Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I appreciate it.
Good day to my honourable colleagues.
I am here today to speak about Bill . It is important legislation designed to support our workforce. With this legislation, we have the opportunity to provide meaningful help to those workers who have lost their jobs because of the recent downturn in the economy.
This is about fairness. The legislation we're examining today will extend regular employment insurance benefits to unemployed long-tenured workers.
So who are these long-tenured workers? Well, as part of our government's economic action plan's career transition assistance initiative, we define these workers as people who have worked for extended periods and have made limited use of EI benefits. They can be found in all sectors of the economy and right across the country. In fact, it's estimated that roughly half of Canadians who pay EI premiums are long-tenured workers, and roughly one-third of those who have lost their jobs since the end of January 2009 and have made an EI claim are long-tenured workers.
These are Canadians who have contributed to our economy for years and have lost their jobs as a result of the global economic recession. They've worked hard, paid taxes, and played by the rules their whole lives, and of course they have contributed EI premiums each year on the job. These new measures by our Conservative government for long-tenured workers will provide five to 20 weeks of additional regular benefits, depending on how long an individual has been working and paying EI premiums.
As an example, under the legislation, workers who have contributed to the program in seven of the past 10 years would receive an extra five weeks of employment insurance regular benefits. For every additional year of contributions, the number of weeks of benefits would increase by three weeks, up to the 20-week maximum.
As the bill stands, the start date would be linked to the coming into force of the bill, and the measure would remain in place until September 11, 2010. This means that payments of these extended benefits would continue until the autumn of 2011. Our Conservative government's major concern is that workers who need help receive it. That's why our government will introduce an amendment to fix the start date at January 4, 2009. This is the right thing to do to ensure that no workers fall through the cracks while this bill passes through both Houses of Parliament. Also, our government will introduce a technical amendment that will guarantee that all eligible long-tenured workers will be able to access their maximum benefit. This too is in recognition of the time it takes to receive royal assent on this bill.
To gradually transition out of this measure, the level of additional benefits would be reduced in five-week increments. We're providing support to Canadians when they need it. In fact, Bill has the potential to help 190,000 unemployed individuals who have worked hard over the years and are now in a very vulnerable state.
We believe this is fair, responsible and the right thing to do at this time. It will help unemployed workers who have worked hard over the years and now, through no fault of their own, are unemployed and need assistance to get through this difficult period.
Mr. Chair, Bill C-50 complements a series of other measures we have introduced in Canada's Economic Action Plan.
Earlier I mentioned the career transition assistance initiative. With the CTA, we are again supporting long-tenured workers but in a different way--through training. Workers can get their EI benefits extended up to a maximum of two years while they undertake long-term training. They can also get earlier access to EI if they invest in their training using part of their severance package or all of it. Service Canada is offering information sessions across the country to make sure that long-tenured workers are aware of their options.
Through our economic action plan we've also implemented other important measures to support all unemployed Canadians. This government is providing five extra weeks of EI regular benefits and increasing the maximum duration of benefits from 45 to 50 weeks in regions of high unemployment. This measure has already helped over 300,000 Canadians while they search for new employment.
We are also protecting jobs through the Work Sharing program. This is a tremendously successful initiative because it actually prevents people from losing their job in the first place. By enhancing work sharing agreements, we are allowing more flexibility for employers' plans during the recovery period.
This month, there are approximately 5,800 active work-sharing agreements across the country, supporting some 165,000 Canadians. Some 8,400 families have been helped by our wage-earner protection program. We're also providing an additional $1.5 billion towards skills training to be delivered by the provinces and territories. This is over and above the normal training funds that we already provide to the provinces and territories. Through our economic action plan, we are investing even more in older workers to ensure that our workforce benefits from their invaluable experience and mentorship.
As I explained earlier, the legislation before us proposes a temporary measure that will provide some much-needed assistance to long-tenured workers throughout the country.
The passage of this bill will make a difference in their lives and the lives of their families. Now let us do our part and assist them when they need it most and support them while they find a job.
It's the fair thing to do, it's the right thing to do, and it's the responsible thing to do. At this time, we need to stay the course, because our plan is delivering for Canadians. The last thing that Canadians want and need at this time is an unnecessary and unwanted election.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm pleased to answer the committee's questions now.
