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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was benefits.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Bloc MP for Saint-Lambert (Québec)

Lost her last election, in 2011, with 26% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Employment March 13th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, today we are talking about the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs because of the economic crisis. A great many of them cannot collect employment insurance benefits and find themselves in dire straits. The criteria are so restrictive that, according to the department's own numbers, only 46% of those who lose their jobs collect benefits.

Does the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development realize that she must improve access to employment insurance and stop depriving 54% of those who lose their jobs of benefits?

Business of Supply March 5th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question, which is an excellent one.

I think offering self-employed workers the opportunity to contribute to employment insurance on a voluntary basis is long overdue. They account for about 17% of workers in Canada. I think that is enough to allow them the opportunity to contribute to the EI system on a voluntary basis. I would add that many of these self-employed workers are women, and many of them are single parents. Thus, I think it is high time we offered them the opportunity to contribute to the system.

Business of Supply March 5th, 2009

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her question. We absolutely must eliminate the waiting period for workers who are losing their jobs. I would like to add that, often, these workers have not had a chance to set aside a lot of money. They wake up one morning and find themselves without the means to keep up with their daily expenses.

Eliminating the waiting period would allow them, after having lost their jobs, to have access to some money and avoid going further into debt by using a high interest rate credit card to pay for family's and children's daily necessities. Eliminating the waiting period would give these workers quick access to some money.

Business of Supply March 5th, 2009

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Laval.

It is a great pleasure for me to take the floor today in this House because I am particularly concerned by the issue raised by my hon. colleague from Hamilton Mountain. I believe it is absolutely crucial for those who will be hardest hit by the economic crisis we are currently experiencing, namely the unemployed.

To begin, I want to say that I am completely in favour of this motion, which covers a number of the main themes that the Bloc Québécois has been defending for many years in connection with employment insurance, as well as Bill C-308 which was recently introduced by my colleague from Chambly—Borduas on February 10.

We know that the measures proposed in this motion are not new. Four years ago, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities adopted a report recommending these same measures: elimination of the waiting period; introduction of a qualifying period of 360 hours regardless of the regional rate of unemployment; increase of the salary covered from 55% to 60% based on the best 12 weeks; and introduction of a provision allowing self-employed workers to contribute voluntarily to the employment insurance plan.

We in the Bloc Québécois also believe that these measures would substantially improve the employment insurance system, which for about 15 years now has been but a shadow of what it used to be. This is to be vigorously condemned for as long as this injustice persists.

In the last 20 years, the coverage rate of the employment insurance system has been cut by half. The ratio of recipients to unemployed has fallen from 84% to 46% because the qualifying criteria were substantially and unfairly tightened in the 1990s.

We all know what followed: the government misappropriated staggering surpluses from the employment insurance fund, surpluses whose size was due solely to the tightening of the qualifying criteria. It is high time that the government finally recognized this injustice and did everything in its power to remedy it. This injustice is denounced not only by the Bloc Québécois and the NDP, but also by all the unions and all the groups advocating for workers’ rights. This injustice has resulted in the aberration of an employment insurance plan that does not even cover half of the persons unemployed.

The statements made this afternoon in oral question period by the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development are totally incorrect. It is not true that 82% of contributors to the plan can receive employment insurance. In the last report on employment insurance coverage, the department’s figures were much gloomier. In fact, barely 64% of contributors had access to EI benefits. That is nothing less than unacceptable.

The minister compared the employment insurance system to a private system, which is rather cynical because she reduced the state's role to that of a corporation motivated solely by financial gain. Following that logic, she is saying that the insurer could decide not to compensate 36% of its clients. Nobody would stand for that kind of attitude. Such a company would be accused of scandal, fraud, theft and mean-spiritedness. And rightly so, I might add.

So why does the government think that it has the right to just ignore the dire straits in which 36% of the people who contribute to the fund and then lose their jobs find themselves? Why? What for? Nothing justifies that kind of attitude, which demonstrates the government's alarming indifference to its social responsibilities.

The Minister of Human Resources' new title is very telling. By replacing “social development” with “skills development”, the Conservatives have made their position clear: no more compassion, no more social safety net. The Conservatives have found the fastest, easiest way to eliminate “social” anything from their list of responsibilities: just take it out of the title. The Bloc Québécois will continue to remind them of their responsibilities in that respect, and they will not soon forget.

And now, back to the motion before us. Exactly five weeks ago, I had an opportunity to talk about a bill introduced by my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi, who proposed eliminating the waiting period. As I said then, the waiting period is, quite simply, a way to punish the unemployed for losing their jobs. This is a completely unjustifiable policy that merely exacerbates the already unbearable situation in which the unemployed find themselves.

