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Track Rodger

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  • His favourite word is number.

Liberal MP for Cape Breton—Canso (Nova Scotia)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 74% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply February 25th, 2016

Madam Speaker, I know many Albertans are having a very difficult time. Atlantic Canadians have been part of the success of Alberta. They have worked rotations. I was at the airport the other day. Usually there are 10 rows of Ford F-150 stretch cabs parked at the Sydney airport. I parked in the middle of the second row. Alberta's pain is being felt across the country. It has long been the engine that has driven our economy.

I know the minister is absolutely engaged on the question around the time period and the qualifiers. As the unemployment rate rises, there are natural triggers within the system. Changes to qualifying and the period of time that one receives benefits are coming. I know our officials are in constant contact with the Alberta officials. I very much hope they will come sooner rather than later.

Business of Supply February 25th, 2016

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to join the debate on the motion.

I would like to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with the member for Kenora.

I just had a conversation with the member for Kenora, who was in the House quite a few years prior to this, and he said this is probably more about the fact that the NDP want to be seen as pushing the government to make change.

Earlier I shared with the House my great love and appreciation for that famous American philosopher, Willie Nelson, whose definition of a leader is when one sees a whole group of people going in one direction, to grab a baton and jump out in front. I think that is where we are today.

We said in our platform that we would address the changes that had been made to EI by the past government, because we know they have hurt workers. We were very clear in our platform that we would to change that and take some responsibility and show some leadership on this.

In response to the throne speech, and certainly every day in the House, although there have not been any questions from the Conservatives on this, the leader of the NDP asks the Prime Minister about it. The Prime Minister is steadfast that we are serious about this. We made the promises. I know that our minister is seized with this and is very much engaged in it. I am looking forward to when she comes forward with a tranche of changes.

However, I think it would be helpful for the debate to peel back a little to at least 2012 and see the changes that were made at that point, because there were significant changes that hurt many areas and sectors of this country.

In Atlantic Canada, seasonal workers and industries contribute to 53% of the regional GDP. Those industries, whether tourism, forestry, fishery, construction, or whatever it might be, need a skilled labour force. However, what we saw with the changes made by the last government was that they chased people out of rural communities. The Conservatives vilify seasonal workers in particular.

Members might remember the satirical show This Hour Has 22 Minutes when the actors were chasing EI recipients around Prince Edward Island. They came up with a skit called “PEI EI PI” where they were chasing people down and hiding behind bushes to see whether or not they were really out looking for work. That is when people saw the government sort of turning over those rocks.

We absolutely believe that there has to be integrity in the system, and I do not think that the NDP believe anything less. However, the Conservatives' changes went beyond. We heard this from provincial and municipal leaders. We would hear from councillors in rural communities or a county warden who knew that the main job provider in the community was having trouble finding workers, because they were being scared out of seasonal industries. Those industries were hanging on by a shoestring, and these changes did nothing to enhance their opportunities. We see now that a lot of those sectors are up against this problem of trying to find qualified workers. These changes very much had an impact.

The Conservatives also tried to starve the beast. It was almost like they did it on purpose. They cut 600 jobs out of EI processing and call centres. In 2008, Service Canada had a service standard that if one phoned a call centre, 95% of the time the call was answered within three minutes. However, the Conservatives cut the jobs, sent those people home, and closed those call centres and processing centres in everyone's riding except Peter MacKay's and Gerald Keddy's—but I do not want to be cynical about this, and maybe that was just a coincidence. However, when they closed those call centres, they lost those people working the phones.

By the end of that year, the call centres had to downgrade the service standard from 95% of the calls being answered in three minutes to 80% of the calls being answered in three minutes. By 2014, they were not hitting the 80% in three minutes. They had to downgrade it again to 80% of the calls in ten minutes.

We heard testimony at the committee. We spoke with some young apprentices. They said that they had to quit their apprenticeship. When they go back to school, they receive EI benefits. However, they were waiting too long for their benefits. I asked why they did not phone the 1-800 number, knowing very well what the answer would be.

They had three stages of answers they would get. The first stage was they would actually get a warm body to say “Yes, I am here. I am from the government and I am here to help you.” The second was, “Please hold, a representative will with you shortly.” The third level was, “Could you please phone back later”, because of the number of the calls, and it would be a dropped call. Fifty-two percent of the time, people would get that third level. If they got the first level, they should have gone out and bought some quick picks because their planets were aligned.

People who worked at low wage jobs, who had finished their work, paid into the plan, made application, and were deserving of the benefits were frustrated and scared. They had to make a decision between putting fuel in the tank, or food in the fridge, or fill a prescription. That is a tough call at the kitchen table, and that was where a lot of people were.

The anxiety level in those households went through the roof. Whether it was a tactic or whether or it was an outcome that the government had not intended, and I am not sure, that is exactly what happened.

We hope to make those investments. We hope to fix those problems with the slate of changes we will come forward with. We understand and respect the intent of the changes identified in today's motion.

We are committed to making the program more accessible. We believe the 920 hours needed for new entrance or re-entrance into the program is a detriment. It is punitive. If we go back to the different regions of the country that have unemployment rates, if we abide by them and make those the qualifying hours for first-time or re-entrance, that will certainly increase the number of Canadians who have access to the program. That levels the field, in many cases, and will be of great help. This is what we heard during the campaign. People believed this was necessary to fix the program.

When we talk about Canadians who work in low wage jobs or in precarious employment, quite often there are concerns around numeracy and literacy. Certainly the cuts made by the past government to the LMAs to various provinces impacted directly. I know the minister at the time said that we were not running these programs, but provinces relied on those dollars, and they were delivering numeracy and literacy programs. These are our most vulnerable in society.

