Mr. Speaker, it certainly gives me pleasure to rise and speak with respect to Bill .
We have an opportunity today to help experienced workers who have lost their jobs because of the recent downturn in the economy. It is the fair and right thing to do. I hope all of my colleagues, particularly Liberal colleagues, will come around and agree to help with the passage of the final reading of this bill.
Before I continue, I would like to provide the House with some context, a quick rundown of some of the economic activities in the western provinces where I am from.
It is time for a reality check. Even though there is a lot of negative news, we do have some glimmers of hope. While we are continuing to take action to help Canadians who need help due to the recession, there are good news stories that we are hearing every day. I would like to share a few of those good news stories I have heard. I will start on the west coast and work my way east.
In British Columbia, for example, Nanaimo's restored Harmac pulp mill started a second shift in September and hired 265 of 500 former employees of the bankrupt and closed Pope and Talbot mill.
The Catalyst Paper's Crofton kraft mill was looking to restart just a few weeks ago, bringing back one of its two shifts, recalling 104 of the 375 workers laid off in February when the kraft mill closed.
There is welcome news in Prince George as well. Walmart will expand into a super centre and increase its permanent staff by 70 to 310, as well as hiring 40 temporary staff for the grand opening.
In Alberta, the CrossIron Mills shopping centre opened in Balzac in July and hired 3,500 workers.
In the northwest, a $71 million contribution for Yukon's $160 million Mayo hydroelectric dam expansion has been finalized. Up to 300 people could be hired over the next two years.
Less than a year after Liquidation World closed its door in Whitehorse, it will move back and employ between 12 and 20 people. SSI Micro, a Yellowknife-based company, won a multi-million dollar contract to upgrade the government of Nunavut's it services and plans to hire more staff.
In Saskatchewan, Enbridge has the $2.4 billion Alberta Clipper pipeline project, creating about 12,000 person years of employment, as part of which 5,000 full- and part-time jobs are right in Saskatchewan.
The first phase of Loblaws' $350 million warehouse and distribution facility located in Regina will initially hire 500 people, and by 2017 up to 1,700 people will be hired at its distribution centre.
I have provided this information because it gives a realistic snapshot of what is happening. Yes, there is bad news, but it is mixed with flashes of hope on the horizon and there are more and more strong flashes of hope every week.
What our Conservative government is trying to do is create a few more flashes of hope through the actions that we can take. Certainly all of us realize that there is only so much we as a government can do. However, where we have been able to act, we have acted and we are continuing to act. Bill is an example of our action.
Bill is legislation that will extend regular employment insurance benefits to unemployed long-tenured workers so they can be ready for a recovering economy. It is for Canadians who need a little more time.
Who are these long-tenured workers? They are individuals who have worked and paid their taxes and EI premiums for many years. They have paid into the system for a long time. They have not needed much help in the past but they need help now. They have worked hard but suddenly have lost their jobs and have had to start over in a recovering economy.
Resiliency is a trademark of Canadian workers, but we still have a responsibility to help them over the current hurdle. Bill is a temporary measure that will help workers who have paid EI premiums for many years and have never or rarely collected EI regular benefits.
Bill will provide between five and twenty weeks of additional benefits, depending on how long an individual has been working and paying EI premiums. It will help bridge these workers over until the economy recovers.
It applies to workers who have paid at least 30% of the annual maximum EI premiums for seven out of ten years, and we will allow up to 35 weeks of regular benefits in the past five years. Why is that? It is because we recognize that workers from some industries, including manufacturing and forestry, have used EI during temporary shutdowns.
Lest members of the House believe that only a few Canadian workers will qualify for this extended measure, let me tell them that this temporary measure will ultimately benefit some 190,000 long-tenured workers. These long-tenured workers come from all sectors of the economy. More than one-third of those who have lost their jobs across Canada since the end of January and have established an EI claim are long-tenured workers. Many of those workers have been in the same job or the same industry all their lives and face the prospect of having to make a transition into a new job. This is never easy and it takes time.
That is why we are acting. Specifically, we are acting to provide continuing support to those workers while they look for jobs in a recovering economy. For example, under the legislation workers who paid premiums in seven of the past ten years would get five extra weeks of EI regular benefits. For every additional year of contributions, the number of weeks of benefits would increase by three weeks, up to a twenty week maximum.
The start date will be January 4, 2009, now that we have made the amendment, and the measure will remain in place until September 11, 2010. This means that payments of these extended benefits will continue until the fall of 2011 for those who need them. To gradually transition out of the measure, the level of additional benefits will be reduced in five week increments.
By extending EI for long-tenured workers, we are only doing what is beneficial for our economy. These are workers with solid experience. With some adjustments they will make it back into the workforce and continue to be productive. We believe this is fair. These workers can continue buying groceries for their families, pay for their heating costs as winter approaches, and buy clothes for their children. It helps unemployed workers who have worked hard over the years and are now in a vulnerable state. It is our responsibility to support them as they struggle to get through the recession. We stand behind them. They will get through this downturn.
Of course, this temporary measure has not been initiated in a vacuum. It builds on other initiatives we have introduced as part of Canada's economic action plan.
One of the most complementary actions we have taken in our action plan is the career transition assistance initiative. Through this initiative we are further supporting long-tenured workers by helping them train for future jobs. Workers can get their EI benefits extended up to a maximum of two years while they undertake longer term training. This will be very significant as the economy emerges.
They can also get earlier access to EI if they invest in their training using part or all of their severance package. This initiative is available to the same type of worker, long-tenured workers, using the same criteria as is used for Bill . Career transition assistance is complementary, and closely linked, to Bill .
Through our economic action plan, we are also supporting unemployed Canadians through other measures. We are providing nationally five extra weeks of EI regular benefits. We have increased the maximum duration of EI regular benefits from 45 to 50 weeks available in regions of high unemployment.
We are also protecting tens of thousands of jobs through the work-sharing program. We have made changes that allow more flexibility for employer recovery plans. Agreements have also been extended for an additional 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks. It supports employees who might otherwise be laid off. It allows them to continue working a reduced work week while they receive EI benefits for the days they do not work. As of this week, over 5,900 active work-sharing agreements across the country are preserving the jobs of almost 167,000 Canadians. We are working for Canadians so that Canadians can continue working.
We are also providing an additional $1.5 billion towards skills training to be delivered by the provinces and territories.
Let me refer to another program, the targeted initiative for older workers, which applies to people who are 55 to 64 years of age. Under the economic action plan, we are investing an additional $60 million over three years to provide upgrading and work experience to help older workers make the transition to new employment. Further, we have expanded the program so that it extends access to older workers in major communities as well as smaller cities affected by significant downsizing or closures.
I am especially interested in pointing out the active, supportive and positive aims and methods of this program and contrasting its active approach with the passive, uninspiring so-called solutions that some members of the opposition have put forward for our older workers. We believe in our older workers, as we do in all of Canada's workers. We want to help them use their skills and experience to get back into the workforce and continue to contribute.
Our older workers have much to teach our younger workers and much to contribute to the work and value of our companies. We are going to help them remain active in the workforce. We are not going to give up on them.
Best of all, we are also supporting initiatives that focus on aboriginal Canadians. The aboriginal skills and employment partnership, ASEP as it is commonly known, has received an additional $100 million over three years to provide on the job training and work opportunities in sectors such as natural resources, construction and tourism. The initiatives funded under this program depend on partnerships between aboriginal communities and the major employers in the field.
In addition, the aboriginal skills and training strategic investment fund will help about 5,800 aboriginal people over two years to get the specific skills they need to benefit from economic opportunities now and into the future. This fund also supports greater investment in training for aboriginal people who face barriers to employment, such as low literacy or a lack of essential skills.
The economic action plan is helping Canadians access the labour market in all kinds of different ways. One way is by freezing EI premiums for 2010 at $1.73, the same rate as 2009. This rate is now at its lowest level in a quarter century. Right now freezing the EI premium rate translates into $10.5 billion stimulus to the economy at the exact time that the economy needs it.
Canadian employers and Canadian workers can be assured that the EI premium rate will not increase during the economic downturn. That would not make any sense.
We are delivering on our commitment to improve the governance and management of the EI account by establishing the Canada employment insurance financing board, the CEIFB. The board will be an independent arm's-length crown corporation. It will implement an improved EI premium rate setting mechanism that will ensure EI revenues and expenditures break even over time and will set the EI premium rate starting in 2011.
These important changes will ensure that EI premiums, all of them, will be there for Canadian workers when they need them. It will ensure that EI premiums, the hard-earned dollars of Canadian workers, will not again be used for pet political projects as was done in the past. No, the CEIFB will ensure that EI premiums will be used properly and will not be mismanaged like they were in the past by previous governments.