People are waiting longer and longer to receive their employment insurance benefits, often longer than four weeks, and the waiting period adds two long weeks to that time. This is not about extending the employment insurance benefit period by two weeks. This is just about changing the time when benefits start flowing so that people who have lost their jobs are not placed in an unendurable situation for those first two weeks.

According to numbers from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, this measure would cost some $900 million.

Well, $900 million is a far cry from the $57 billion denied workers over the past 20 years. This $900 million would be injected in its entirety into the Canadian economy, as the government itself admits in its evaluation of the economic impact of the measures relating to employment insurance in the recent budget.

In this recession, it is $900 million that would benefit both the unemployed and the businesses where the unemployed would be spending the sums they received.

The other measure in this motion I would like to discuss today is the reduction of the number of hours needed to qualify for employment insurance benefits. At the moment, the number of hours varies between 420 and 910. That is far too much. This is the main reason so many unemployed people do not benefit from coverage under the plan. According to the CSN, some 39% of the workforce works fewer than 35 hours a week. This 39% then is not eligible under the 12 week minimum. With the number of hours set at 360, which the Bloc has long called for, an estimated 70% to 80% of those unemployed could collect benefits, and the level of coverage would be returned to what it was 20 years ago.

Once again, this is a measure that has the support of all the unions and all the groups defending the rights of the unemployed and it was given support on a number of occasions by the committee on human resources and—social or skills—development, according to whether the social mission of the government is to be kept or dropped.

It is perhaps not supported by the former director of the Bank of Canada, whom the member for Huron—Bruce quoted, but I prefer to stick with the opinion expressed by people close to the concerns of the unemployed, who work not only with figures but with people in difficulty.

In conclusion, I would like to express a reservation about this motion, one that the NDP knows well, where Quebec is involved, but does not always include. It concerns respect for the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces established under the constitution. If we in the Bloc support the government's investing in the training and re-training of the workforce, it must be done by transferring the amounts involved unconditionally to the Government of Quebec.

These are provincial jurisdictions, as everyone knows, and there is no question of our backing off on this matter or of supporting a measure that would force the Government of Quebec to report to the federal government. I also take this opportunity to strongly criticize the federal government's attempts in this regard in its current negotiations with the Government of Quebec on the transfer of $700 million over six years for workforce training.

Apart from this reservation, I am delighted to support the NDP motion.

Employment Insurance March 5th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government is using the economic crisis as a pretext for acting on its ideological bias against women. However, even during prosperous times, it shirked its responsibilities and, as a direct result, now that the crisis is hitting hardest, only 33% of unemployed women can access employment insurance.

As we celebrate International Women's Week, does the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development not think it is crucial that we improve access to employment insurance for women?

Service Canada March 2nd, 2009

Madam Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to the issue raised by the member for Brossard—La Prairie in her motion. This issue is very important to the people in my riding and the city of Longueuil in general, as well as to everyone living on the south shore in the Montreal region.

About five years ago, the former member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, Caroline St-Hilaire, was doing everything she could to force the government to acknowledge that passport issuing services for residents of the south shore were lacking. I think that she is one of the main reasons we are talking about this today. I was therefore very pleased to find out that the member for Brossard—La Prairie was joining the Bloc Québécois to fight for better services for the people of the south shore across from Montreal.

Currently, a resident of Longueuil has three options for getting a passport. The first, and easiest option, is to go to a Bloc Québécois member's office. We have been offering this service to the people of our ridings for several years now, and I have to say that it helps a lot.

However, as everyone probably knows, members do not have access to priority service, nor can they process applications themselves. We help by checking forms, photos and identification documents and by sending applications by priority mail. The problem with this method is that it creates a lot of additional work for members' employees, and that can be hard to manage. It means that they have less time to focus on other files that should be getting ongoing attention. Often, there is just not enough time.

The second option is to go to a Canada Post office that acts as a receiving agent for Passport Canada. A receiving agent provides the same service as an MP's office, with one exception: Canada Post charges a $20 administration fee, even though the processing time is no shorter.

This is likely the most inequitable solution, because people who choose this option not only have to wait longer than people who deal directly with Passport Canada, but they also have to pay a hefty charge.

The third option is to go into downtown Montreal. Anyone who knows what traffic between the south shore and the island is like at rush hour knows that this option is no better than the first two, even though the Passport Canada offices give faster service. The Montreal office, which is in the Guy Favreau Complex, is open only from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. It is not open on the weekend. Given how heavy the traffic is, it is nearly impossible for someone who works during normal business hours to get to this office without taking time off. And I feel that this is not right.

