Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was reform.

Last in Parliament April 1997, as Liberal MP for Saskatoon—Humboldt (Saskatchewan)

Lost her last election, in 1997, with 26% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply December 5th, 1995

Mr. Speaker, as a western Canadian, I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate on the motion of the opposition party concerning our government's plans to reform the old system of unemployment insurance in Canada.

So far most of the discussion that has taken place since the Minister of Human Resources Development introduced the new act on Friday last has focused on the impact in the eastern parts of the country, in Quebec and Atlantic Canada in particular. It is important to keep in mind, however, that these reforms will impact in all parts of Canada. Canadians in every province will be potentially better off because of them.

A number of respected and knowledgeable Canadians, including several from western Canada, have already spoken publicly in support of the new legislation. There is indeed broad support for the new program all across the country.

It is important that members of the House should assess the new employment insurance act in terms of what it will do for unemployed Canadians, not on how it fits with one political ideology or the other. It is also essential that we use this opportunity to help Canadians to better understand the new act, and especially to clarify some of the misconceptions that have arisen in some of the public discussion in the past few days.

The first thing that needs to be clarified is the question of the reserve, how in fact the reserve that is expected to accumulate in the insurance fund will be used. I raise this because there has been concern expressed that any surpluses that may accumulate will be used to pay down the government's debt or reduce the operating deficit.

Let me be perfectly clear on this. Surpluses in the insurance fund will not be used to reduce the government's debt or deficit. The unemployment insurance fund has operated under a separate set of accounts in the past, and that will not change with the new law. The federal government acts as a lender of last resort for the account when it is in deficit, which by the way must be repaid with interest. Alternatively, when the account accumulates a surplus it will earn interest.

Since 1986, following the recommendation of the auditor general of the day, the unemployment insurance account has been part of the government's consolidated account. This is simply to provide an integrated report of the government's financial operations.

As with the unemployment insurance account, the employment insurance account will be separate from the government's consolidated revenue fund. It cannot be used for purposes other than those designated in the legislation. Thus, should there be any surpluses in the employment insurance fund, which is self-financed out of employer and employee contributions, it will stay in the EI account. To make it abundantly clear, EI premiums will not be used to pay down the debt.

It is true that the unemployment insurance fund is currently in a small surplus position. It is true that the minister has said it is the government's intention to increase the reserve in the account. The reason for this is quite apart from issues of deficit and debt reduction. The reason for this is to ensure the stability and long-term sustainability of the EI program itself.

Members of the House may remember that during the last recession the unemployment insurance program was in serious financial difficulty. Benefit claims were climbing sharply, contributions were not covering the increased payouts, and the unemployment fund operating deficit was growing at an alarming rate. As everyone knows, for an insurance program a growing deficit between claims and premiums spells disaster.

The government of the day, in reaction to this impending disaster, was forced to raise premiums and then to raise them again. In a two-year period premiums increased by about 25 per cent. In fact over a five-year period premiums rose by 36 per cent, from $2.25 to $3.07.

The bad news is that these hefty increases in premiums, which I would remind hon. members are paid by the employers and the employees, were not enough to balance the account. At the end of the day, the fund eventually ran up a cumulative deficit of $6 billion.

People are tired of these big numbers. They are getting very used to them. I would like to put this in perspective. The impact of a $6 billion deficit on a fund like this means hardship for the employers and the employees. In the first place, employers were faced with higher payroll taxes at a time in the economic cycle when they could least afford it. In effect, this served as a drag on job creation. Some estimates suggested that the premium increases killed as many as 40,000 jobs.

As for the workers, they too were faced with paying higher premiums, which meant they had less money in their pockets after deductions. The increased premiums in fact reduced their after-tax income at a time when the economy needed stimulation in the form of more consumer spending.

Fortunately, the system is now back in equilibrium. As I said earlier, we have a small but positive surplus in the account. The financial disaster in the UI fund was averted. No one wants that kind of situation to happen again. That is why it is extremely important that we build a surplus in the EI fund.

Should we get into a position where the reserve is judged to be sufficient, it will allow us to consider whether further premium

reductions may be possible. The review of the adjustment to the reforms, which the legislation itself requires must take place by December 1998, will provide us with an opportunity to reassess the financial stability of the fund and contemplate any such changes.

Where did the suggestions for these changes come from? As it turns out, the proposal to accumulate a reserve in the UI account came from the House of Commons committee which studied this issue and whose members recognized the necessity of maintaining a stable account through the economic cycle. They recognized the need to have money set aside in case of a downturn in the business cycle and the consequent need for higher UI payouts should this occur. For this reason they made a recommendation to keep a reserve against that possibility. This is what the term insurance reserve is all about. It is a matter of prudent fiscal management and has nothing whatsoever to do with deficit reduction.

This is not to say that our government has lost any of its firm resolve to deal with the deficit and debt situation we inherited. We remain firmly committed to the objective set out by the Minister of Finance. We are meeting our deficit reduction targets through operating efficiencies and other spending cuts. In fact, we expect to make significant savings with the new employment insurance act. How can this be? There are some very practical ways this could occur.