In closing, let me return to Bill . The purpose of this bill is to help long-tenured workers directly affected by the force of this recession. As explained earlier, the legislation before us proposes a temporary measure that will provide much needed assistance to long-tenured workers throughout the country.
The passage of this bill will make a difference in their lives. It will make a difference in the lives of their families. It will make a difference to industry. It is the fair and the right thing to do, so this government is doing it.
These are workers who have striven long and hard to support their families and to work hard for their employers. Now it is time for us to assist them in their hour and time of need and to support them while they find a job.
I ask my colleagues to join with us to get behind the bill and to help each and every one of those 190,000 people who are waiting for the bill to pass and to take effect.
I would ask members to unanimously support the passage of the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity again to speak to Bill in the House. We spoke to it when it was introduced and we have dealt with it in committee.
We had a vote on an amendment yesterday that Liberals supported. One of our key concerns about this bill, shared even by those who have agreed to go along with this bill, is that it already disenfranchises so many workers. We did not want to see further workers disenfranchised because this bill has to work its way through Parliament.
It is impossible to look at Bill without considering the context, the situation that this country is in, what we have gone through in the last year and a half in Canada, and the economic crisis that the bill is supposed to address. The background, as we know, is that the crisis started last year. Questions were raised as far back as last spring in the House and outside the House about the potential for Canada facing some economic difficulties. Of course, the , the and everybody else told us not to worry, but to be happy. They told us that the sky was not falling and that Canada was not in any kind of trouble.
I have an article here from the National Post, a great Liberal institution, dated May 30. The headline is “[Finance minister] denies Canada headed for recession”. He goes into his thing about the economic fundamentals being strong. He said that we should not worry and that Canada was not heading into a recession. He also told us not to worry and that Canada would never go into a deficit. We were doing great, living off the strong fiscal management of the Liberal Party. The finance minister told us that we did not have to worry and that we could not mess it up that badly.
On September 27, in the middle of a federal election, when Canadians were worried about what was happening with the economy in Canada, we already had action in the United States from then-President Bush and incoming, soon-to-be-elected President Barack Obama, who said that we needed some stimulus and activity.
On September 27, the headline in the paper said “[Prime Minister] says Canada not in deficit, despite opposition claims”. The said:
The opposition tries to tell people that we’re in deficit when we’re in surplus. Tries to tell people we’re in recession when our economy is still growing. Tries to tell people we are losing jobs when actually more people are working.
That was only a year ago. The assured the people of this country that they should not worry, that people were working, that we were not in deficit, that we were not going to go into deficit, that we were not in recession, and that we were just fine. Then, we came back after the election.
The Prime Minister used a strategy to address this issue with Canadians. First, it was to tell them that it was a buying opportunity when their stocks went down. Second, it was to bring in an economic update that did nothing except throw political tricks into an economic update. Third, it was to prorogue Parliament. Fourth, it was to conjure up separatist-socialist coalitions. Finally, in January, prodding by the Liberal Party made the government say that it will try to have a look at this. It finally brought forward the budget in January of this year.
There were some things in there. Nobody would suggest it was enough. In fact, if one were to look at the reports that came out from the Caledon Institute, the CCPA, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, labour union groups and other social policy networks, they said that this would not be enough to help Canadians. However, at least there was that five extra weeks.
Everybody who was unemployed and had a claim was eligible. It did nothing to increase eligibility, which was and continues to be the number one issue with employment insurance, but at least it offered five weeks. It offered those five weeks to everybody. I have asked two members of the Conservative Party if they could explain the juxtaposition of the who, in talking about those extra five weeks in her own estimates tabled here, said:
--including extending five extra weeks of benefits, which is now only available in some regions, to all Canadians.
That was one of the boasting factors that the talked about from the January budget. She said that Canada has projects where people get an extra five weeks and that five extra weeks of benefits is something that was always part of private members' bills, initiatives and proposals put forward by other people. That is not a panacea, but she is saying that the government has taken it and given it to all Canadians. One would assume that she said that because she felt proud of it.
It is almost as if she believed in equality. It is almost as if she felt that everybody was equally deserving of assistance. Now, we are debating a bill that goes in exactly the opposite direction. It divides Canadians into those who are deserving and those who are not deserving. That is a very significant contradiction in view, expressed over a period of a few months.
We have had employment insurance bills in the House for some time that talked about reforming EI. In the last Parliament they were Bills and . We looked at those bills. What did they ask for? They consistently asked for the elimination of the two week waiting period. As people know, when they get their employment insurance, it is not really a waiting period. My colleague from would agree with me that people who lose their job do not wait two weeks; they wait a lot longer than two weeks. In some cases they wait two months. The standard for Service Canada is that 80% of people get their claim processed in 28 days. We brought that to this House of Commons 12 months ago and the minister denied there was a problem. Then in the spring, she admitted there was a problem and she spent $60 million hiring people, but eliminating the two week waiting period is a possibility.
Increasing the rate of benefits is a possibility. It is now 55%. A number of private members' motions, opposition motions, social policy groups have indicated that should be 60%. The way we calculate benefits, perhaps going to the best 12 weeks is another way of looking at this; increasing the maximum insurable earnings. If somebody is making $70,000 and loses their job and they qualify for EI, they do not get 55% of their salary of $70,000, they get 55% of the maximum insurable earnings, which is in the low forties.
There are a number of ways we can change EI if we are serious about reform. Who else was talking about that back in the spring, and what were they talking about? “To be locked into a system which has 58 separate employment insurance regions, where one Canadian gets treated dramatically different than another Canadian, it doesn't seem right to me”. That was British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, who supported the call of the for a national 360 hour standard of eligibility during the period of the recession.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said, “Here is an example where the recession's impact in Canada has moved from east to west, and we are feeling the effects”. Brad Wall supported the call of Mr. Campbell for some kind of national standard for employment insurance eligibility.
Again, Premier Gordon Campbell on May 29 called on the federal government to have one employment insurance standard throughout Canada. The Premier of Ontario had a position that said we should have one national standard across Canada, and 360 hours made sense. That is what people called for. Maybe it is 420 hours, which is the lowest eligibility, but the point is, we should have some equality in the system.
Premier Campbell is quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying, “The federal government needs to overhaul a clearly discriminatory employment insurance system to help the swelling ranks of the jobless in western Canada”.
The Premier of Ontario called for a national standard of employment insurance. It was not just the premier. Christine Elliott, who was at the time I believe running to be the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, had some pretty sharp words for the , with whom she enjoys a particularly close relationship, saying, “Ideally, the federal government will quickly reform EI to better meet Ontario's needs. The federal EI program is unfair to Ontario”.
Premier Stelmach said, “Alberta has complained about varying eligibility rules”. Premier Stelmach weighed in as well, so every western province has indicated that there was a problem. This was not the Liberals, the NDP or the Bloc saying that there was a problem. These were Canadians from coast to coast to coast suggesting that there was a problem.
We had an opposition day motion on March 5 brought forward by the New Democrats which called for a number of changes: eliminating the two week waiting period; reducing the qualifying period to 360 hours; allowing self-employed workers to participate, and we will have a look at that in the next few days as the government unveils its plan; and raising the rate of benefits to 60% and basing those benefits on best 12 weeks. Those were all things that were mentioned.
I mentioned Bills and in the last Parliament. There is Bill , which we have debated in this Parliament and which we will be looking at today or Thursday in the human resources committee. It calls for 360 hours, increasing the weekly benefit, and reducing the qualifying period.
The member for brought forward Bill that we looked at in committee last Thursday. It will be coming back to the House. It calls for the elimination of the two week waiting period. There was another bill brought forward by the NDP member for , which referred to severance payments and how they are treated in EI.
There were a number of changes across the board, some of which are very standard, that people were calling for. Primarily, they wanted a national standard of 360 hours for EI eligibility and a two-week waiting period. They wanted to take a look at the rate of benefits, the maximum insurable earnings and how benefits are calculated. Those are all things we have talked about. I have not seen any academic, social policy expert, anybody, suggest that the answer to the crisis was to further provide benefits and then to limit those benefits to only a few people.
In the spring the leader of the Liberal Party made his point clear, that we would call for a national standard of 360 hours for employment insurance eligibility. That was the call of the , supported by many people across the country.
Our proposal was that it would be temporary in nature during a difficult period of time. One thing that often gets lost in this debate is the importance of EI as a stimulative measure to the economy. Those people who get EI need EI. Those people who get EI spend that money on food and shelter, things that they need for themselves and their families. That money goes back into the economy. This is a country that went crazy for stimulus back in January and February. Everybody was calling for stimulus. Those who evaluate stimulus said that the best stimulus is to invest in social infrastructure, particularly EI because that means the money will go into the economy. The second best stimulus was in infrastructure. The third best stimulus was tax cuts, particularly tax cuts that do not disproportionately put money into the hands of those who need it the most, low-income and middle-income Canadians. It is a very important stimulative effect.
