Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to respond to the motion brought forward by the member for Trois-Rivières regarding access to employment insurance.
Our government recognizes that EI is a vital resource for those who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. The opposition is trying to distract from its irresponsible scheme that would have people work simply for 45 days and then collect employment insurance for the rest of the year. The high-tax opposition's 45-day work year would cost $6 billion and be paid for by job-killing payroll taxes levied on workers and the businesses that employ them.
As members know, employment insurance is designed to provide temporary income support to help Canadians and their families withstand financial pressure when they lose their jobs. Our employment program also works by offering training and support to help unemployed Canadians return to work.
We know that Canadians want to get back to work as soon as possible. They want to earn a good living. They want to support their families and be productive members in their communities. To foster a strong, competitive workforce, our employment insurance program must succeed in helping them find a new job. What we are striving for is economic growth, while ensuring long-term prosperity for all Canadians.
I can assure members that the employment insurance situation of Canadians is a matter of great concern for this government. The result of this hard work has been clear. Since we introduced the economic action plan to respond to the global recession, Canada has recovered all the jobs that were lost during that period. We have one of the strongest job creation records in the G7 and one of the best in the developed world. We have created over 1.2 million net new jobs since the pit of the economic recession in 2009, 80% of those jobs are in the private sector. Of those jobs, 80% are full-time and 65% are in high wage industries.
However, the recovery has varied across the country and across segments of the population. By helping Canadians connect with available jobs and by putting a priority on skills and training, we are ensuring continued economic growth, job creation and long-term prosperity. The employment insurance program is an important part of this success. It plays a key role in helping Canadians stay attached to the labour market and return to work as quickly as possible.
With all due respect, I do not believe the members opposite know all that they need to when it comes to accessibility for employment insurance.
First, I want to put to rest the notion that only a small percentage of unemployed Canadians receive EI benefits. According to Statistics Canada's latest survey, in 2013, nearly nine out of ten recently unemployed Canadians who paid into the EI program and lost their job were eligible to receive EI benefits. That is not a small percentage; that is the vast majority. Further, of those people who were disqualified from EI in 2014, far less than 1%, it was because they failed to search for work or refused to accept suitable work.
Members should keep in mind that the entire unemployed population includes many people for whom the program was not designed and therefore does not work well. This includes people who did not work in the previous 12 months, people who quit their jobs to go back to school and people who quit their job without a good reason.
Another myth that I would like to address is that changes to the EI program in recent years have negatively affected eligibility rules. That is untrue. The reality is that changes that were introduced by our government have assisted unemployed Canadians in returning to work and have not restricted any access to EI benefits. It had nothing to do with accessibility.
Our government is committed to a program that is more reflective of and more responsive to local labour market conditions. When we designed the changes, we took into account the unique needs of the different regions and the different circumstances, including seasonal workers. We believe that working is always a better option than collecting employment insurance. We are committed to supporting workers and ensuring that EI enables a strong and competitive workforce for all Canadians in every region of the country from coast to coast.
To achieve this, over the last three years we have announced several targeted, common-sense changes to help Canadians in all regions of the country. These changes were not about restricting access to EI benefits, but rather supporting unemployed workers by giving them the tools that they needed to help them get back to work. As long as workers meet their obligation of seeking suitable employment, they will continue to meet their obligations and will then be eligible to receive their benefits.
We introduced ways to help Canadians connect with available jobs in their own communities. For example, the job alert system makes it easier for job seekers and employers to connect. More specifically, the job alert service has sent out 514 million alerts to over 775,000 since it was launched in January 2013, making it easier for job seekers and employers to connect. These numbers continue to grow each and every day.
We also clarified the long-standing responsibilities of EI claimants to look for work while they are receiving benefits. Some say the changes hurt claimants living in small communities by forcing them to travel great distances or worse, forcing them to move out of the community altogether. That is simply not true. No one ever has been and no one ever will be forced to move. Claimants are only expected to look for work within their communities. Moreover, personal circumstances are always taken into account, such as the availability of public transportation and access to child care. Those are things that are considered when evaluating each individual employment insurance claim.