The first is that we are reducing the cost of premiums for both employers and workers. We are restructuring the system of benefits as we come to grips with a program whose costs have doubled from around $8 billion in 1982 to over $16 billion this year. We are introducing a number of new administrative efficiencies which will reduce the overhead costs of operating the unemployment program and will result in a more decentralized program delivery system.

These are important measures for western Canadians and in fact for all Canadians. Reducing premiums means that western Canadians will pay less for the benefit program and will receive more back for every dollar they contribute. This will reduce the amount of cross-subsidization of the program by western Canadians.

These are big changes. Of course sometimes big changes need a time of transition. For this reason, government is committed to ensuring that in special needs areas, for example, where unemployment rates are higher than 12 per cent, those areas will receive transitional assistance during adjustment to the reforms.

In addition, the family income supplement will mean that low income parents on unemployment insurance could collect up to 80 per cent of their previous earnings. An important aspect of this new measure is that it treats the family as a unit for unemployment insurance purposes and not as a set of individuals.

We know that the best way to reduce costs in the unemployment program is to get people working again. It is not for nothing that the new program is called employment insurance. The new employment insurance program introduced last Friday contains a set of employment benefits that have been described as pro work. Some $800 million of the savings from unemployment reforms will be reinvested in these measures which are designed to help unemployed workers re-enter the workforce.

Western Canadian provinces will also have full access to the employment benefit measures. The objective of these employment benefits is to improve incentives to work and to reduce dependency on the EI system.

The new employment benefits include well targeted, results oriented measures such as wage subsidies, earning supplements, self-employment assistance, job creation partnerships and loans and grants to help workers improve their skills. Use of these employment measures will be tailored to meet specific labour market needs and priorities as determined within a decentralized context. The emphasis will be on flexibility, common sense and practical experience.

In addition, the future service delivery and decision making will take place as close to the local level as possible. Local skills and expertise will be used working in partnership with other levels of government, community groups, educators and others from the business community and labour organizations.

This new approach to unemployment assistance is based on the idea that effective programs can be designed and delivered in the region that will use them. Ottawa does not have to make all the decisions. It is based on our belief that people want to work. They do not want to draw UI time after time. With the new employment insurance program, we are giving them the tools to get back to work.

Other sceptics may ask: Will this innovative approach work in western Canada? The answer is, it already is. The human resources development department has undertaken a number of pilot projects in western Canada which are based on this model.

There is a job creation partnership project in the area of tourism in Medicine Hat. Twenty-six seasonal or displaced workers became involved in a project jointly funded by the federal department and the city of Medicine Hat to help the city plan for an expansion of its tourism industry.

In the area of business start ups, in my home city of Saskatoon there is a self-employment assistance project which has helped 17 entrepreneurs start new businesses. A number of these people have in turn hired new workers.

Another example is in that very important area of making the transition from welfare to work. There is a self-sufficiency project in the lower mainland of British Columbia, a co-operative venture which provides earnings supplements to help single parents get off welfare and get back to work.

These are all practical working examples, not just airy-fairy hopes and dreams. This is why we know it will work in western Canada just as its works in all parts of the country. The door is open for the development of co-operative ventures with each and every province.

With the new employment insurance act this government has opened the way for individual provinces to work with the federal government to develop unique labour market programs which meet the needs of individual governments, regions and people. Because of this, I must disagree with the motion put forward by the hon. member for Mercier. It is my belief that contrary to that motion this government is doing everything-

Supply December 5th, 1995

Mr. Speaker, things are becoming more and more curious as I listen to my colleagues from the Bloc and the Reform Party.

I listened to Bloc members saying they agree with Reform. Then I listened to Reform members asking why government is not creating more jobs. That sounds a lot like the NDP. Then when we have the Reform and the NDP voting together against the government on issues like gun control, voting against the veto power, perhaps there is a reason for the hon. member's confusion.

Speaking of confusion, I would like to touch again on a point of confusion my friend from the Bloc seems to have. He seems to be suffering from the same affliction as the member for Yorkton-Melville in that he thinks the government was elected on jobs, jobs, jobs. Again, there is probably confusion there given the close relationship between the former government, which did promise that, and the Bloc Quebecois whose members tend to be a lot of recycled Tories.

I am wondering about the comment the member from the Bloc made with regard to what should have happened. This is not a world of should have but a world of what has happened. The people of Quebec rejected what was put to them by the members of the Bloc Quebecois.

The member has made a strong statement that there is not going to be any agreement. I regret that because it seems the package put forward by the Minister of Human Resources Development goes a long way in allowing the federal government and the provincial government to work together to achieve exactly what we have been hearing from the member from the Bloc all year long. I encourage him and his party to co-operate with the government rather than destroy the country.

Pornography November 28th, 1995

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to bring to your attention the deep concerns of

many of my constituents, especially in the districts of Cudworth, Wakaw, and Humboldt, regarding pornography.