What was the government saying to all this at that point in time? It was discouraging.
The was quoted as saying, at the end of January, after the Conservatives brought forward the budget and were being criticized for not having addressed the key issues of EI:
Our goal is to help people get back to work, and get back to work quickly in jobs that will last. We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it--
That quotation was never retracted. It raised the hackles of people across the country, particularly those who are on EI, not because they want to be on EI but because they have to be on EI.
There was a running smear campaign against people on EI, that it was a nine-week work year, as if people would find a way to get fired from their jobs. Members must keep in mind that people cannot collect EI if they quit their jobs. That is a change that was made. The minister's suggestion was that people would be rushing out, trying to find a way to get fired so that they could go on EI for a maximum of 55% of what they were earning in their job for a maximum of anywhere from 19 to 45 weeks, or 50 weeks with the extension, most of them at the low end of that. It does not make any sense. Who would do that? It is an insult to Canadians who lose their jobs.
She changed her tune a bit in June. The minister was quoted as saying, “There is no need to change the threshold for employment insurance eligibility because as the economy worsens, more and more Canadians will find it easier to qualify”. She also said, “If the unemployment rate goes up in a given region, then it gets easier for people there to access EI for a longer period of time, and most of the regions around Canada now have become easier to access”.
Let us think about that. The United States has Barack Obama's version of hope: equality for all; benefits for those who need them. Canada has the Conservative government's version of hope: “Don't worry. Things are getting worse. We are not doing anything to help you. But you will find it easier to get EI because more of your friends and neighbours will be unemployed and then the unemployment rate will go up in the region and it will be easier to qualify”. That is what passes for hope from the Conservative government, “Wait. Don't worry. Things are getting worse. It is good news for you, but bad news for your neighbours, bad news for your friends, bad news for Canadians”. That is what we heard from the government.
A very important report was released in June by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. The committee held hearings specifically about how EI affects women. I do not think it is much of a secret that with the system as it currently exists fewer women qualify for EI benefits and they get less payments. That is an inherent problem with EI that needs to be fixed. It is a problem which the addressed when he called for a 360-hour national standard. That would have helped women and part-time workers.
He also called for an overhaul of the EI system. That is what is needed. We cannot do it piecemeal. There are things that we should do in the time of a recession. We do need an overhaul of the employment insurance system.
Changes came in. People were hurt. The economy was different. We were coming out of a time of recession and into a period of a long sustained recovery under Liberal governments. We are now back into a Conservative recession. Things have changed. That is just a fact of life. The circumstances are different now than they were in the 1990s. I could debate with colleagues in this House about what happened in the 1990s to no effect, but what we can do is impact people today who need help at a difficult time.
The status of women committee heard from a number of people. Richard Shillington testified at the committee hearings. He said:
Think of EI as a series of hurdles. To be eligible for your benefit, you first of all have to have had paid employment.... You have to have a certain number of hours. You have to have left your job for the right reason--you can't be fired; it has to be a lay-off.
We heard in the spring that 80% of people who were eligible were getting EI. That is incorrect. There was testimony from another witness who indicated:
The government likes to argue that 80% of all currently employed workers would qualify for regular EI benefits if they were to lose their jobs. However, this ignores the fact that job loss particularly affects those with unstable patterns of work, such as workers on reduced hours before a layoff as well as part-time, temporary, and contract workers. It also ignores the fact that many unemployed workers qualify for EI for a shorter period of time but quickly exhaust their benefits.
Those people would not be helped by Bill in the least.
There were a number of recommendations, a whole host of them which I will not read but I recommend this to all members for their consideration. One of the recommendations is that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada implement a uniform 360-hour qualification requirement. There is another about increasing the maximum benefit entitlement. There is one about the two-week waiting period. There are some recommendations about self-employment which I think we will be looking at in the next few days to see if they meet the needs of those who are most in need.
We had the EI working group over the summer, in which I took part. I have talked about that in this House on many occasions. I do not want to belabour people with that process, or how I spent my summer vacation. It was a discouraging time.
The government came up with numbers that were patently false, indicating that a 360-hour national standard would cost $4.4 billion. A week later the government said that it had made a bit of a mistake, that it would cost $2.5 billion. The actual cost as verified by the Parliamentary Budget Officer was $1.2 billion, but there still are government members, including the , who stand in the House and use the $4.4 billion figure. Unbelievable. There was documentation given to the committee that was marked “not for distribution” which had already been given to the media. That documentation showed those false numbers.
That is what we dealt with over the summer. I have talked about that before. It was a frustrating time.
I believe Parliament can work. I believe Canadians want Parliament to work. I had hopes that if we got together away from question period and used the strong resources of the human resources department that we could have effected some change. We could have all taken a little bit of water in our wine and come up with something that would have helped Canadian workers, but that was not to be, which is too bad.
The government came back in the fall and introduced Bill . That is the bill we are talking about today. The fundamental problem with Bill is that it is discriminatory. Even the government would have to acknowledge that it picks winners and losers. It determines who is deserving of benefits. The minister has used this terminology herself, even at committee, “helping the most deserved workers”.
It is a discriminatory bill. Imagine a government coming forward with a health care system and saying, “We have a great new health care system. The only hitch is that if you have ever used the health care system, you do not get that health care. It is only for the deserving ones who have never used health care in Canada”. What would the outcry be to that? The outcry would be that that is clearly unacceptable. That is not what governments do. Governments do not pick winners and losers. Governments are governments for all the people.
Bill does not meet the needs of most Canadians. It does not meet the needs of most unemployed Canadians. It does not even meet the needs of most characterized long-term unemployed Canadians. It is a bill that is flawed. It is a bill that does nothing to address the number one concern of Canadians, which is to increase access to employment insurance for those who need it.
The bill does nothing to help seasonal workers who through no fault of their own work in the fishery, the forestry industry, or the tourism business. It does nothing for part-time workers. It is not a bill that we can support.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill at the third reading stage. As others have already said, this bill is supposed to help long-tenured workers. I said “supposed to”, because few long-tenured workers will be helped by this bill. I will explain.
This is a smokescreen to make us forget that the Conservatives, just like the Liberals, do not take care of the unemployed. As I said earlier, I am happy that the member for said what he did, because I think he is sincere. Could his party vote at all stages of bills, like Bill , which deals with the removal of the waiting period? I hope so. I know that is his goal. This is a bill from my Bloc colleague, the member for , which would ensure that people are not penalized when they join the jobless market. I call it the jobless market, because it has practically become a market for the government, as it saves money on the backs of the unemployed, with the EI fund as it is.
The Bloc Québécois is against the bill for long-tenured workers. The Bloc is against it because it is a discriminatory bill. The bill picks and chooses good and bad unemployed workers, as well as being a terrible bill in and of itself. That is why we are not the only ones in Quebec who are against it. The major unions are against it. These unions, in Quebec alone, represent more than 1.5 million workers out of the 4.5 million people who are of working age. There is a reason they are against it. Unemployed workers themselves and the organizations that represent them in Quebec are against it. The unemployed, the major unions, the churches, and in some areas, groups in some municipalities that cut across all social lines known as the Sans-Chemise—these people and organizations are against it.
Some of the industries that have been hardest hit by the economic crisis and by job losses have spoken out against it. The forestry industry is against this bill. They have their reasons. One of them is that this is a terrible bill. This bill creates a smokescreen to try to mask this government's weaknesses and its abandonment of the unemployed.
I said this was an exclusionary bill. Why exclusionary? Because to benefit under this bill, you must have worked for at least seven years, and in those seven years you must have contributed at least 30% of the maximum annual employment insurance premium. As well, during those seven years, you must not have received employment insurance for more than 35 weeks. There again, it is five weeks more and it will gradually increase based on the number of years you have worked, up to 15 years. It makes no sense whatsoever.
This is discrimination based on time worked, premiums paid and use of the scheme. One of my colleagues said in this House that it was as if we were telling someone they will not be entitled to get health care under a health insurance program because they have already used it in the last seven years. They are not entitled to it again. They had access for a certain number of weeks and so they are no longer entitled. It is the same principle. This is insurance that people have paid for in case they lose their jobs.
The bill is also discriminatory in that it directly targets people for exclusion. Even if someone has worked all those years, and I note again, in order to be eligible, they have to have worked at least seven years.
Even if an individual has worked seven years or more, if they are employed in precarious work, for instance seasonal work, or part-time, or on call—and we are now talking about a majority of people in society—they will be excluded, because in all those years they of course turned to employment insurance. So each time that individual was laid off, they were probably entitled to employment insurance. Now, if that individual was not entitled to claim, they will no longer be entitled now, because that means that the individual did not meet the eligibility criteria. So here we see everyone we are excluding. In addition to excluding a large number of people to start with, we are also targeting people who have precarious jobs for exclusion.