I see a great deal of merit in today's motion. I probably agree more so with the member for Kenora. I am very pleased with the Prime Minister and the minister coming forward with a solid slate of progressive changes that will help support a modern workforce in this day and age, and that will help Canadian workers.

We look forward to the time when we can present the government's changes to EI.

Business of Supply February 25th, 2016

Madam Speaker, I can agree with a fair amount of what my colleague shared with the House. Perhaps I will disagree with him that Yvon Godin, our former friend and colleague, would need any kind of voice amplification if he were standing on the back of a truck. In this House, he was certainly very passionate and well-informed on issues around EI, and he brought that issue to the House on many occasions. Certainly, our colleague from Acadie—Bathurst is doing the same from this bench.

Much of the motion today does align with promises that we have made and that we as a government intend to keep going forward. However, we do differ on some choices in a couple of areas. One of the main issues is that we had indicated we would reduce the wait time from two weeks to one week, and there are certain costs involved in that.

Although it is not mentioned in the motion, does my colleague agree with the reduction of the waiting period from two weeks to one week?

Employment Insurance February 25th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, rather than us not agreeing with the NDP motion, it is more like the NDP agreeing with the government's throne speech. Our throne speech outlined the necessary changes that would have to take place within the EI system.

I want to make a comment for my friend from Foothills. He is absolutely right about Atlantic Canadians. It surprises me as well.

Being an Atlantic Canadian, we have always taken great pride in being a mobile pool of labour. We have worked on some of the biggest, most complex construction jobs across the world. I worked in Fort McMurray for nine years. I did not contribute too much to the success of Fort McMurray, but I fully understand that many Atlantic Canadians have been a big part of Alberta's success.

We are talking about low-paying jobs and people living in one small rural community being asked to go to another small rural community for minimum wage jobs. There is no access to public transit or to child care in some of these rural communities. That is where the difficulty comes in.

Does my colleague from Pontiac see the merit in challenging these new rules that were brought in by the Conservative government and fixing these aspects of the regulations?

Employment Insurance February 25th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, as a Liberal I was pleased to see, not just in our the platform but in our throne speech and in the Prime Minister's responses to questions here in the House thus far, that we are steadfast on reforming the EI program.

Following the question that was posed by my NDP colleague across the way, I would note that the system is about fairness and balance. We have looked at some things that would probably better suit Canadians now. We have looked at changing the number of weeks, the waiting period, from two weeks to one. These will all have an impact on the broader system. We pledged in our platform that we would do away with 920 hours threshold for first-time users and new entrants and re-entrants to the program. We are going to go with regional thresholds that will allow far more Canadians access to the program.

I know that the member's party is committed to making sure that EI is there for people. In this regard, the absolute best thing we can do is to provide EI benefits to people who need them, but also to give them some hope and aspirations about employment, for getting on with their lives and working. How do her constituents respond to the path set forward by this government?

Employment Insurance February 25th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments by my NDP colleague. I can assure him that this government will act on the promises that were made, and I look forward to the package coming forward.

I did not catch all of his speech, but he was making reference to working while on claim. Actually, in the last nine years, there was one thing the Conservative government did that actually worked out okay for working Canadians. If an employee works three, four, or five days with the new formula that was brought in by the Conservatives, it would actually benefit workers who have the benefit of working those days. There are many industries where the employee is only able to get that one day a week, or maybe two days a week, and it is sort of iffy on the second day as to which system works better.

Are you encouraging a move to a hybrid system? Are you looking at doing away with the changes that were made in 2012 to working while on claim, which were brought in by the Conservatives?

Employment Insurance February 25th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the minister on her speech. I am very excited about the forthcoming changes, but like many in the chamber here, I too am a fan of the great American philosopher, Willie Nelson. Willie Nelson has shared with us his definition of leadership. Willie said that when one sees a group of people heading in a certain direction, one should grab a baton and jump out in front. I have been here for 15 years now, so maybe you will forgive me, Mr. Speaker, but there is a little bit of cynic in me.

I see today's motion by New Democrats as sort of saying a little bit, “Let's jump out in front of it”. They know that the Liberal government ran on a platform of change for EI. I can speak first hand to the investment that the minister has made, working with her officials and her colleagues in Alberta on coming up with a package that makes sense, that is progressive, that will be really respected by the Canadian people.

I know the minister is close to making an announcement over the next bit of time. Looking at much of what we see in today's motion, does the minister think the package coming forward will address many of the concerns that are being brought forward in the NDP motion today?

Employment Insurance February 25th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments by my colleague and I am very proud of the platform put forward by our government throughout the election.

It is interesting to note that at the outset of the committees being re-established, my colleague across received support for a study on EI and EI reform. Therefore, how is circle squared between wanting to go forward with an EI study and presenting these changes in the motion today?

Petitions February 25th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and present this petition on behalf of a couple of hundred of my constituents from Louisdale, River Bourgeois, Grande Greve, Mabou, and Louisbourg.

The petitioners are concerned about the state of poverty in the country and want the Government of Canada to work with the provinces and territories to implement an anti-poverty plan based on human rights that focuses on income security. The petitioners want us to work with partners to establish measurable goals, timelines, and indicators on the progress.

I am very pleased to present this on their behalf.

Labour February 19th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, my colleague across the way is right to state that the previous Conservative government had organized labour in its crosshairs. We saw that time and again, with Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 for example, which I am very pleased that our minister's first piece of legislation, Bill C-4, will repeal.

We will continue to work on labour issues, fair wages, and the definition of danger. Those are important issues and we will continue to pursue them as we go forward.