However, let us not lose sight of the fact that the purpose of the EI program is to provide temporary income support to those who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, while they look for a job or they look to upgrade their skills. It was not, and is not, meant to be an income supplement for those who choose not to look for work for part of the year. However, for those Canadians who live in areas of higher unemployment, or areas where jobs simply do not exist outside seasonal or specialized industries, EI benefits will always continue to be there for them.
We have also implemented the variable best weeks approach to calculating EI benefits. We believe that claimants living in regions with similar labour market conditions should be treated similarly when they look for work. Before variable best weeks was implemented, there were two different methods for calculating this benefit rate. This meant that claimants with similar work patterns and similar labour market conditions would receive different benefit amounts just because they lived in different parts of Canada. Variable best weeks created a national benefit rate calculation based on the monthly unemployment rate within the claimant's EI region. Further, by making weekly benefit calculations with the regional unemployment rate, EI is more responsive to changes to labour market conditions.
In budget 2015, the Government of Canada proposed a $53-million investment to renew the working while on claim project parameters for another year. Working while on claim is designed to help unemployed Canadians get back to work in their local workforce as quickly as possible. The previous pilot project, which began in August 2012, encouraged EI claimants to accept available work while on EI. This working while on claim project reduces claimant's weekly EI benefits by 50% for each dollar earned while on claim, starting with the first dollar earned. Earnings beyond the threshold of 90% of the weekly insurable earnings used to calculate EI rate of benefits reduce weekly EI benefits dollar for dollar.
This 90% cap ensures that claimants cannot earn more while on claim than they were while they were working. The working while on claim project applies to claimants receiving regular, fishing, compassionate care, parental or parents of critically ill children's benefits, as well as self-employed persons receiving compassionate care, or parents of critically ill children.
Initiatives, like the working while on claim pilot project, help ensure the El program remains relevant for today's labour market. According to the 2013-14 employment insurance monitoring and assessment report, they will continue to be effective. The report demonstrates that the El program continues to support unemployed workers and their families as they transition back to work.
The report also reaffirms that eligibility for El remains high. Over 85% of individuals who have paid into the system and have lost their job do no fault of their own are eligible for El benefits. For example, in 2013-14, 1.33 million regular claims accounted for $10 billion in regular benefits.
The same year, there were more than 515,000 special claims, such as maternity, parental, sickness, compassionate care, parents of critically ill children. These resulted in $4.7 billion in special benefits. The numbers do not lie. The El program is clearly a strong support for those who need it and strong support when people need it the most.
We know the employment situations of Canadians can change for any number of reasons. Some, like an employer going out of business, are difficult but understandable. Others, like dealing with a critically ill child or a friend or family member's serious illness, are less so.
Through the employment insurance program, compassionate care benefits provide financial assistance to people who have to be away from work temporarily to care a family member who is gravely ill, with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks. A recent parliamentary committee report on palliative and compassionate care showed that family caregivers provided a substantial amount of care, between 70% and 80% in fact. The report stated that family and friends were the invisible backbone of the Canadian health care system. As such, we want to ensure the program's parameters better reflect this reality. That is why in economic action plan 2015 we outlined our intention to invest an additional $37 million annually to ensure those caring for gravely ill family members would have the support they needed.
Here is what we are doing. We are extending the duration of the compassionate care benefit from the current six weeks to six months as of January 2016. We are also expanding the period of time during which claimants can receive these benefits. These benefits can be used to care for a parent, spouse, partner, child or sibling and extended family members.
We have not forgotten that no program can be successful if its benefits do not reach those who truly need them, which is why we continue to improve how we deliver EI benefits to Canadians. Service Canada monitors EI claims on an ongoing basis to ensure we provide the best possible service to Canadians who are in need of these benefits.
Our government has continued to make a range of improvements to ensure we can manage fluctuations in the volume of applications in a cost-effective manner. It is a challenging problem and one we are up to.
It is clear that the EI program continues to be there for those who have paid into the system and those who have lost their job through no fault of their own, including in areas where jobs simply do not exist outside of seasonal or specialized industries. We have spent years implementing changes to make this program more fair and flexible, while continuing to support Canadians when they need it most. We have done so to meet our commitment to a national program that is more reflective of our response to local labour market conditions.
These are responsible, necessary and sensitive efforts to help Canadians get back to work faster. It is good for government, good for the economy, good for employers, but most of all, good for Canadians and their families.