As I said when I started to speak, this bill is terrible, because it makes a law that assigns status to people based on their being bad unemployed workers or good ones. People do not decide on their own to be a bad unemployed worker. worker? It is the law that excludes them based on the length of time they have worked, paid premiums or received employment insurance benefits.
That makes no sense. In that respect, this bill is terrible. It creates a principle in a law that is completely appalling. As well, it is misleading in its very form, as well as in the words of the government and its ally the NDP. The government claims that it will affect 190,000 unemployed people, and pay out a total of $930 million. The NDP says it is more than that; it says it is $1 billion. The NDP says this is what it asked for and it is happy with the result. We have to be straight with the people we represent. We owe them the truth. Are they covered or are they not covered? We have to tell them.
The residents of the Gaspé peninsula and the Acadian peninsula need to know whether they are covered. Yesterday, in the remarks I heard, people mentioned companies that should be insured but that will not be. I looked at who those companies were and most of the employees have claimed employment insurance benefits in the last seven years. They will therefore not be affected by this measure. We have to tell them that.
They say that 190,000 unemployed will be affected. But in the study of this bill, the government and its ally, the NDP, were utterly incapable of explaining how they arrive at this conclusion. Neither the public servants, the minister or the secretary of state could tell us. If we take their figures and do the math, it turns out that 6% at most of the unemployed all across Canada would qualify. Again, this is at most, and it would amount to about $300 million.
The hon. member for says that even if it is not much, it is something. I can understand that. If it were shared equally, dished out objectively to ensure fair, equitable treatment, I would agree with him. I would say at least we got that much. These people have been eating poop for ages because of government decisions. I say eating poop because there are people who are literally forced into poverty when they lose their jobs. Even if they are entitled to benefits, they do not get any. The eligibility criteria have been tightened up so much that they do not qualify.
I would agree with him if it were done fairly and equitably. But that is not the case. All Quebeckers, everyone who represents workers, the unemployed and sectors that are supposed to be targeted, are unanimous in their opposition, because this is basically a bad bill, that creates unacceptable precedents. We cannot accept the unacceptable.
What is unacceptable is creating categories of good and bad unemployed and excluding people on the basis of the sector in which they work and sometimes even their gender. We know very well that the precarious jobs that will be excluded by this measure are filled mostly by young people and women. That is why we are unanimously opposed.
If we were hearing anything different, we would take note. We have been all through it and cannot understand why Parliament would accept a bill like this.
Remember the government’s inability to explain exactly how it arrives at the figures it uses. This is a lost political cause that betrays the unemployed. It is a smokescreen. As an FTQ representative from the Eastern Townships said, it is nothing but a smokescreen.
To add insult to injury, the bill even excluded people as well on the basis of the time we would take to debate it and pass it in the House. We said that did not make any sense because we needed time to study it. The minister agreed to change this provision and give the House time to study it before it was duly sent to the Senate.
The amendments are accompanied by provision (a)(i) in Motion No. 1 to this very effect. For claimants, "the number of weeks of benefits set out in the table in Schedule I that applies in respect of a claimant is increased as a result of the application of any of subsections 12(2.1) to (2.4), in which case:
(i) in respect of a benefit period established for the claimant on or after [not “on and after”] January 4, 2009, that has not ended on the day on which this subsection is deemed to have come into force—"
What does this mean? As of this week, the regions have fallen, if I may put it that way. Automatically, they are no longer eligible. As I am speaking, Quebec City and Hull may not be eligible. Next week, it will be the turn of south central Quebec and Sherbrooke. It will continue this way so long as the bill is not passed. In saying that this bill will help people, one must be very careful. It probably will, but it will help very few and at what cost? At the cost of legislation assigning people a status and enshrining principles that are totally unacceptable. Even Quebeckers who might find it of benefit say it is unacceptable.
I will give forestry as an example, because it is a good one. There are two examples, one involving Canada's position and one involving Quebec's. So let us take the case of forestry. Representatives of the Canadian forestry manufacturing industry testified in committee that they supported it, while the Quebec forestry sector does not. Did they consult the people in the rest of Canada? I do not know. I do know that in Quebec, however, they were consulted. That means that it is not the same position. Just as the Conservatives and the NDP have decided to ignore Quebec, there are sectors of activity doing the same thing. And yet, the representatives of the Canadian forestry industry acknowledged that Quebec did not agree. However, they were speaking for Canada as a whole. Fortunately, they were asked to specify. The same thing happened at the Canadian labour congress, which is made up of people I highly respect, who do an exceptional job representing workers. The president and other representatives said they supported the bill, while acknowledging its many weaknesses.
In Quebec, however, their affiliate, the FTQ opposes it, for the same reasons we do.
Some things need to be examined very carefully. Does it help people and whom? If it does help, under what conditions, at what cost and is it worth the cost?
What should and must happen is an in-depth reform of the employment insurance plan. It has been rewritten over the past 14 years by the Liberals and now the Conservatives so that as many people as possible are excluded. Of all the people unemployed, some 54% are excluded, as the department acknowledges. And yet, they paid their EI premiums all their life, and when they have the misfortune to lose their job, they have no income. Their money is in Ottawa, and the provinces and Quebec have to meet their needs with welfare, the last resort.
The government is impoverishing the workers along with their families, the regions and the province involved and this adds to the fiscal imbalance. This is how the government amassed surpluses in the amount of $57 billion over the past 14 years and then used them for other purposes.
To restore the employment insurance system, we have to come back to more reasonable qualifying requirements. This refers to the 360 hours for which there is consensus support in the opposition—and the Conservatives were also in favour when they were on this side—taking into account, of course, the regional variations based on the unemployment rate. Raising the number of weeks of benefits to 50 is also being considered. This currently applies to workers, but this is a temporary measure that should be made permanent. In addition, the rate of benefits should be raised from 55% to 60%.
Most claimants are often low-wage earners, the vast majority of whom barely make minimum wage. This means that they receive 55% of the minimum wage. That is really not a big income. It would therefore make sense to raise the benefit rate to 60%.
What is needed is a comprehensive overhaul, including the elimination of the two week waiting period. It is wrong to penalize workers because they have lost their jobs. This two week period should not be tagged on at the end. The idea is to enable people to start receiving benefits immediately following a job loss. That is often when the shock is the greatest, because facing ongoing financial obligations can be difficult while trying to adjust to the loss of an income.
The self-employed should also be included. Thankfully, we are told legislation to that effect is forthcoming. We will review it. Unless we find unpleasant surprises in it as we did in Bill , or something showing a lack of respect for everyone, if we find something good in the proposed legislation, we will support provisions to include self-employed workers.
How can all this be done? By changing the discourse and, more importantly, changing the political will so that we can make things better for the unemployed. This will require unfreezing premiums. The government padlocked the plan by freezing the rate of premium at $1.76, when the problem is not premiums but benefits, that is, the benefits payable under this plan.
I am running out of time. I will therefore conclude here and try to come back to the situation of older workers during questions and comments. In conclusion, two things are needed. One is to unpadlock the plan, and the other is to make sure that we have in this place a debate on a real, comprehensive reform that will be respectful of the unemployed, their families and all our different regions as well, by actually providing unemployed workers with benefits so that they can regain their dignity, even if they have lost their jobs.
Mr. Speaker, in speaking to Bill it is always difficult to, as my colleague from the Bloc said, pick winners and losers, and no question the bill does that. There are some winners in the bill and clearly there are those who are going to lose including a lot of my personal friends. They work for the Canadian auto workers in my region and whom I have worked with for a number of years. They will not benefit from this bill. There is no question about that.
Because of what we saw in past years with the number of layoffs and what we have seen prior to the enactment of this bill, they will not be covered. It is just that simple.
In saying that, we do not have unfortunately a sense within the House that we can go back and take a comprehensive look and review the entire system of employment insurance. What has happened is we have been piecemealing the system since it was reviewed in the 1990s. When it was reviewed in the 1990s, it was a review to gut it. That gutting of the employment insurance system, under the Liberal government, has given us what we have today; a patchwork quilt of help across the country that should indeed cover all of us and it does not.
What is happening now is we are adding bits here, adding bits there, we do not like this one, we do not like that one, and people move from this one to that one.
My own private member's bill that would have made sure that severance and vacation pay would have been kept by unemployed workers when they collected employment insurance was defeated by the Liberals. They chose to have that bill defeated.
Yet, the Liberals stand in their place and say that they want to reform the system. When they have the opportunity, they do not take the opportunity, which is really regrettable.