It is therefore clear that passport offices are needed on the south shore. We are talking about a region with nearly a million and a half inhabitants, including more than 700,000 in Longueuil alone.

I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that the people of the south shore in general and Longueuil in particular are not being served equitably, for the reason I just mentioned. It is unfair that the people of Longueuil do not have access to the same services as, for example, the residents of Laval, which is similar in size. What is more, I feel that this is an essential service, because a passport is required for all air travel and will soon be required for all travel by land to the United States.

Effective June 1, 2009, under the western hemisphere travel initiative, anyone travelling to the United States will be required to hold a valid passport. As a result, we can reasonably expect the number of applications to go up considerably, despite the economic crisis.

With that in mind, on September 4, 2008, just three days before the last election call, the former Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Canada announced 99 new passport receiving agent sites at Service Canada centres. Six sites for the Montérégie area were announced at the time, but to date three, including the Longueuil site, have yet to be set up.

The advantage with these sites is that, while they do not handle applications as Passport Canada offices do, they do not make people pay $20 extra as Canada Post receiving agents do. Their processing time may be longer than Passport Canada's, but at least it saves people from Longueuil having to take their applications to a government service point in Montreal.

As members know, in recent years Passport Canada has been working closely with Service Canada to expand its network of service points. The current negotiations are leaning toward allowing some Service Canada centres to authenticate and review passport applications on site instead of simply sending them off to a Passport Canada office.

Ultimately, this would be the best and most satisfying solution for the people of Longueuil, as it would solve quickly the problems they are currently facing.

This way, Passport Canada could significantly increase its level of services provided to the public at a reasonable cost without having to open new offices, which would mean savings in terms of capital costs of course.

It is important that the safety of sensitive and confidential information provided with passport applications never be compromised, but there are many dangers. It is therefore imperative that Passport Canada take all necessary steps to ensure that the information remain strictly confidential. That is totally feasible. It is up to Passport Canada to establish very strict standards.

The benefits from this kind of agreement between Service Canada and Passport Canada would be really great for those living on Montreal's south shore, as well as any Quebecker who does not live in Montreal, Quebec City or Gatineau.

I move, seconded by the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, that the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “all” and substituting the following:

service centres in Canada and follow through on its commitment made on September 4, 2008, to add new receiving sites for passport applications.

Employment Insurance Act February 26th, 2009

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for Brome—Missisquoi, for introducing Bill C-241.

This is the sort of bill that would provide real, invaluable assistance to tens of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs or unfortunately will lose them because of the serious economic crisis we are going through.

Over the years, workers who lose their jobs have suffered countless injustices.

Do we need to remind this House that the percentage of unemployed workers who receive employment insurance has shrunk from 84% to 46% in the past 20 years?

Do we need to remind this House that Liberal and Conservative governments have siphoned off more than $57 billion belonging to workers? And that this money will likely never be returned?

In light of this, the waiting period only adds insult to injury for the unemployed, at a time when what they really need is a helping hand from the government.

What exactly is the purpose of the waiting period?

It is very simple: this is nothing more and nothing less than a way of punishing people for losing their jobs. Let us keep in mind that in order to draw EI benefits, a person has to have fallen victim—and I emphasize that word—to a layoff that has nothing to do with failure to perform, and even less to do with voluntary departure. These are people who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves without a job between one day and the next.

So what exactly does the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development want to punish them for?

Another aberration, and again according to the minister, the reason for the waiting period is that this is supposedly an insurance, like other kinds of insurance, and all commercial insurance does include a deductible before one gets any pay-out.

I have never heard such an unfortunate expression of cynicism in this House. In comparing the state to a business, this government is demonstrating what little empathy it has for the less well off members of society. By denying its social role, by virtue of which it is supposed to redistribute wealth rather than contributing to the inequalities, it is demonstrating a doctrinaire and ideological vision that is totally inappropriate.

But let me get back to the bill from my Bloc Québécois colleague who, on the other hand, is demonstrating a real understanding of the difficult situation in which workers who lose their jobs find themselves.

It must be understood that it is not a matter of adding two weeks of benefits, but merely of changing the start date of payments, so that unemployed workers are not in an untenable situation for the first two weeks.

According to Human Resources and Skills Development estimates, such a measure would cost some $900 million. Nine hundred million dollars is far less than the $57 billion confiscated—to avoid using unparliamentary language—from working men and women.