Madam Minister, I want to thank you for being here today. I also thank the officials who have provided us with information up to this point. I must say that we have learned some things, but we still need more information. Perhaps we will get it today.
According to the figures that we were given, Bill C-50 will benefit 190,000 unemployed people, to the tune of $735 million. When we ask questions about this, we get explanations about the way in which these results were obtained. Mr. Beauséjour and Mr. Thompson, among others, told us that it was possible to determine the number of persons who are coming close to exhausting their benefits: 30%. Of that percentage, 21% would be eligible. We already know that much. However, to get such accurate results, it seems to us that you must have a certain amount of data by region and by sector.
For the past three weeks, we have asked you what method you used and the results you obtained. We asked the senior officials about this two or three weeks ago. I asked them those questions, as did my colleagues from the House of Commons. We repeated the request two days ago and we still do not have the information. I am repeating the same request today.
Madam Minister, we have before us a disqualification bill. For some years, more specifically for a few months, there has been a consensus to invite the government to make easier rules for accessing employment insurance. You must have spent the entire summer working on the 360-hour issue. But this bill still excludes as many people as it can. Right from the start, 70% of unemployed people who make contributions are excluded, as well as the people whom you exclude with your ratio. Now add the groups that my colleague mentioned earlier and that are especially vulnerable: all the workers in a precarious position, particularly women and young people, workers who collected employment insurance during the last five, six or seven years, workers in the forestry, in the fishery and in tourism. The exclusions are beginning to add up.
You said that you had targeted certain groups of clients. Who are in these groups? We still do not know, unless we make inferences from what you told us. You said that you had considered the number of unemployed people who had been laid off since January, and as you noticed that there were a lot of them, you tried to target them. To do this, you established criteria such as the number of years and the premiums.
Could you tell us why you excluded so many people, what groups of workers you targeted and which regions they live in?
I would not have done that if somebody was trying to brag, to take it away from....
I would like to ask a second question. You know that a study was done by one of your former colleagues, Monte Solberg. That study dealt with long-tenured workers and specifically recommended that, for a person eligible for employment insurance, severance pay must not affect the employment insurance benefits. At the beginning of this week, once again, we asked your representatives if this would affect the benefits, and they did not know the answer.
If the answer is yes, are you prepared to study that position? As you said, some people have worked hard for a long time and, all of a sudden, they have to face an economic crisis that is not of their making. Negotiations with employers gave them the right to severance pay. But the severance pay must not be affected because they have paid into benefits plans all their lives.
As you said, Madam Minister, some people have worked for many years—you did not specify how many years—let us say 25 or 30, without having to resort to employment insurance, apart from the times when the plant closed down for two weeks in the summer to repair their mills or things like that. We experienced that in our riding, in the mine. We had the same sort of experience at the Belledune foundry: the foundry was closed for a few weeks while the mill was being repaired.
Why should these people be penalized now by going after their severance pay? I would like to know what you think, Madam Minister.
The original employment insurance legislation was designed to help those who were unfortunate enough to have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. In times like these, in a significant and very serious economic recession, different people are affected differently. This time, we've lost a tremendous number of manufacturing jobs particularly. These are jobs that may not be coming back.
A lot of these individuals have limited portable skills, even though they may have been working in high-paying jobs. Many of those with whom I have spoken may be in skilled trades, but they never bothered to get their final papers for their apprenticeship, for example. So they have difficulty transferring their skills to another job, if indeed one exists. Some of the jobs are going away permanently, unfortunately, and many of these individuals are looking for another job in another field. It's time to change careers.
Finally, many of these people by definition—long-tenured workers—haven't had to look for a job in a very long time. They're not used to what's required or how to do it. They're having to learn these new skills, and Service Canada and many other service delivery groups are helping them learn how to look for a job, how to write a résumé, and how to do an interview. It's taking these individuals much longer for any number of reasons to find a new job. We want to help these people, who have worked hard all their lives, paid into the system, and paid into the EI system. They have families to support. We believe this bill will recognize the contributions they've made and also the difficulties they're facing as a group, difficulties that, shall we say, make it more difficult for them. As I mentioned, in a study that was done under my predecessor, the committee then acknowledged that it can take up to 35% longer for these individuals to find work than people who are not long-tenured workers, people who have been in the marketplace more frequently.
