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Liberal MP for Cape Breton—Canso (Nova Scotia)
Won his last election, in 2015, with 74% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Employment Insurance May 10th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from the member for Regina—Lewvan.
I just returned from the conference. The Canada Building Trades Union is hosting a conference in town this week. I had an opportunity to speak with a number of trade unionists, building trades representatives from Saskatchewan and Alberta. Obviously, there is a great deal of concern around what has taken place in the commodities with the commodities downturn.
I spoke with a couple of guys from Fort McMurray. Kevin Thomas, a buddy of mine who represents the operating engineers, lost his home in Abasands. Certainly the situation there is one that is not exclusive to the ministry. All members of this House and all Canadians are very concerned.
The question goes to what is going on with southern Saskatchewan specifically. The minister was in southern Saskatchewan recently. He had an opportunity to speak with workers, employers and labour leaders with regard to the EI rates.
Certainly, as my colleague referred to, the most recent numbers that have been published show the national numbers have been fairly steady. There has been a 0.1% increase in unemployment in Saskatchewan. Specifically in southern Saskatchewan there are a number of concerns.
As we get into some of the information, most of the jobs that have been lost have been part-time jobs, and my colleague would know that. Saskatchewan still remains below the national average. I do not want to dismiss the comments my colleague referred to. We want to see the workers in this country back to work and certainly that is what the government is focused on, but the employment insurance program has to be there for workers who find themselves without employment through no fault of their own.
My colleague did make comment about what was talked about in the platform and what was delivered in the budget, but in fact, as a government we came forward with $2.5 billion of investment in the EI program, which I know all workers in Saskatchewan will benefit from. It is going from a two-week to a one-week waiting period. There are also the working while on claim provisions and the provisions around work sharing. Those are all very important investments that this government has made.
I would assure the member that the most recent statistics are being assessed by the department. I look forward to working with him going forward.
Employment Insurance May 9th, 2016
Madam Speaker, my colleague and I can agree on pretty much all of what is being said here. It is incumbent on the government to ensure these investigations are thorough and that their integrity is not compromised. However, it has to be done in a timely and respectful manner. I believe the points that the member brought up should be taken under advisement.
Employment Insurance May 9th, 2016
Madam Speaker, my friend and colleague, having gone through the last Parliament, knows the last government had a very peculiar approach to dealing with the employment insurance program and the recipients of insurance benefits. It was one that did not cast any fine light on people who worked in seasonal industries, or people who found themselves unemployed through no fault of their own.
We had our own case in Cape Breton, up in Bay St. Lawrence, where there seemed to be a net thrown around an entire community. About 80 individuals had been cut off benefits. The investigation took place. They even held the interviews at the RCMP station, which was a further aspect of the anxiety brought upon those who were being interviewed at the time. Our government does not feel that is the way to go about business.
My colleague is a long-serving member. She knows I cannot speak specifically about the Norway House situation because of issues around confidentiality and privacy.
She will also know that it is imperative for the Government of Canada and those who administer the program do so with an absolute commitment to the integrity of the program. The Employment Insurance Act is being administered by the Government of Canada. It is a duty that the Government of Canada takes very seriously, but it is imperative that the integrity of the program is upheld. When we see any signs of abuse or misuse, then it is imperative that we draw issue with it.
Over the past eight years, Service Canada has identified $1 billion in fraudulent claims for EI benefits and recovered about $600 million, or 60%. However, that is a significant amount of fraudulent claims or abuse of the system.
Employers and employees who pay into that fund want to know it is being administered properly. There could probably be a more respectful approach as far as the investigation goes, but I do not think we can compromise on the integrity of those investigations. It is imperative that as a government we stand and defend the principles of the Employment Insurance Act and ensure the act has the integrity that Canadians expect.
Employment Insurance May 6th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, obviously we are concerned about the EI rate. We are concerned about the EI rate in southern Saskatchewan and indeed all those 12 regions that we have already taken action for.
Today's numbers have been released. They reflect the sharp sustained downward trend in commodity prices. Our minister is looking at those numbers now and working with her officials as we speak.
Employment Insurance May 4th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague for Trois-Rivières should know about removing the NERE, new entry and re-entry, provisions.
New entries are usually young workers, young Canadians. Sometimes it is the first time they have held a job, and the first time they have found themselves out of a job. They no longer need that 920 hours to qualify the first time. All they have to do is comply with regional qualifiers, and that has included a whole other group of young Canadians.
Also, in the budget, we have doubled the amount of money that we put into the summer student employment program. It has been done, as we have seen in the member's riding, and he should see it from past years. I am hearing about it in my riding. More community groups are able to host summer students and give them that opportunity to have their first job.