We need a comprehensive review. We need to ensure that employment insurance protects the unemployed. That is what it is meant to do. That is why workers pay the premium. They pay it because they believe, as workers, that if the eventuality falls upon them that they are unemployed, they will be able to collect EI benefits.
The bill will do that for a certain group of workers, but not all workers unfortunately. It will not protect those laid off in 2008. It will not add on those who have unfortunately had the misfortune of being laid off for numerous weeks over previous years through no fault of their own. That is regrettable. No one who is laid off can collect from the system voluntarily because one does not choose to be laid off. Employers choose to lay off workers.
Consequently, if workers choose to leave their jobs, they do not qualify at all. To punish those who are laid off through no fault of their own is erroneous from the get go. It is egregious at best.
One needs to look at EI in its totality, not in a piecemeal quilt but that is what we are doing. That does not serve workers in the country and it does not serve the unemployed.
However, this bill will indeed help some. In my riding John Deere workers were laid off in 2009 when their plant closed and moved to Mexico even though it was a profitable plant. It was making money for that corporation and it just simply decided to get up and leave. Those workers, as they head into 2010 and exhaust their benefits, will be the recipients of the help in this bill. That is a good thing for them.
Unfortunately, the workers at Henniges, which is about two kilometres away, who were laid off in 2008 will receive nothing from the bill. They too would have worked for long periods of time. It was a plant that continued to work for long periods of time and did not experience layoffs, similar to the Deere plant workers.
Unfortunately, we will have on the one hand one group protected and on the other hand one group not protected. That is the difficulty with trying to bring together one piece at a time into a comprehensive melding of things to make this work. That is why it does not.
As we look to ensure that unemployed workers are covered we need to start looking at it from a comprehensive perspective, so that we actually are going to reform the system, not add one layer of complexity on to another and take one out from underneath.
My colleague from asked a question about $2 billion being put in the fund as we head into this new independent, arm's length body that will adjudicate the fund. Clearly, $2 billion versus $57 billion that was already there is inadequate. That is why we piecemeal systems because we do not fund them appropriately.
Yet workers and employers believe they funded it appropriately. They duly paid their premiums over a number of years and built up that surplus. We saw the surplus evaporate before our very eyes through the Conservative and Liberal governments' mismanagement of that fund. They simply spent it, and now we have to dip into general revenues to pay the unemployed.
I see the parliamentary secretary shaking his head. He is right. General revenue is now having to back up the unemployment fund. The governments had a surplus that was squandered, and I do not say that flippantly. Those two parties decided they would spend it on something other than the unemployed. That money rightfully belonged to the unemployed.
It is shameful that the unemployed are now asking why the system is not working for them. I do not think it does not work for them because people are trying to be nasty. The refrain is we do not have enough money, although we used to have enough. Someone decided to spend it elsewhere and that is regrettable. We have a premium freeze for the next little while and as we head out of it, we will ask workers to pay more.
My hope is that by the time they are asked to pay more, they get a comprehensive review of the system so if they are eventually laid off five years after paying their money, the money will be there again for them, not squandered like it was the last time.
As we can see, the bill will cover some workers. The number is 190,000. The numbers and dollar figures are bandied about. Is it $935 million? Is it $1 billion? No one knows for certain. Certainly the department and the commission are making some sense of what it might be and who it might be cover based on some other statistics. We will not know until the uptake. What we do know is workers out there need the help.
Most economists say that we may see a jobless recovery into 2010. If that is the case, we know people will be unemployed. Those who started their unemployment this year will be unemployed next year. How many is the debate. We do not know. I think that all of us in the House could agree on one thing. If it is not 190,000, but 150,000 or 100,000 because the other 90,000 have work, that will be a good thing. I do not think any of us in the House would say that is a bad. We will know they have jobs. They will be earning a living, putting money into the community and looking after their families. No one really wants to collect unemployment insurance.
When one thinks about it, workers only get 55¢ on the dollar. I am certain most members in the House would not want to make 55% of their wages. That is what the unemployed get when they are laid off. No one wants to be unemployed to make less money. They would rather work.
As we work through this system, this will help a certain segment of workers across the country. There will be regions, and the Bloc quite rightly points out that there are sectors within Quebec, that will not get covered. The forestry sector has been taking a hit for a long time. The vast majority of those workers will not be protected. The vast majority of auto workers in Ontario will not be protected either because of what they have suffered.
However, workers across the country may not always be in all of our ridings. There may be a few here and a few there. I am fairly certain there are a few workers in every riding. There will be pockets throughout the country that are larger than others. This is a national program. This is meant for all of us. This is meant to ensure we get protection across the country, no matter where.
Workers can be laid off in one region and move to another to try to seek work, while they collect unemployment insurance. It is a national program that we all used to cherish. We want to cherish it again as workers. We need to work hard in this place to ensure the system, as it goes forward, works like it did before the reforms came in the 1990s under the Liberal government. We need to ensure it works for workers and protects workers in their time of need. We need to ensure it is no longer what it is today, which is a patchwork quilt of protections across this land.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to participate in the debate on Bill .
The employment rate in my riding of Windsor West in the last two years has lead the nation. It had historically high amounts prior to that. For many years, I have raised alarm bells in the House, both with the previous Liberal administration and now the Conservatives, that the lack of auto policy would cost my region jobs. We saw an erosion in the auto industry. Now it has totally dropped off the cliff, with Canada moving from first in auto assembly to tenth.
Bill will not particularly help the auto sector and workers, as the member for noted quite correctly. However, I will support the bill because I know what it is like for families when they run out of benefits and do not have the necessary supports. The effect it has not only on families but communities is terrible and it can be avoided.
The bill has some positive elements. If we can cover 150,000 or 190,000 people for $1 billion, which is the estimated cost, or whatever it might be, then I am willing to vote for it. I and people in my community do not want other people going through what we are going through right now.
We are faced with even greater complications. Not only do we have the loss of jobs, but also the loss of an industry due to a lack of policy. In my opening comments I noted that Canada did not have an auto policy. The minister is convening a meeting with CAPC this Friday, which is a good move. There will finally be some action there.
The actual competition, which is the United States, has sprinted almost to the finish line with a new energy economy. In fact, George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, set up a $25 billion fund for the U.S. auto industry prior to the sector's fallout and the repercussions from that. As a consequence, Michigan, for example, will get two new car factories and four new battery factories because it has been very assertive in procuring the technology, development and evolution to ensure things happen.
There are congratulations to extend to Ken Lewenza, president of the CAW, but there are also some difficulties. Once again, he has negotiated an investment in Windsor, Ontario for a new engine. Unfortunately, the St. Thomas plant in the London area will be closed, I am very concerned about the workers there. London is now quickly approaching the Windsor numbers for unemployment insurance, at 11%. I am worried people will continue to fall off the system.
The bill will help those who in the past have not had claims in the system. It targets some older workers and that is very important. I have seen the fallacies of some policies, especially with older workers. The government has claimed that they need retraining, that everything will be fine and that the market will settle itself.
My region has a mould, tool and die manufacturer, which is the best in the world, hands down. It has engineered change to the industry and has led the world for many years. However, now jobs are being shed because of trade policy and the lack of enforcement of a number of trade issues, such as dumping and the whole procurement process that leaves Canada many times outside the door.
I would point to one in particular. The Department of National Defence shamelessly out-sourced a contract to Navistar International. It is building Canadian vehicles for our military in Texas, instead of Chatham, Ontario doing it. Canadian men and women could have been working building those vehicles and we would have been paying less unemployment insurance than retooling the factory, which was a small undertaking. Ironically, while those trucks are being built in Texas, our workers are sitting at home. It is unacceptable that this policy continues.
That procurement was allowed under our current trade agreements, but we are the only nation that does not do it. The United States does this on a regular basis and it is unacceptable.
I want to briefly talk about what we can do for employment insurance by increasing the benefits and what it means to individuals. They are able to save their homes, ensure their kids continue to go to school, pay their bills during difficult times and there is a sense of stability. We are making choices about how we want to use our resources.
This government and the previous administration had an EI surplus windfall of $57 billion provided by the workers and the actual companies and their contributions. To take that money away is nothing more than thievery. It is a slap in the face to all those who have paid into the system, especially when they need it at a time when we have an economic downturn as we have right now.
Ironically, this downturn was not brought on by workers' wages and pensions. Rather, it was brought about by greed and mismanagement, often incubated in the U.S. housing market and other markets. It has now been turned on its head to be an attack on workers' wages and benefits, and is now what the new benefit descriptions have called a legacy cost, which is absolute nonsense.