Thanks, Madam Minister, and thanks to your staff. All of us in this room are going through unprecedented economic times, the worst situation in our lives for any one of us. I thank you and your team for the work you have done to date. We had some of your staff at the meeting on Tuesday and they provided a lot of additional answers. I thank them for the time and energy they have put into this bill.
I have the honour of representing constituents in the Okanagan, a beautiful part of British Columbia. We have agriculture and manufacturing, and our science and technology strategies are helping other parts of the country to diversify. And of course we have some of the best wines, in competition with the chair, but we're looking at other ways to diversify.
In British Columbia, wood is good, and it's still one of the biggest economic generators in our province. As Mr. Lessard from Quebec and others around the table have said, the forest sector is a big economic engine for our country. This bill is one piece of assistance to help our forest sectors.
Madam Minister, could you explain or outline some of the other support programs that we've initiated as a government to help the forest workers?
We've introduced a number of initiatives in the last year in recognition of these tough economic times.
One that's been very well received by the forestry sector has been the expansion of our work-sharing program. It's not to be confused with job-sharing. In work-sharing, a company and its employees work with Service Canada to develop a program to avoid layoffs. People in the operation work maybe three or four days a week, but for the day or two a week that they aren't working, they're allowed to collect EI benefits.
This has several advantages. Number one is that the employees get to keep the jobs. They take a slight cut in pay, but it's very little compared to the alternative of being laid off. It also works for the employers from a number of points of view. It keeps them going. Also, to qualify, they must have a recovery plan, so they're obviously thinking about their future. But importantly for them, they don't lose people in whom they've invested significant amounts of time and money in training them so they can perform well on their jobs.
Right now we have some 8,500 work-sharing agreements across the country. Those are protecting the jobs of some 165,000 people, which is a large multiple of the number of jobs we usually have with that.
Also with this program, not only have we made it easier for companies and employees to access the program, but we've extended the benefit period from 38 weeks to 52 weeks. We've made it easier to protect the jobs.
These are people who aren't being laid off. I've had tremendous positive feedback from the forestry sector on that particular initiative. That's just one of many.
Okay, thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'll begin with my conclusion now. Parliament should pass Bill to provide additional weeks of employment insurance benefits to thousands of long-tenured workers who will otherwise run out of benefits.
Having said that, I'd like to elaborate further on the strengths and weaknesses of this bill as well as needed employment insurance reforms beyond this proposal.
The main strength of the bill is that it would provide a projected billion dollars of further EI benefits to Canadian workers laid off through no fault of their own. We in the labour movement strongly believe that much more is needed, but I recognize that a billion dollars is quite significant.
As one reference point, I know that the parliamentary budget officer estimates that temporarily enacting a national entrance requirement of 360 hours would cost approximately a billion dollars.
So Bill is roughly comparable to that proposal in terms of the total amount of additional assistance provided.
Another positive aspect of the bill is that it's the first time since the January budget that the government has recognized the need to improve employment insurance in response to the rapid deterioration of Canada's labour market. Since this bill was introduced there have been murmurs of providing EI benefits for parental purposes to self-employed workers; therefore, I am cautiously optimistic that this bill could foreshadow further important improvements to employment insurance.
Conversely, I hope the government will not take the passage of this bill as an indication that the employment insurance file is closed.
A major limitation of Bill is the fact that the proposed benefit extension would apply only to claims established since January 4. As members of this committee will know, employment insurance claims ordinarily expire after 52 weeks. Many claims established in late 2008 have not yet expired, and I see no reason to exclude these remaining claims from the proposed benefit extension.
In order to shed more light on this difficulty, I looked at the number of claims accepted in each Canadian province before and after January 4. I would draw your attention to this statistical table that I have circulated. I should emphasize that this is not restricted to long-tenured workers, but I believe it nevertheless provides an indication of the proportion of claims likely to be excluded from the benefit extension.
Nationally, for every three claims established during the period covered by the benefit extension, there was one claim established in the period that will be excluded from the extension. However, I would also note that there are some important regional variations. For example in Canada's island provinces, for every three claims established during the period covered by the bill, there were two claims established in the period excluded from the bill.