We want to create more job opportunities for young Canadians. Yes, employment insurance has to be there when they find themselves out of work, but we want to invest in training. We want to give employers an opportunity to create those jobs for young people so that they can continue to grow and contribute to the economy. That is what this government is seized with.
Employment Insurance May 4th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to be here this evening to address the question from the member.
It was interesting that he brought this up in the late show. If this member were to pay attention at all or if he were to read the budget, he would know that most of the references he made during his speech have been addressed.
The machinery of government grinds slow, but it is in motion now to address those types of issues that the member raised. He talked about the platform we promised. We will deliver on the promises that we made in that platform. We will go from a two-week waiting period to a one-week waiting period. That is being worked on now.
The NDP would not know about the machinery of government because there has never been a federal NDP government. The reduced waiting period is going to help so many Canadians. Four out of five Canadians who receive EI benefits are going to benefit from that. The member should know that. He would know that if he were to pay attention to this file.
The member knows that we did increase access. He talked about not increasing access. We cut the NERE provisions, the new entrants and re-entrants, from 920 hours to regional qualifications. For a whole bunch of Canadians who would have been precluded from benefits, that allowed them to access benefits in this program. The member knows that.
The member knows we are investing $92 million more to hire EI call centre agents and to shorten the times for EI processing. The member will remember, if he is serious about this, that under the last government, there were 600 EI employees who were cut. It reduced the service wait times.
Rather than being able to respond to a phone call in three minutes, there was a target of 90% return in three minutes, the government cut 600 jobs and went to 80% in three minutes. It was not hitting those targets, so it went to 80% in 10 minutes. The government was only hitting that 45% of the time.
Our Prime Minister and Minister of Employment made the promise, and are delivering on the promise to have more people on the ground. We are working with Service Canada staff on those service standards. We know that the employees at Service Canada wanted to serve Canadians. They were not able to serve Canadians because the resources they needed were not available.
We put those resources back. They were in the budget. The member for Trois-Rivières, if he is honest, knows that those provisions were put into the last budget.
On the work sharing agreements, there is an extension of the duration of the work sharing agreements from a maximum of 38 weeks to 76 weeks. That is a positive thing. We have heard from Canadians across this country that it provides them flexibility. It helps create jobs in some sectors. We have complied with that and we have provided that.
We have gone into the 12 economic regions of this country and increased the regular benefits by five weeks, up to a maximum of 50 weeks.
The government takes its responsibilities seriously. We understand that for Canadians who find themselves out of a job, the program has to be there for them. We are committed as a government to provide them with those services.
Fort McMurray Fire May 4th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, like all other members in this House, I continue to watch the events unfold in Fort McMurray. I had the great pleasure to make McMurray my home for almost 10 years. I have always bristled at the impression some Canadians have of the Fort, seeing it as a little more than a national ATM.
Canadians who have had the chance to spend time there know it is an absolutely fabulous community. It is a community that has welcomed people from across this country and from all corners of the world. It has built a progressive, dynamic city, with amenities that are envied by cities much larger. It is a community that has been built with a pioneer spirit by caring, compassionate people, making it a great place to live and a wonderful place to raise a family.
I spoke with a number of friends last night who were fleeing the city. The tension and fear in their voices was obvious and understandable. For decades, the community of Fort McMurray has been there for thousands of Canadians.
Whenever this ordeal ends, the people of Fort Mac have to know that this government, and indeed this Parliament, will stand with them as they rebuild this great community.
Employment Insurance April 22nd, 2016
Mr. Speaker, pursuant to the Employment Insurance Act, section 3, I am pleased to submit to the House, in both official languages, copies of the 2014-15 employment insurance monitoring and assessment report. I request that the report be referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Canada Labour Code April 12th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise today to speak to this particular piece of legislation on behalf of the party.
I would like to provide some perspective on a private member's bill that touches on a key component of the Canada Labour Code and one that would have a serious impact on federal labour relations in this country. Bill C-234 proposes to change the legislative provisions relating to whether federally regulated employers should be able to hire replacement workers during strikes or lockouts.
While most labour relations in Canada are regulated by the provinces, it must be underscored that part I of the Canada Labour Code governs labour relations in the federal private sector. It applies to some key industries in our economy, for example, sectors including international and interprovincial railway and road transportation, maritime and air transportation, as well as telecommunications and banking. Some crown corporations, such as Canada Post Corporation, are also covered under the code.