When people sit down at a table and work with an employer and negotiate a pension instead of a wage increase, instead of a benefit increase, that is a deferred wage that they are entitled to, that they should have. It is something they have actually sweated for and is something they actually deserve to have for themselves and their family later. It is important for this country to continue to work on its pensions. As a New Democrat, I am glad that we have been able to move the ball on this issue as well.
What could we do in terms of economic policy to change things around now, to provide the resources to expand the employment insurance system to make sure that people can continue to have their homes and be able to move forward and get some new employment?
One thing that has been missed in the public debate, and it is very interesting, is that this country has been making large corporate tax cuts since the year 2000. I commissioned a paper, because as things stand right now we are going from about 29% down to 15% by 2012.
Independently of doing my own research, I had the economists and other supports through the Library of Parliament, which every member of Parliament here is entitled to, run the numbers on estimates of what corporate tax reductions have cost from the year 2000 to today and then, on top of that, what they are going to cost from today to 2012 in order to bring us down to the 15% mark.
Interestingly enough, the first wave, from 2000 to about two months ago, represents $85 billion in terms of overall revenue that we have forgone as a country, which we no longer have to put towards a number of different measures. Now, the second wave, which is still coming up, is going to cost us $86 billion. Another $86 billion is going to be necessary for that.
What is interesting is that right now the government is borrowing money from future generations to provide a corporate tax cut for the oil and gas companies, some of the pharmaceutical companies, and the insurance companies, profitable industries that do not need this type of incentive and that will not change the way they conduct their operations in the market.
That loss of revenue means not only that we do not have that money to spend currently on targeting different industrial areas, but also that we will have to pay it back with interest. We are borrowing at record low rates right now, 0.25%. It is going to be interesting later on, over the years, when we pay this off, especially if we are in a structural deficit, which I believe we are, because we have gutted our capacity to get out of this economic downturn quite significantly.
All we have to do is point to the fact that everybody is hoping for a market recovery and for shares to go up based upon speculation on the price of oil and other things, but our unemployment rates still climb.
We have seen some recovery, in things like the Ford plant and the new investments that were made by the CAW during negotiations at the table. These things have been done in isolation; the government was not there. They have been able to increase the numbers of jobs but not to the level that historically we would have had to pull ourselves out of the system.
For the automotive sector in particular, this is a structural change. It is not a cyclical one. We are going to see some problems in terms of the overall recovery.
Canadians want to know right now why on earth we would continue to have large corporate tax cuts at this point in time. Seeing as we have shed record numbers of manufacturing jobs across Ontario and Quebec, obviously lowering corporate tax rates has not worked. Obviously those industries that are under attack because of the economic and trade policies of other countries are not preserving actual jobs. The numbers of jobs are shrinking anyway.
We need to turn that around and have good sectoral strategies. One of the things we can do is invest in green technology, not only for the consumer element but also for research and development. That is going to require investment. Where does that come from?
I would suggest that one of the first things we should do is stop borrowing from our children to provide corporate tax cuts to the corporations that do not need them right now. Let us instead put that money back into their future, so that they can actually be part of the solution instead of dealing with this continued policy of the problem.
Mr. Speaker, I do not know if it is continued arrogance or just not understanding or appreciating what Canadians are going through. It does not make any sense.
However, he is correct in noting the $57 billion that was in the fund. Now, according to the CFIB board, as an unfortunate repercussion of the government's new policy and a $2 billion fund that is already exhausted, we are going to see payroll taxes increase. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has already determined that. The member for did a good job for our side on that.
I spent some time talking about the corporate tax reductions because, ironically, what we are going to have, when the auto sector has been reeling and will not benefit right now from this type of policy, is this payroll tax which will be an additional tax on those companies that are struggling right now. The forestry sector, the auto sector, the manufacturing sector, and any of those sectors that are struggling right now will have a new tax introduced on them so that they are actually going to be subsidizing, once again, the banks, the oil industry and the other types of institutions that are doing quite well.
It makes no sense to bring in this type of policy at this point in time because it will actually further prohibit economic development.
I can tell members that the investors for the auto sector and for the manufacturing sector are looking at these types of policies. They are not necessarily looking at the overall corporate tax reduction. I mentioned Michigan and how the Americans have been procuring plants much more significantly than we have here.
The finance minister can brag all he wants about having the corporate tax rate down to 15% by 2012 and say that right now we have a better rate than the United States does, but the reality is that jobs are going somewhere else.
In fact, in Michigan, they have also done a number of things in their sector.They are now competing for our film industry. They have made an old auto facility into a mecca for the film industry. That economic development is going to be quite significant. It is going to compete against Toronto.
There are a number of industries in which we are losing out because other types of programs and services are being offered by our competitor to the south. All we can do is say that we have a lower corporate tax rate and they should come here.
The reality is that they have actually been getting the rebound and we have not. That is very troubling because some of the stuff that is actually developing, for example, in the auto sector is new technology. There is not only the overall assembly of that new technology at the high level, at tier one, in the actual production of vehicles, but also a changing industry for the parts and supply development of this new technology. The clustering of those new facilities will often go around the new development, or facilities might go there instead of retooling in Canada, which would be necessary for them to service this new type of investment that is happening in the United States. Often, in the past, if a plant went to the United States, we in Ontario would at least be able to feed off it by supplying parts and services along with Ohio and Michigan.
However, now, with some of the new technologies emerging, my concern, and it is being validated, is that the parts sector will be more vulnerable than ever before because Americans are looking at whether they should retool or just actually build new facilities in the United States to supply these new plants. If that happened, it would cost Canadian taxpayers significantly and communities very significantly.
One only has to look at the corridor or region from London to Windsor, Ontario. As I noted, London is up to over 11% unemployment right now. We have to ask those members where the policy is. We have been pushing for this policy all along. Once again, I do thank the minister for at least convening CAPC on Friday, but it is not enough.
The U.S. has a $25 million policy of low-interest loans. In Canada we will match that with a $50 million policy over five years for $250 million. Ironically, the industry knows that money came from a new tax that the government put on the auto sector. A new tax provides for the incentive that they put out there, and at the end of the day they do not accept that at all.
Mr. Speaker, as does the member for , I have some experience in the automotive sector and the automotive parts sector. Of note, the commitment of the government to cut taxes is significant. The commitment to cut corporate taxes is significant, so that global corporations and Canadian corporations make that commitment to choose Canada as their first place to do business. Just this year we saw one of Canada's most iconic corporations make the decision to move back to this country, due in large part to the commitment to reducing corporate taxes.
The member for see the situation as the glass being half empty. We on this side of the House see it as the glass being half full.
I was encouraged yesterday to hear the quarterly reports from Ford, an automotive manufacturer, a member of the sector the member for alluded to in his speech, saying they made a $1 billion profit in the latest quarter. I am sure doing business in Canada is looking more favourable every single day.
However, I am not here to speak about the auto industry per se, I am here to speak about Bill , , and I would like to begin, if I may.
I rise again to discuss Bill . We have an opportunity today to help experienced workers who have lost their jobs because of a recent downturn in the economy. This is an important time. Our economy is still fragile and a recovery is still in its infancy. It is important that we take prudent, responsible and affordable action to ensure our recovery blossoms and Canadians benefit in both the short and the long term.
Bill is legislation that will temporarily extend employment insurance regular benefits to unemployed, long-tenured workers so they have more time to look for a new job. It is prudent, responsible and affordable.
Who are these long-tenured workers? They are Canadians who have worked hard, paid their taxes and their employment insurance premiums for many years and have never or rarely collected employment insurance regular benefits. Then suddenly, they have lost their jobs and they have to start over. In times like these, in a time of a changing and recovering economy, such a prospect can be tough to handle.
We are concerned about all unemployed Canadians, but we are focusing now on long-tenured workers who have been particularly affected by the recent downturn in our economy. We know that Canadian workers work hard. We know they are prudent and care for themselves, their families and their communities. We know they want to get back to work when they find themselves without work to go to. Canadians work hard and want to help themselves, but we still have a responsibility to help them over the current hurdle.
We want to make sure that the employment insurance system, which Canadian workers have paid into, is flexible and responsive to their needs. After all, workers pay into the system and employers pay into the system, so the system should work for them when they need it. Bill is a temporary measure that will help workers who have never or rarely collected EI regular benefits.
Bill will provide from five to 20 weeks of additional benefits, depending how long an individual has been working and paying employment insurance premiums. Once a person meets the criteria of a long-tenured worker, the calculation is simple: the longer a person has worked, the more weeks of extended benefits they will get. The more they have paid into the system, the more they will get out of it. That applies to workers who have paid at least 30% of the annual maximum employment insurance premiums for seven out of ten calendar years.
Most workers working full time or close to full time for many years will have no trouble meeting this threshold, and we are making allowance for their having received up to 35 weeks of regular benefits in the past five years.