So $900 million would be plowed back into the Canadian economy, as the government itself admits in its assessment of the economic spinoffs from EI-related measures in the last budget.

In this period of recession, that means $900 million which would benefit not only the unemployed workers but also the businesses where they would spend the money they received.

When a person loses his job, and his sole source of income is EI benefits, it is rather a rarity for his first reflex to be investment, contrary to what the Prime Minister implied in a CBC interview during the last campaign.

What interpretation can one put on the scandalous comment he made at that time that Canadians should look on the bright side and take advantage of the weakness of the stock market to buy some stocks?

This kind of behaviour unworthy of a Prime Minister shows us just how profoundly disconnected this Conservative government is from the harsh reality that this crisis has created for hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.

Bill C-241 would provide some relief. This measure, simple yet concrete, efficient and direct, has been called for by dozens of groups representing workers' interests and by unions as well.

This is a perfect opportunity for the government to show goodwill and openness with regard to one of the greatest injustices ever committed by this government.

I invite the members opposite to give us their support so that this bill can be passed as quickly as possible.

The sooner this bill receives royal assent, the sooner the unemployed can receive the benefits to which they are entitled, those they have been paying into week after week, month after month, year after year.

When they pay their premiums, they do not skip two weeks. They cannot decide to stop paying for two weeks of the year. They have to pay every week.

Why should the government force them to wait two weeks before they can access their money?

And I must emphasize the word “their”, because apparently, previous governments, like this one, did not seem to understand this nuance, although it is fundamental, between the government's money and that of unemployed workers.

Yet government members fully understand, for instance, the difference between money they receive as salary and money paid to them by the House of Commons to carry out their responsibilities as MPs, for example. These are two different accounts, completely separate, that have nothing to do with each other, just as public accounts have nothing to do with the money paid by contributors to the system.

Fortunately, the government listened to the Bloc Québécois, which has always stood up to defend workers. Yes, it is thanks to the Bloc Québécois that the Conservatives agreed to separate those two accounts. It is thanks to the hard work of my colleagues who tirelessly denounced the deficiencies in the system.

I would like to talk about the contributors' money for a moment. It is truly appalling that in 2006, barely 64% of those who paid into the system were eligible for employment insurance. That is less than two thirds. And we are talking about workers who, I repeat, pay into the system week after week. The fact that the system is so inaccessible is positively scandalous, since, although they finally agreed to separate the employment insurance account from the federal treasury after years of pressure, they have definitely not done anything to improve the pitiful coverage provided to workers.

But, once again, as I was saying earlier, the Bloc Québécois was there to throw a lifeline to this government, which is sinking further every day into the depths of indifference. However, as a last resort, we especially want to throw a lifeline to the workers, and let us hope they do not have to wait two weeks for it.

In closing, I would like to congratulate my hon. Bloc Québécois colleague on his foresight and his efforts to really do something for unemployed workers.

Passport Canada February 13th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, in June 2009, it will be mandatory to show a passport in order to enter the United States. This new rule has led to an increase in the number of passport applications. To better respond to this increase, the department planned on opening six new counters in Montérégie. To date, only three service points have been opened and they have given up on the other three.

How can the Minister of Foreign Affairs justify this decision when the number of passport applications keeps on growing?

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 February 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to say that if the Conservative government wanted to rapidly take action to help workers in a quick and effective manner, it could decide right now to abolish the waiting period. That does not require a bill. They could implement an administrative measure that would take effect quickly.

If the waiting period were eliminated, employment insurance benefits would be paid on the first day of unemployment. That is very important for anyone who loses their job. That is the reason for putting this measure in place.

There is the additional five weeks of benefits. But not all workers will have access to these five weeks because they may not be available in some regions. How does that help? I repeat that we must help our workers who lose their jobs as soon as they become unemployed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2009 February 10th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. And I neglected to thank the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for his question earlier.

In my opinion, this budget is extremely disturbing, especially when it comes to the plight of families, because it includes nothing for families. It talks about renovating social housing, and I know that there is a huge need for more housing, so new social housing should be built.

I seriously wonder what sort of society the government wants. Everything is backwards. The government is abandoning workers and undermining women who have ideas and plans. The government wants to train our older workers. In fact, it wants to hold on to older workers while our young people drop out, and we are calling on the government to make transfers for post-secondary education. It is high time we pushed this issue.

At the same time, the government is not doing anything about the guaranteed income supplement for our workers, for our seniors. Everything is backwards, and I am extremely concerned by this budget. That is why I will not vote in favour.