Once again, it's just not apparent what the reasoning is for excluding these claims established near the end of 2008 that have not yet expired. That said, it is worth noting that proportionally more of those claims established in 2008 would already have been exhausted and could not have been eligible for a benefit extension in any case.
The second major weakness with the bill is the exclusion of workers who have used 36 or more weeks of EI benefits over the five years preceding their current claim. This provision is reminiscent of the federal government's attempt to impose experience rating on the EI program during the 1990s. Forestry and other hard-hit sectors suffered frequent layoffs even before the current economic crisis. Over the past five years Canadian employers have eliminated half a million manufacturing jobs; therefore, many individuals, through no fault of their own, have already had to use 36 or more weeks of EI benefits.
A point I would emphasize is that individuals who quit their jobs voluntarily or are fired with cause are already denied EI benefits. However, previous involuntary layoffs have caused some long-tenured workers to use 36 or more benefit weeks. If such workers have had the misfortune of being laid off again, why are they any less deserving of extended EI benefits? Once again, I see no good reason for this exclusion from the bill.
Beyond these specific limitations, though, there are many areas of EI reform that this bill simply doesn't touch. Fewer than half of officially unemployed Canadian workers receive EI benefits at all. This fraction should be raised, and it could be raised by making more benefits accessible through a lower entrance requirement for employment insurance.
I recognize that the government has not been particularly keen on that particular reform proposal, so I'm going to identify four other options that could enhance EI.
The first would be to end the clawback of severance benefits against EI benefits. I think this proposal is especially relevant, because it was also recommended by the task force on older workers that inspired Bill .
Second, the government could extend the duration of benefits for a broader range of workers who meet the qualifications for EI but who may not meet the criteria set out in this particular bill.
Third, the government should increase the level of EI benefits. Currently EI replaces just over half of previous insurable earnings--55%, to be precise--but that is capped at only $450 per week. Clearly it makes sense to increase the level of EI benefits.
Fourth, and finally, the two-week waiting period to receive EI benefits should be removed. I would draw your attention to this letter that I've circulated, which notes that, simply to conform with International Labour Organization standards, Canada should be maintaining a waiting period, if any, of no longer than one week.
In closing, I would say that Bill is an important step forward, but many further steps are urgently needed.
Thanks very much for your time.
On behalf of the 3.2 million members of our Canadian Labour Congress, I want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to present our views on Bill .
Members of the committee, I am not here today to provide you with our thoughts on the technical aspects of Bill or whether there should be amendments to improve the bill.
I am here with only one message: pass Bill quickly so that people like Rosalie Washington, who is here with me today, can get the help they need now. They deserve no less from you and your colleagues in the House of Commons.
But once you've finished that, get back to work and help the other equally deserving unemployed people in this country who are struggling daily and don't qualify for this help. People have run out of or are running out of benefits and have no prospects for work. There are no jobs out there. That's why there was a decline in the number of people receiving EI benefits in August--the benefits are running out.
We spoke to workers in seven communities across Canada this past summer. What we found was a picture of increasing despair and crisis. The people I'm describing to you are real and so are their experiences.
I'm thinking of people like Tom, from New Brunswick. He wrote me earlier this year, looking for help. He was laid off from his job on October 31, 2008. He did everything right. He took a part-time job thinking he'd quickly find another full-time job, but that didn't happen, and eventually he was laid off from that part-time job too. When he applied for EI, he learned that he was 60 hours short of the hours needed to qualify in that area.
Another young man from northern Ontario wrote to me about being deeply in debt because he couldn't find full-time work and he resorted to using his credit cards to buy the necessities like food. He said, “When I needed it most I was denied EI benefits, forcing me to seek low-paying jobs to compensate for what was required, and now my own credit has been destroyed.”
I am thinking of people like Tammy, from Oshawa, a single mother of three who worked midnights in a paint shop. “Bankruptcy is the next thing that's in order for me,” Tammy said, when the CLC spoke to her.
Are these people living beyond their means? Of course not.
Said a woman named Shannon, from Simcoe, “Have I lived beyond my means?” “No,” she said, “I've just simply lived.”
In the Miramichi region of New Brunswick, 3,100 people were thrown out of work between August 2008 and August 2009, which was a 30% decrease in the employment rate in that area. Food banks in the Miramichi are seeing a rapid rise in the need for their services. The number of residents in that area declaring bankruptcy is increasing. Many will be forced onto social assistance after their EI runs out.