This part of the bill recognizes that workers from some industries, including manufacturing and forestry, have used EI during temporary shutdowns. This is just a natural part of our economy and it needs to be recognized. I think it is a prudent measure in the bill.
Adding to the prudence of the bill, we have made sure that the use of the special benefit aspect of employment insurance, like maternity and parental benefits, compassionate care and sickness benefits, will not affect a worker's eligibility, so let us be clear on that one.
Workers who have taken time off and used these special benefits will not be negatively affected in the application of the bill. They will be just as eligible as a person who has not used these benefits.
Another prudent measure is the coverage this bill would have throughout our economy. Our minister and her officials have estimated that up to 190,000 Canadians would be able to benefit from the measures contained within this bill. That is a large group of Canadians and a very large portion of the unemployed due to this recession. As such, this bill would be a huge help to Canadians and Canada as a whole.
Long-tenured workers come from all sectors of the economy, not only forestry and manufacturing, but also technology, the trades and the service sector. They also come from all across Canada. There is not an area in Canada which has not been touched by this recession, and there is not a corner of the country where we cannot find long-tenured workers who have been laid off and are having a tough time in this tough economy.
Within my great riding of Huron--Bruce there are many long-tenured workers who would benefit from this bill. That is why I am very passionate about it and the details that lie within it.
As many of my colleagues have said already, approximately one-third of those who have lost their jobs across Canada since the end of January have established an EI claim for long-tenured workers. Specifically, this new measure would provide continuing support to these workers while they look for jobs in our changing and recovering economy. For example, under the legislation, workers who paid premiums in seven of the past ten years would get five extra weeks of EI regular benefits. For every additional year of contribution, the number of weeks of benefits would increase by three weeks, up to a maximum 20 weeks.
At this point I would like to address the three amendments that our government made to this bill, amendments that were endorsed by the House just yesterday. They are technical amendments that will further support long-tenured workers and ensure the bill maintains its wide scope.
The first two amendments establish that the measures in the bill now start on a fixed date, that date being January 4, 2009 for eligibility, regardless of the timing of royal assent for this bill, which is very encouraging. This will create certainty for our long-tenured workers. This will also ensure that all long-tenured workers who lost their jobs in 2009 will be eligible for the additional weeks of benefits, regardless of the length of time needed to approve the bill.
As part of these amendments, we have also made sure that Canadians or Americans who work in Canada but live in the United States may be able to receive employment insurance regular benefits. The only restriction is that they must meet the eligibility requirements of the employment insurance program.
Another amendment introduced is a transition provision. This will ensure that claimants have sufficient time within their benefit period to receive all the additional weeks of regular benefits provided by this measure.
These amendments will ensure that all eligible long-tenured workers have full access to the extended benefits. Though technical, they are important for the success of this bill, and I am pleased that the House supported them.
By extending employment insurance for long-tenured workers, we are taking action that is beneficial for our economy and for Canadian workers. With some adjustments, they will make it back into the workforce and continue to be productive.
It is our responsibility to support our unemployed workers as they work to recover from this recent recession just as the economy as a whole must work to recover. We stand behind them. They will get through the downturn, and this Conservative government is helping them.
Bill , a temporary measure like many of our other measures, builds on other initiatives that we have introduced in Canada's economic action plan. It is a temporary measure for a temporary situation.
Most certainly, it is a trying time for those who are unemployed. We have faith that our work as a government will work in concert with the work of Canadians throughout our economy and with people working in other countries to ensure that our economy recovers and that our workforce is healthy, skilled and most importantly, back to work.
I want to cover a few of the measures in Canada's economic action plan just to ensure that all of my colleagues realize all the good things this Conservative government is doing for Canadians. I also want to cover some recent history. I do this not because my colleagues have not heard me and others talk about the economic action plan but because many of my opposition colleagues have a mixed record on the action plan, so they may need a refresher.
First, I would point out that the Liberals across the way supported this Conservative government and its economic action plan before they opposed it. The , in fact, could not find a whole lot to complain about. That was before he decided that time was up and that Canadians needed an unnecessary election. So he opposed the unnecessary election before he supported it. These are not promising signs from the Liberal opposition members. They seem unreliable and unable to make up their minds. They seem unable to decide on a course of action that is best for Canadians. They seem unable to commit. The Liberals seem to act with their own interests at heart. They seem to be in it for themselves. This is unfortunate, not for our government but for Canadians.
What is promising, however, is the support we have gained from our colleagues in the NDP on Bill . Yes, we have had our differences certainly but they seem to be looking out for Canadians in the bill as is our government. NDP members seem to want to ensure that Canadians get the help they need from this bill. We agree that this help should get to Canadians, so we are glad they have decided to support the bill and our government's actions even though they were less supportive earlier in the year.
As for the Bloc, not only can they not deliver for Quebeckers, now they are simply opposing things that are good for Quebec and proposing irresponsible measures this government simply cannot support. As I said earlier, I would like to talk briefly about the measures our Conservative government has taken in the economic action plan to help Canadians.
First among them is an initiative that is complementary to the measures in Bill . I am talking about the career transition assistance initiative in which we are further supporting long-tenured workers by helping them train for future jobs. Workers can get their employment insurance benefits extended up to a maximum of two years while they undertake longer term training. They could also get earlier access to EI if they invest in their training using part of their severance package or all of it. I would like to add that some of my former colleagues have actually participated in this program and shortly they will see the benefits of their commitment to their future.
Under the economic action plan we are providing unemployed Canadians with five extra weeks of EI regular benefits. We are increasing the maximum duration of weeks of EI regular benefits from 45 weeks to 50 weeks. We are also providing billions toward skills training both for people who are on EI and for those who do not qualify. We are also preserving jobs through the work-sharing program. We have allowed more flexibility for employers and agreements can now be extended up to 52 weeks. It supports employees who might otherwise be laid off. It allows them to continue working a reduced work week while they receive EI benefits for the days they do not work. Importantly, it will allow firms to recover quickly once demand rises again and I can speak specifically to my own experience.
It is important that we keep these employees who have skills, who are trained in the jobs that they have done for many years, in order to stay within a company so that when the recovery does come, and we are seeing it start already, the company does not have to hire a new group and train them, because we know this is extremely expensive, especially when we start talking about hundreds of employees across a corporation.
As of this week, almost 7,000 active work-sharing agreements across Canada are preserving the jobs of more than 167,000 Canadians. Again, this comes back to the fact that we were the latest to come into the downturn and we will be the first to come out of it. One of the reasons is because we are going to have 167,000 of these long-tenured employees who are currently in work-share programs return right back into a full work week and be able to contribute fully to our Canadian economy.
Let me refer to another program called the targeted initiative for older workers, which applies to people who are 55 to 64 years of age. Under the economic action plan, we are investing an additional $60 million over three years to provide upgrading and work experience to help older workers make the transition to new employment. Further, we have expanded the program so that it extends access to older workers in major communities as well as smaller cities affected by a significant downsizing or closure.
We are also delivering on our Conservative government's commitment to improve the governance and management of the EI fund. We have established the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, an independent, arm's length body that will implement and improve the EI premium rate-setting mechanism that will ensure EI revenues and expenditures break even over time, and set the employment insurance premium rate starting in 2011.
This is important for Canadian workers because it will ensure that their hard-earned EI premiums are used to fund the EI system, and only the EI system, when they need it. EI premiums will not disappear again like they did under a previous government. EI programs will not be used for purposes for which they were not intended and will not be used on political pet projects.
However, let me return to Bill . The purpose of the bill is to help long-tenured workers directly affected by the force and depth of this recent recession. As I mentioned earlier, the bill before us, Bill , 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. It will make a difference in the lives of their families and will make a difference to our economy.
It is the right and fair thing to do for these Canadian workers who have worked long and hard, and who have not asked for much help in return. Let us help them in their time of need and support them while they find jobs.
Mr. Speaker, it is my turn to speak to Bill , and I am very pleased to do that today.
The Bloc Québécois has opposed Bill C-50 from the outset, as my colleagues have said several times. As we know, this bill does not in any way propose to open access to the employment insurance scheme, which has been locked up for several years, for a very long time. That is why we are opposed to Bill . When, for example, we propose that the waiting period be eliminated, the reason is to offer people who have lost their jobs, to offer families, mothers with children or fathers who work for low wages, speedy access to income. Eliminating the waiting period provides them with income quickly so they can meet their needs. That is what eliminating the waiting period does. In order to receive the extended five weeks, someone still has to have access to employment insurance, and still has to run out of benefits, because those weeks are added only at the end of the benefit period.
Concerning Bill , I am hearing the Conservatives criticize us for opposing a measure that could have helped some workers. I emphasize “some”.