I have received many little white ribbons in recognition of WRAP week, "White Ribbons Against Pornography". The letter I received from Lana Reding explains it best. Lana wrote: "We feel that not enough is being done to protect families against abuse and pornography, especially our children, who are our future. In our church, St. Michael's Parish, we pinned white ribbons on our parishioners and they returned them the following week. Also our town of Cudworth declared that October 22 to 29 be recognized as WRAP week. There is far too much pornography on TV, in magazines, and books, exposing our children to sex, violence, and crimes. They need to be protected from much of this. We hope you will pass these ribbons along to our Prime Minister and express our concern regarding WRAP week".

It is only when people like Lana Reding get involved in the process that meaningful change can occur. I commend my constituents for their efforts.

Status Of Women November 9th, 1995

Mr. Speaker, it has been 25 years since the Royal Commission on the Status of Women tabled its report in this House, making numerous recommendations to improve the educational levels for women.

Since then we have made significant progress. For example, 25 years ago less than 3 per cent of women held university degrees. Today 10 per cent of Canadian women are university graduates and 52 per cent of full time university students are women.

The need for education is gender neutral. Education for women and for men is fundamental to economic advancement, to personal fulfilment and to the opportunity to participate to their full potential in Canadian society.

Federal and provincial initiatives have improved the educational status of women. Our goal is to ensure equality in education and training for Canadian women and girls, thus paving the road to a truly equitable society.

``My Canadian Bouquet'' October 20th, 1995

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to Saskatchewan artist Anne Prefontaine.

In 1985 Anne was commissioned by the French Cultural Association to make a painting for the town of Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan. This painting was ultimately presented to the Right Hon. Jeanne Sauvé, former Governor General of Canada, on September 17, 1986. Mr. Speaker, you will recall that Madam Sauvé was a francophone who spent part of her childhood in Prud'homme, Saskatchewan, a small village in my riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt.

Mrs. Prefontaine's painting is called "My Canadian Bouquet", en français "Mon pays en fleurs". The painting depicts a beautiful bouquet of flowers. On closer inspection, we see it is made up of the floral emblems of each of the provinces and territories, including the prairie lily, the floral emblem of Saskatchewan. Each flower is beautiful on its own, but as part of this floral arrangement the beauty of each is further enhanced. Like Canada, the final result is truly more than a mere sum of its parts.

Thank you, Anne, for stepping forward again with your message of love and hope for a united Canada.

Quebec Economy October 17th, 1995

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.

According to a recent analysis by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, an independent Quebec could acceed to the various international treaties.

Can the minister explain to us the stages and steps a country must pass through to acceed to NAFTA and to the World Trade Organization?

Women Entrepreneurs October 6th, 1995

Mr. Speaker, on September 22, 1995, the office of The Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan was officially opened in Saskatoon to serve businesswomen in rural and urban communities across the province.

Women entrepreneurs enjoy an enviable success rate in business. In spite of this they have historically faced obstacles which often prevented them from getting started in the first place such as banks demanding a husband's signature on a loan, high interest rates or excessive collateral. We must factor in as well fear of the unknown and isolation resulting from lack of business networks.

The women entrepreneurs office, funded by western economic diversification, will go a long way to breaking down the barriers by providing loans at market interest rates, advisory services, mentoring and seminars related to entrepreneurship and business skills.

Congratulations to Jeanne Martinson, Pamela Warden, Marie Jensen, Donna Dixson-Bernard and Ann Chatfield, the board of directors, for making this dream a reality. Finally, well done, Andrea Scott.

Hire A Student Week June 21st, 1995

Mr. Speaker, the Canada employment centre for students is celebrating its annual hire a student week across Canada, June 19 to 23.

The goal of hire a student week is to gain support from potential employers and to heighten awareness of the services available through the Canada employment centre for students in Saskatoon as well as in other parts of the country.

People will notice the hire a student buttons being worn by students at the events planned to celebrate this week. In Saskatoon we had button day on Monday, flag raising day was yesterday, today is a hot dog sale, fitting for students, tomorrow is job shadowing day and on Friday, most important, is employment appreciation day.

I extend a big thank you to the hard working young people in the Canada employment centre for students office in Saskatoon, in particular Thomasina Burke, for all the hard work they do in helping students find much needed summer employment.

St. Brieux, Saskatchewan June 9th, 1995

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in praise of my home province of Saskatchewan, in particular the town of St. Brieux in the northeast corner of my riding.

St. Brieux is an extraordinary town. It is 90 minutes northeast of Saskatoon with a vigorous farm equipment manufacturing plant, lots of employment, business opportunities, schools and is bilingual. The gateway to the northern lakes, it has golf, hockey and no crime. So ran the ad in the

Toronto Sun about two weeks ago. A four bedroom house can be purchased for a mere $48,000.

If it is quality of life they are seeking, Torontonians will soon be flocking to St. Brieux, especially after last night's election results. The possibility of living in a kinder, gentler and economically robust environment should make Saskatchewan a more attractive alternative than ever.

Petitions June 1st, 1995

Madam Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I have the honour today to present a petition on behalf of certain individuals from my riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt as well as other areas in the province of Saskatchewan.

The signatories to the petition are deeply concerned about the use of BST in dairy production and urge the House to desist from passing legislation legalizing the use of BST and require that products using BST be identified on their entry to Canada.