said earlier about health is that the federal government's share of funding went from 25% to 16% and is now only 4%. He is saying that the federal government pays only 4% of health costs, which is absolutely false and ridiculous. How are people supposed to understand this and agree with it? It makes no sense. These are unwarranted assertions.

When we form a government, we have to have the means to fulfill our ambitions. It is easy to be in the opposition, to talk through one's hat and say that the government should do this and that. If we did all that, we would once again run deficits of the order of $45 billion. In 1993, when we took office, the annual deficits were around $40 billion. It did not make sense. Yet, these are the kinds of things we hear all the time.

I have a straightforward question for the hon. member. If he has a document proving that the federal government only contributes 4% for health, let him table it here in the House, with the true and verifiable figures that support this claim. Let him do it.