There is a lot of history behind this particular issue. For example, in 1995, the then minister of labour established a task force that did extensive public consultations on part I, which is the industrial relations part of the Canada Labour Code. Those consultations included labour, employer, and government stakeholders, as well as academics and others. The issue of replacement workers was part of those discussions.
Labour and employer stakeholders held then, and hold now, very different views on the issue. In fact, the task force report, entitled “Seeking a Balance”, noted, “No issue divides the submissions we received more than the issue of replacement workers.”
That report formed the basis of the comprehensive amendments to part I of the Canada Labour Code that came into force in 1999. It is important to note that the provision that exists now was recommended by the task force as a reasonable compromise between the competing views of employers and unions. That had been decided in 1999.
The provision of part I of the Canada Labour Code already limits the use of replacement workers in federal private sector industries. The code balances the union's right to strike with the employer's right to attempt to continue operating during a work stoppage. As the report recommends, “There should be no general prohibition on the use of replacement workers.” However, the report identified using replacement workers in an attempt to remove the union from the workplace as an unfair labour practice, and rightfully so. This is known as undermining the union representative capacity.
At the time of the task force report, the current provision in the code was considered to be an acceptable middle ground between the position of the federally regulated employers and the unions that represent employees. This provision is considered a compromise and a balance between union and employer interests.
While Bill C-234 may intend to improve labour relations, it has the potential to upset the carefully crafted balance of rights and responsibilities between unions and employers under the code.
It is not only the content of Bill C-234 with which I take issue, but I would also like to underline a flaw in how we have been asked to consider such an important change for federally regulated employees and employers.
Consideration of such a measure should take into account the perspectives of all stakeholders who are regulated by the Canada Labour Code as this requires the views of those who stand to be affected by it. To be clear, a private member's bill does not allow for the proper consultations, and it does not provide sufficient opportunity for all stakeholders to express their views.
In the past, both labour and employer organizations have been highly critical of changes being made to federal labour relations legislation through the use of private members' bills without prior consultation with the stakeholders. Members will no doubt remember that the government recently took bold steps to correct inequities introduced in Bill C- 377 and Bill C-525, which upset the balance of rights and responsibilities between federally regulated employers and unions.
Trade unions play a fundamental role in the relations between employers and employees. Unions work to ensure that their members receive fair wages and good working conditions in fair, healthy, and safe work environments. These bills put unions at a disadvantage and we believe they must be repealed.
Just like the current Bill C-234, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 were private members' bills that were not subject to rigorous consultations. This is not the right way to approach such matters. We should not be looking at amending part I of the Canada Labour Code on a piecemeal basis. We believe in an open and transparent approach to labour relations, one that promotes stability and fairness.
Major changes to labour relations legislation have always been preceded by consultation between government, unions, and employers. I referred previously to the 1995 task force, which included an extensive consultative process, which was followed by ministerial consultations on the recommendations included in the task force report. However, this has not happened in the case of Bill C-234, and any changes on such a divisive issue would certainly need consultations with all stakeholders.
We cannot support Bill C-234 because it does not match our standards of openness and transparency in labour relations in this country. As I pointed out before, the code ensures balance between a union's right to strike and that of an employer to attempt to continue operating during a work stoppage. It is part of the balance between rights and responsibilities of employers and unions under the code.
Good labour relations are key elements of an economic system and indeed to the prosperity of this country. We have a long tradition in this country of labour legislation and policy designed to promote the common well-being by encouraging free collective bargaining and constructive dispute settlement. We believe in the strength of co-operation to develop good relations between employers and workers. If legislative changes are to be considered for part I of the code, let us do it the right way, through real and meaningful consultation and engagement with unions, employers, and stakeholders.
I know that in the member's comments reference was made to support from United Steelworkers. Let me read into the record the statement made by Ken Neumann when he was testifying before committee on Bill C-525. Mr. Neumann is the national director of United Steelworkers. He said, speaking about the past Conservative government:
We've seen this government operate in this way before - introducing major changes to the hallmarks of our democratic society through backdoor private member's bills. The Canadian Labour Congress rightly asks why tamper with a system that's working? The federal system is respected and supported, as a result of a consultative process that's been followed for decades for amending the Labour Code.
That comes from Ken Neumann from United Steelworkers. That is his opinion.
We have long recognized this in this country. Again, I would like to underline the fact that in the last four years we have seen it even more so. Labour legislation in this country has to be referred to a tripartite system, one that is consultative and is built through consensus. That is what we are committed to, to ensure that our labour laws are fair and balanced and that they represent the needs of employers and the rights and best interest of employees. That is what we are committed to and that is what we intend to deliver as a government.