For many years, our congress has sounded the alarm about the crisis that was unfolding in our manufacturing and forestry industries. Long before this financial tsunami hit full force last September, communities across this country were being devastated by an industrial crisis that had been years in the making.
At one time, the Miramichi had one of the largest pulp and paper mills in Canada, which employed over 1,000 people. Today the largest employer in that region is the hospital.
Unemployed workers in Sault Ste. Marie are facing delays in getting EI benefits. Here's what one steelworker told us. Listen to this:
We're talking about people here who can't eat, can't pay bills. It's totally unacceptable that the people have been laid off work for three months and have received so far nothing because the employer forgot to tick a box.
In Campbell River, British Columbia, the Elk Falls pulp mill shut down its kraft production in July 2008 and with it went 440 jobs. A high Canadian dollar and U.S. subsidies were cited as reasons.
The regional disparity in hours of work needed for EI is stark. Mitch, on layoff in Campbell River, said to us:
I think they need to be more fair in all the regions. Just a little north of here you don't need as many hours. They're working for the same company but they don't need the same hours we need. They get longer benefits and it doesn't take them as long.
Even in areas where the full force of this crisis is less visible, the effects are no less real. In Saskatchewan the resource revenues mask an uneasy truth. Aboriginal and first nations communities in the area say this to us:
Economic crisis? The recession? Our communities would welcome moving up from abject poverty and neglect to the status of a recession.
These are the faces of unemployed Canadians in Canada. These are the stories of people who are looking to parliamentarians for leadership and help.
The economic devastation is affecting communities in ways you cannot imagine. In Oshawa, Simcoe Hall Settlement House has watched the number of people coming through its food banks increase by 20% a month. A skilled tradesperson, a plumber, using the food bank said to us, “Never in a million years did I ever dream I'd be coming to a food bank to feed my family.”
Our congress has been on record many times before this committee on what's needed to fix EI so that it works for those it was designed and intended to help. A uniform 360 hours would be good. Longer benefits, of at least 50 weeks, in all regions so that fewer unemployed workers exhaust their claims, particularly in times of economic recession, higher weekly benefits based on the best 12 weeks of earnings before a layoff, and a replacement rate of 60% of insured earnings would be a good start.
The current EI program leaves far too many Canadians, especially women, lower-wage earners, and insecure workers, out in the cold. We're asking you to pass this bill quickly so that those people it is meant to help, long-tenured workers who have not accessed EI much in the past, get what they need now. But we're also saying you have unfinished business and there's more work to be done.
I want to remind members of this committee that since this financial meltdown brought our economy to a grind, the House of Commons has barely been in session to address the urgent needs of Canadians. In the four months following the start of the economic meltdown in September 2008, this Parliament sat for just two weeks. Parliament was dissolved on September 9, 2008, for an early and unnecessary election, and it didn't reconvene until November 18. That session was prorogued just two weeks later and did not come back until January 26 of this year.
I want to also remind the committee that workers and employers have paid over $55 billion more in premiums into the EI system during the last decade than were paid out in benefits. That's our insurance fund. The huge surplus was spent by successive governments on everything but unemployed Canadians. If the piggy bank had not been robbed, today there would be enough money for unemployed workers.
Workers paid those premiums in the belief that EI was their protection for a rainy day. That day is here. It's pouring out there, and people like Rosalie Washington aren't being helped. It's time for you to turn your attention to the job you were elected to do: protect citizens like her.
I'm here today to speak about working for 20 years and suddenly having no job. The company closed and we're out of a job. We got a severance package, but we have to use our severance package before we get EI. I don't think that's fair. We have families, bills to pay, and we have mortgages. We have a lot of things to take care of. I don't think that's fair.
Passing would be very helpful. It may not be exactly what we desire at the moment, but if we continue to work on that bill, we can go on to the next step. I'm asking you today to please pass Bill C-50, because it would be very helpful for us. I'm having a very rough time making it with EI payments that I get. It's not very much. I have three kids at home; I have a husband who works at minimum wage. I was the highest paid worker in my house. What do I do?
