Mr. Speaker, I will begin by indicating that the government will not be supporting this motion today. We believe Canadians are always better off working than not. This pilot project increases incentives for claimants to accept all available work while on employment insurance. I can assure hon. members that, under this new program, the majority of people who work while they are on claim will benefit and will be better off.
This is a pilot project to encourage EI claimants to pursue and accept all opportunities to work. We are always working to ensure our programs fulfill our goals.
However, I find it passing strange that the NDP brings forward a motion concerning the well-being of low-income Canadians. As we debated at length last Tuesday, poverty in Canada is at historic lows under our government. In 2010, three million Canadians, or only 9% of Canada's population, lived in poverty. While this number is still too high, we are continuing to act to reduce it. This number represents the lowest percentage in Canada's history. To put it in context, this is 1.3 million Canadians who, under our Conservative government, were lifted out of poverty. Whether it is adults, children or seniors poverty, Canadians have never been better off than under our strong, stable, national Conservative government.
However, I can assure this House that a $21 billion job-killing carbon tax would not help Canada's low income families. In fact, given the reliance on home heating oil as a source of warmth through the winter months, the NDP's proposed $21 billion tax grab would l disproportionately hurt Atlantic Canadians. I wonder what the NDP would say to employees of Irving or the many families who rely on the continued development of the Hibernia oil field when they hear their jobs are on the line because of the NDP's risky tax policy. The NDP talks about supporting working families but its policies threaten the good paying jobs that they rely on.
Our government is introducing changes to the employment insurance program to ensure that it is fair, flexible and responsive to local labour market conditions.
Canadians gave us a strong majority mandate in the last election because of the strong economic record of our Conservative government. They know that a healthy economy is the prerequisite for a high quality of life. Simply put, Canadians trust the Prime Minister's low tax plan for jobs and economic growth over the risky schemes of the opposition.
Thanks to the strong leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, Canada has created over 770,000 new jobs since the depth of the recession. Over 90% of these jobs are full-time positions. In fact, Canada has over 350,000 more jobs today than at any highest time pre-recession.
It is an inconvenient truth for the opposition parties that right now there are more Canadians working than at any previous point in our history. Unlike other G7 countries, we are actually facing labour and skills shortages in many regions and industries. This has been caused by both our aging population as well as continued economic growth.
The effects are already being felt in the labour market and will accentuate labour and skills shortages that are already serious in some sectors. In fact, Statistics Canada revealed that there were 250,000 jobs in our country that remained unfilled this spring. These are not even in top-of-mind locations such as Alberta. In Labrador City, there is such a shortage of workers to work in their new mining projects that restaurants cannot stay open and the municipality cannot find enough people to maintain the roads.
However, many Canadians are not aware of local opportunities to work within their region. We can do better at connecting Canadians with available jobs. This is why, as announced in economic action plan 2012, we are making improvements to the EI program to help Canadians connect, maintain and reconnect with the labour market, improvements that the NDP voted against.
This is what we proposed. Canadians receiving regular EI benefits would now be able to receive comprehensive job postings on a daily basis from multiple sources. This would ensure that they are made aware of jobs available in their local area. In addition, measures are being taken to enhance the connection between EI and the temporary foreign workers program. This link would ensure that Canadians always have the first chance to apply for local jobs before employers are approved to hire temporary foreign workers.
The new variable best weeks initiative will use the local unemployment rate to determine the number of best weeks used to set the average salary for calculating EI benefits. The higher the unemployment rate, the fewer weeks used to determine this average. This means that working more partial weeks or more jobs at a lower wage will have less of an impact on EI benefits for seasonal workers.
On the topic of today's motion, as of August 5, 2012, the new working while on claim pilot project came into effect. This new pilot project removes the cap on earnings from EI claimants so that Canadians who accept more work can now earn more while on employment insurance. I will explain this measure a little more.
Under the new pilot project, people receiving EI benefits will have their benefits reduced by 50% of their earnings from the first dollar earned. The new pilot project aims to encourage claimants to increase their work efforts while on claim since this has been proven to be one of the better ways to move toward permanent employment.
It has been found in study after study that people can find permanent jobs more rapidly if they continue to be active in the labour market by looking for work or by working even part time or casually. The working while on claim pilot project promotes workforce attachment by encouraging claimants to accept available work while receiving EI benefits and earning some additional income while on claim. This applies to those who receive regular, fishing, parental or compassionate care benefits.
I would remind members that this is a pilot project. This is not a permanent change but an opportunity to test whether we can encourage unemployed Canadians to work more while on claim.
The employment insurance program must evolve to the needs of Canadians. It must be efficient, flexible and fair for all. However, it must also ensure that it helps Canadians find work more quickly as the economy continues to recover. This is not only an objective we have set for ourselves but a commitment we have made to the Canadian people.
The changes to the working while on claim pilot project cannot be focused on in isolation as it does not take into consideration the many other changes that we made to the EI program this year. This package of EI measures is meant to connect Canadians with local jobs and to return them to work more quickly. Canadians are always better off working than not. Sadly, the NDP has voted against countless initiatives we have put in place to help get Canadians back to work. Unfortunately, the NDP continues to be interested in playing politics instead of supporting our economic action plan, a plan that has reduced poverty to a historic low while increasing the number of Canadians working to a historic high.
Instead of proposing a risky carbon tax that would raise the cost of everything for low-income families and threaten the jobs that so many middle-class families rely on, I ask the NDP to support measures that will actually help Canadian families and vote against this motion.