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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
National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy Act May 17th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand in the House and make a contribution to the debate on my colleague's private member's bill.
As has been said already in the House, my colleague and new best friend from Louis-Saint-Laurent has indicated that not all private members' bills are created equal or come from the same place. Over the 16 years I have been here, I have had an opportunity to speak to a fairly wide range of private members' bills, some which were somewhat suspect.
In the last Parliament, there was a trend of thought that ran from coast to coast that maybe Bill C-525 and Bill C-377 may have had the PMO fingerprints on it. I can neither confirm nor deny that, but I have heard that before.
I have had an opportunity stand to speak on a number of occasions on private members' bills that have been presented and have been born from that relationship between a member of Parliament and one of the constituents that he or she represents, and that was the genesis of that private member's bill.
It is said that if leaders are to be successful, they have to earn the trust of the people they want to lead. One thing we know is that if we want to earn that respect, people have to understand that we care. People want to know how much we care before they care how much we know.
By taking an issue as important as the one addressed in this private member's bill, and investing the time and energy to develop private member's legislation around it, the member for Kingston and the Islands has to be commended. That happens in the House on occasion, and it is a great thing. All parties have members who have brought forward legislation that has come from the grassroots. On behalf of my colleagues, I want to commend the member for Kingston and the Islands for bringing this forward.
I have watched, with great nervousness and the collective knot we get in our stomach, what is going in Fort McMurray. I spent 10 years in Fort Mac. I worked at the GCOS, the Suncor plant on site for a number of years when I first went out there. Anybody who has ever had the opportunity to work in an industrial shop where welding is going one, where tradespeople are using cutting torches, or gouging torches or even just running a welding bead, has an appreciation for that whole environment.
There absolutely are labour laws around that, and about air quality, but people cannot help but know they are in a place where if they do not take precautions or if a piece of apparatus is not up to snuff, then it becomes a workplace of concern.
I have some comments specifically about the legislation before us today.
The health and safety of pregnant workers is an important issue with the government, and through Canada's employment insurance system, we continue to explore ways to support Canadians, including pregnant workers, when they need it most. Under the current El Act, pregnant women are eligible for a total of 15 weeks of maternity benefits. Maternity benefits are specifically intended to support a woman's income when she is out of the workforce to recover from the physical or emotional effects of pregnancy or childbirth.
Maternity benefits can start as early as 8 weeks before the birth, and must end no later than 17 weeks after the child is born. Depending on what suits the mother's situation, benefits can be spread out before and after the child is born.
Outside of Quebec, which administers its own parental insurance plan, El maternity benefits are a key policy and income support tool for mothers across Canada. In 2014-15, the El program paid over $1 billion in maternity benefits to nearly 170,000 claimants.
I should also point out that in addition to the EI maternity benefits that are available, only the federal jurisdiction and the Province of Quebec specifically offer preventative withdrawal job protection for pregnant and/or nursing women.
Federally regulated employees under the Canada Labour Code may request a reassignment based on medical advice. Once the request is made, the woman can take a leave with pay until the employer either accommodates her request for a reassignment or confirms that it would not be possible to do so. If a reassignment is not possible, the woman may take a leave of absence for the duration of the risk.
The Province of Quebec, as I indicated earlier, offers a similar provision for pregnant or nursing women, providing them the right to request reassignment to other duties, or if that is not possible, to take leave if their working conditions may be physically dangerous to their health or that of their unborn or nursing child.
Other provincial and territorial jurisdictions in Canada have workplace health and safety standards. However, the Canada Labour Code job protection for maternity leave varies across the country. The intent of the bill aligns well with our own intentions to make El more flexible, and consequently more helpful to all workers who face a period of unemployment, for whatever reason.
The bill also brings forward several other issues that remain to be examined, issues such as health and safety and gender equality in the workforce, as well as the notion that a woman's pregnancy could act as a barrier to full participation in the workplace and an impediment to career development.
These are some of the issues we intend to discuss in our upcoming consultations with members of the House, provincial and territorial governments, and other stakeholders, with the primary intention of developing more flexible parental benefits to meet the unique needs of current Canadian families. It is important to note that amending the El Act is a complex endeavour, and we want to ensure that we do it the proper way. Any changes to El deserve the benefit of further study and consultations with key partners to ensure that the program better responds to the needs of hard-working Canadian families.
At the same time, this is also a government that wants to act as fast as possible to bring real change to Canadians, and a great deal of that work has already begun. For example, we have introduced the new Canada child benefit that will give Canadian families more money to help with the high cost of raising their children. With a maximum benefit of up to $6,400 per child under the age of six and up to $5,400 per child for those aged six through 17, it will be simpler, more generous, and better targeted to those who need the help. The child disability benefit is an additional $2,730.
We have made changes to the El system, going from a two-week waiting period to one week. We have made changes to the working-while-on-claim provisions within the EI system. We have enhanced the work-sharing agreements, doubling them to a maximum of 76 weeks, which most Canadians recognize as being very family friendly.
These are changes that we believe reflect the needs and demands of today's workforce and changes that Canadians have been asking for.
We have removed barriers to full gender equality in the workforce and have made progress in this regard. However, it is well-recognized that we have to do more. As announced yesterday, we will also amend the Canada Labour Code to allow men and women in the workplace to formally request flexible working arrangements.
I know that my time is running out. I would reiterate the fact that I am pleased to stand and speak to the bill today. I want to commend my colleague from Kingston for his work on this piece of legislation. We look forward to debating it further and working as a government to try to enhance the opportunity for all Canadians to play a fuller, richer, and more rewarding role in this country's workforce.
Employment Insurance May 13th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, this government responded quickly to the spike, the sudden, sharp jump in unemployment rates in 12 regions in this country. Certainly, as the numbers have increased in the Edmonton area, we know that in Saskatchewan there was a jump of 0.1%. Most of that was in part-time jobs. However, that data is fresh. We are analyzing it. I would encourage my colleague to stay tuned.
Employment Insurance May 13th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, as my colleague noted, with any sharp, sustained jump in EI numbers in a particular region, changes have been made.
We were quick and decisive in the 12 regions. Certainly the new numbers, and the spike created by the forest fires in Fort McMurray, have again changed those numbers. They are being analyzed.
I will encourage the member across to stay tuned.
Employment Insurance May 12th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, certainly this government has shown leadership. It stepped up decisively and quickly to respond to that sharp, sustained, sudden shock to the unemployment rate in those 12 regions. With respect to the most recent numbers we have received from StatsCan that have been impacted by the commodity downturn but also the fires in Fort McMurray, we are analyzing those. The minister is looking at them with her staff and will be responding appropriately.
Employment Insurance May 10th, 2016
Mr. Speaker, my colleague is correct in stating that the adjustments that have been made for the 12 regions were to address that sudden, significant, and sustained spike, the shock within the employment numbers.
Again, these numbers are fresh. These numbers are being assessed by the department. The minister is fully engaged and will continue to monitor the situation and continue to make sure that employment insurance is there for Canadians when they need it.
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.