I'm afraid of what's going to happen in the next few months when there is no EI and I haven't found a job. I go to agencies and I register. I go online and to job sites. I've looked in the paper. I've done all I can do. I'm not giving up on looking for a job, because I can't live on EI. It doesn't pay the bills. I don't feel good on EI; I feel degraded, because I've always worked and contributed. Now it's time for help. I need help.
There are many more people out there who need help in the workplace, who have lost their jobs, who don't have enough. I'm asking you today to think about it very seriously and to please pass Bill C-50 so we can get help. Working for 20, 25, or 30 years and not having enough to take care of our families and pay our bills is not very nice. We desire jobs. We know right now that we can hardly find a job. I am willing to work at any job, as long as I can get a job. That's my point. I need a job because a job pays the bills. So please, please....
I have a 12-year-old, a 14-year-old, and an 18-year-old at home. What is going to happen to us? There are many more workers out there who have lost their jobs. Please.
will help. It may not do exactly what we desire it to do, but we can work at that bill and make it better down the road.
I think I'm going to go about three and a half or four and then pass to Madam Minna.
Thank you for coming. I want to ask if any of you, particularly the steelworkers or CLC, have done any analysis yourself of this bill. Mr. Weir, you mentioned the fact that the parliamentary budget officer indicated the cost of a 360-hour national standard was $1.2 billion, which is consistent with other economists' costs. The Prime Minister, as recently as yesterday, said it was a $4 billion cost, which is a total fabrication, proven to be an untruth but still being spouted by the government.
My concern is, how do we trust the numbers of the government? How do we know there will be $935 million in assistance, and how do we know there will be 180,000 to 190,000 people captured? Have you done any analysis of this bill, either yourselves or CLC, to see if those numbers are accurate?
Okay. I've asked for the same.
Mr. Chair, could we please ask the department to give this committee that breakdown and the disaggregated data? If we could get it for next week, prior to coming back, so that we could take a look at it, that would be helpful. Maybe we can share it with our witnesses as well.
Thank you. I appreciate that, because that's something I've been trying to get at because of this legislation but also because of what we said earlier with respect to the number of hours.
I understand, and I accept, obviously, Mr. Georgetti and Ms. Washington, what both of you said with respect to passing this bill and the importance to the group of people it benefits. My angst, though, is because of the fact that, as I said to the minister earlier, there are people who work full time. There are immigrants who have worked full time for five, six, or seven years, depending on how long they've been here. It's been a difficult time. Many of them were unemployed or worked part time or had two or three jobs for many years before they got permanent jobs, as we all know. But they're not included. If you have under seven years—that's the minimum number of years under the scale—you're not even part of the program, because somehow you're not deserving or haven't worked hard enough. I'm not quite sure which one the minister is accepting.
Again, I have in my riding an area where there are about 12,000 to 18,000 people, most of them new immigrants. I'm not saying that this bill doesn't help. It helps some people. I guess I'm saying that my angst is that I don't like playing God and choosing who in my riding gets aid to pay their mortgages and who doesn't. My question to all of you is—and it's not fair, I suppose—what the absolute, immediate next thing you would like this committee to do would be, in addition to passing this bill.
I thank my friends from the central labour bodies and I thank Ms. Washington for having come to testify here today. You must be aware that, in the House of Commons, opinion is divided about Bill . This committee is studying it to get a better understanding of if, and most of the time, we are guided by clarifications from people like yourselves.
Sometimes, by wanting to rush things, we miss out on the clarifications. The motion that was tabled yesterday by our colleague Mr. Godin could have deprived us of the clarifications. Others will provide clarification too. When we are just dealing with a technical measure that is intended to determine the way in which the bill will be implemented, an exercise like this is worthwhile in any democracy. I believe that you work in the same way in the labour movement.
Mr. Georgetti, I entirely agree with your opinion about the comprehensive reform of employment insurance that must be done. You probably know that I tabled Bill on behalf of my party; it includes most of the measures that you mention. During the previous session of Parliament, we, together with the Liberal Party and the NDP, made some headway towards some amendments to the bill. We could have done it, but because of the rules of Parliament and the election, everything was dropped.
I am also reminded that, as we listen to you here, we are consulting, and in every one of our ridings, my colleagues, even those who are now talking and disturbing everyone, are also holding consultations. For a bill of this nature, we consulted with those whom we call the have-nots, as well as labour confederations, groups of the unemployed, and so forth. You are probably aware that they think that this bill should not be held up.
Mr. Chair, this is such a disturbance. I do not know if they are at same meeting as we are. I do not want this to eat into my time. I find it very disturbing and lacking in courtesy towards our guests. I hope that we have not upset them too much.
In a word, this bill establishes that there are good unemployed people and bad unemployed people, with all the disqualification that implies. You have done an extraordinary job, as we have, in amending the employment insurance system so that more unemployed people can have access to it. However, this bill contains measures that will eliminate as many people as possible. The minister has said that this bill is for those workers who have become unemployed through no fault of their own. There cannot be many unemployed people who are responsible for their own unemployment. I think that we share this opinion.
This bill is based on a similar principle. I would like to hear more from you about the good and bad aspects of this bill. Let me finish with this, just to make myself clear. This bill disqualifies people. Senior officials told us that, of the 757,000 unemployed people in July, only 30% were close to exhausting their benefits. Twenty-one per cent of this group would be affected by Bill ; that comes to 49,600 unemployed people in all of Canada. This is far from the figure of 190,000 unemployed.
I would especially like to hear from you, Mr. Georgetti, and probably you too, Mr. Weir, because, like the NDP, you maintained that the real figure was not $935 million but $1 billion. To get to $1 billion, 85% of the claimants would have to have exhausted their benefits.
I would like to hear what you have to say about that.
I agree that it was not a point of order: I am still in Canada and I have freedom of speech.
We heard about the changes that were made. Just now, the Liberal Party asked some questions. I do not know whether my colleague Mr. Lessard feels that I am now entitled to ask questions too, but I remember hearing, for example, that this did not help people in Nova Scotia because it takes 700 hours to be entitled to employment insurance benefits. The Employment Insurance Act should be amended, but let us not forget that the bill was introduced by the Liberals in 1996. If there are people in Nova Scotia today who do not qualify for employment insurance because of the required 700 hours, it is because of the employment insurance reform that was done in 1996. At that time, there was an economic crisis and all the fishers in the Atlantic provinces lost their jobs; at the same time, the employment insurance fund was robbed like never before. To be precise, $57 billion were taken from the employment insurance fund and transferred to general revenue.
Mr. Georgetti, as the president of more than 2 million workers in Canada, could you tell us once more how damaging that reform was? Are you asking all political parties to support this bill despite the fact that it does not make all the changes that the workers need? It was the workers who contributed to employment insurance, it is insurance for the workers. It belongs to the employers and to the workers; it is not so that the government can fill its coffers and say how well it is managing the budget. The workers are the ones who need this fund during a time of economic crisis or when they lose their jobs, not the government.
This is a great system that was put in place a long time ago to help Canadians in times of unemployment, particularly seasonal workers and other workers. Over time it has been diluted and changed and modified, to the extent now that we find ourselves in a position where most unemployed can't get the insurance they paid for.
That's a travesty. That is, frankly, a theft of money that we deferred from our wages and our payrolls to protect us in times of need.
As I said, in fact, even to our Prime Minister, it matters not to me whether the government is Liberal or Conservative; the last name is still the government. Our government has made a system that was designed to help ordinary working people through tough times into a system of us paying money to be disbursed to people who frankly don't need it. Now Rosalie Washington, who does need it, and the others I've illustrated who are in dire need of this system, are being denied the insurance they need.
As I said before, if this were any other insurance package, there would be a lawsuit of magnificent proportions, and the judgment would be in favour of the needy, not the greedy.
Certainly. We agree completely. People need this system.
I saw in the paper yesterday comments from the mayor of Toronto, whose budget is going to go up--a 20% increase in welfare rates. Remember, the people you represent are also citizens of a province, are citizens of a municipality. So some people, some citizens, are picking up the tab at some place or another.
The problem we have with the system, Mr. Godin, is that we set up an insurance program federally so that the money would be paid here, and the debt is being transferred to the provinces and to the cities, where they're going to have to pay welfare in place of EI.
Frankly, we as taxpayers are paying twice. We paid our insurance. It wasn't there. We have to pay our taxes, whether they're municipal taxes or provincial taxes, to pick up the costs and the obligation of the federal government. It should be the obligation of the federal government to pay this bill.