Today I would like to take my allotted time to explain our position on this not only to the Conservatives, but also to the NDP members. We have examined the bill, we have met several times with officials from the department, and we have asked them questions. The reason we have been unable to come around to voting for the bill is, first and foremost, that we believe it is discriminatory, and thus necessarily unfair. In one way, the first goal of politics is justice, as Plato wrote and taught 2,500 years ago. I do not know whether an ideal city, or a just city as he called it, is possible, or even whether it is desirable, but I do know that to my mind, this is a principle that guides the decisions I have to make in my political career, as recent as it is.
And so I think that the yardstick to which this bill must be held up is justice, and in our view it is precisely that test that Bill fails. Our rejection of it is not based on some naïve idealism; the opposite is true. In a way, our rejection is pragmatic. If I may explain: in the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities and here in the House, the NDP has criticized us, in an analogy with bargaining between a union and employer, for rejecting what was on the table. In their view, we have to accept the improvement we are offered because we can always come back and get more later.
We think this view is very naïve, and I am sure my colleagues in the NDP suspect as much and actually know it. Whether real or phony, a matter of conviction or simply for electoral reasons, it is very naïve because it is obvious that there will not be anything else. We are already quite far into the economic crisis, at least in terms of job losses. Still, the government has not proposed anything to solve the most crucial problem facing employment insurance, that is, access, which remains under 50%. Are we going to pass a bill that will meet the needs of who knows how many employment insurance recipients simply because it is there, on the table? Are we going to pass it simply because it is on the table, telling ourselves that the government might propose something a bit later? I have a problem with that.
What is the logic in agreeing to what is proposed here? If the only argument in favour of its basically discriminatory provisions is to say that something else will come along, that is like saying this bill is unjust, unfair and discriminatory but we are confident another will come along to magically redress the disparity caused by this one. There is no reason, though, to think this will happen, and it is obvious that the bill introduced this morning will do nothing to solve the eligibility issue.
We are left, therefore, with the first half of what I said, “this bill is unjust, unfair and discriminatory”.
We have also been accused of refusing to support the bill because it does not reform employment insurance from top to bottom, as we have been demanding for a number of years. That is equally false, and I could point to several changes to the employment insurance system that we would have supported: eliminate the waiting period, restore the single eligibility requirement and set it at 360 hours, increase the wage-replacement rate to 60%, put an end to the presumption of guilt for people who are related to their employer, and so on. These are steps we would have supported without a second’s hesitation, even if they were not part of a comprehensive reform.
Not that there is no crying need for comprehensive reform. We still think there is. However, we would have voted in favour of the steps I just mentioned because they are basically fair and equitable. This is clearly not the case of Bill , which literally creates two categories of unemployed people: the good and the bad.
Thus, the said in committee that the unemployed people targeted by Bill were those who had lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Does she know that ever since the 1990s people who voluntarily quit their jobs have been unable to collect employment insurance? That is like what my colleague across the aisle said a little while ago. People who have worked hard all their lives, paid their taxes and made their contributions would qualify for the benefits provided under Bill C-50. I just wonder what these Conservatives think about other workers who have had to fall back, unfortunately, on employment insurance. Was she trying to insinuate that these people were doing all they could to defraud the employment insurance system by conniving to hide a voluntary departure? Was she trying to say that the unemployed who collected benefits in the past were guilty of having worked, for example, in plants that had to close in the summer because they did not have enough contracts? The minister’s words clearly betray the contempt this government has for people who have to fall back on employment insurance.
Passing this bill means creating two classes of unemployed workers: the deserving and the undeserving. Few, very few, are deserving. According to the deputy minister of Human Resources himself, the proposed measures would apply to no more than 6% of unemployed workers. In other words, 94% would be excluded. That is unbelievable. As we have been hearing since yesterday, it seems that the vast majority of forestry workers, whose industry has been going through crisis after crisis for years now, crises that affect hours worked and force workers to collect employment insurance benefits, would be excluded. This bill leaves out anyone who has collected more than 35 weeks of benefits over the past five years.
It will also exclude most women. Despite the fact that women now play as great a role in the labour market as men, they will have an even harder time than men qualifying for the very restrictive criteria proposed in this bill. The same goes for young people who cannot qualify because only those who have been in the labour market for at least seven years and have paid at least 30% of the maximum contribution can collect extra benefits—for a minimum of five weeks. Let us not forget that the bill proposes between five and 20 extra weeks. Young people simply will not qualify unless they have been working full time since the age of 16.
Yet young people are among the hardest hit by the economic crisis. As the saying goes, last in, first out. In fact, student employment is in the worst shape ever since 1977, when statistics were first compiled.
Essentially, this is a temporary measure designed to respond to the economic crisis. As the government said earlier, the budget already includes a proposal to extend employment insurance benefits by five weeks. This government chose to add extra weeks of benefits without taking into consideration access to the EI program.
In a difficult economic situation, to help young families, young parents and low-income parents of all ages with school-aged children and mouths to feed, the government should have improved access to the EI program.
It is self-evident that Bill is discriminatory and as a result, it may divide unemployed people into two factions.
It is hard to be opposed to a change that would make life easier for someone else. But at the same time, when someone is left out in the cold, it is hard not to envy someone else who is getting a break.
Within one company, some workers will be entitled to benefits under Bill , while others will not. Those who are not entitled to benefits may have worked very hard over the past five years. They will have worked hard and paid their premiums and taxes week after week. But they may have received more than 35 weeks of employment insurance and will therefore not be eligible for benefits under Bill .
It is as though all members on both sides of this House were starving and had not eaten for a week and it was decided that all those with red socks would be fed and all those with blue socks would have to wait. We wonder how this criterion for selecting people was set.The ship is sinking, but there are not enough lifeboats to save everyone. Priority will therefore be given to those who paid more for their tickets. They will be saved first, and the others will have to save themselves as best they can. That is more or less what is happening with this bill.
That is why this bill has come under harsh criticism from a number of organizations dedicated to defending the rights of the unemployed. For example, Ian Forand, who is involved in the Comité chômage de Montréal, wrote this in the September 24 issue of Le Devoir:
The Conservative government's Bill C-50, introduced on September 14, 2009, is a bad bill, and the government is merely trying to scam people by extending the number of weeks of benefits. ...it is very sad to see the NDP critics going out to defend them, not only without stepping back to take a critical look, but often on behalf of government ministers, and even taking credit for the initiative. ...Those who are familiar with the Employment Insurance Act and its application, those who have fought with their usual integrity and fervour—and there are many in the NDP—know that this bill is terrible and disgraceful for our citizens.
I would also like to quote the very respected Pierre Céré, spokesperson for the Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses:
[In this case], it is not up to us to vote on this bill [C-50] to either reject it or pass it, however, we would like to share our opinion,...
And still quoting Mr. Céré:
This bill, in its current form, is unacceptable. It is discriminatory. It does not represent the kind of constructive, positive solutions that are needed to fix the employment insurance system. We believe, perhaps somewhat naively, that policy should provide solutions to problems and that our highest legislative officials should be able to work together.
I was saying earlier that practising politics is a quest for justice, the desire to give everyone his or her fair share. However, those shares are limited by the scarcity of resources. So we have no choice but to distribute them in a certain way.
Two things are certain. First of all, we believe that not enough resources are being allocated to employment insurance to meet current needs, considering all of the government's resources.
Second, supposing that it were impossible to increase the resources allocated to the employment insurance system, which is obviously not true, we still believe it would be fundamentally unfair to target one category of workers to the detriment of others, more specifically to 94% of the workers. That is not all. Apparently this bill is an emergency measure to respond, very timidly I must say, to the current economic crisis.
How do we explain to a person who lost his job in October 2008, when economic troubles consequently led to colossal job losses, that he is not entitled to the extension of benefits the government is proposing here? How can the government justify a crisis measure that does not apply to all those who were affected by the same economic crisis?
Here is another anomaly. Despite the fact that workers who receive severance pay have to exhaust that money before they can receive employment insurance benefits, a worker who lost his job in October 2008, but did not start receiving benefits until February 2009, would also be excluded since, contrary to all things logical, the date of the application and not the beginning of the benefits period is considered in determining the worker's eligibility. Even in the rare cases of those who could have been eligible under the restrictive criteria, there are other discriminatory and totally arbitrary factors in place.
These are very serious reasons why we cannot bring ourselves to vote in favour of this bill. It would certainly help some unemployed people, but the adverse affects it would have and the utterly unfair principle it is based on make it totally unacceptable in our view. Supporting this principle would mean accepting that there are two classes of citizens: the deserving and the undeserving. That is something we will never accept, in the name of justice that demands equality among citizens.
Mr. Speaker, it is unusual for two members of the same party to speak one after the other. Today, some opposition members decided to pass, which gives us more time to explain Bill and its repercussions, including its negative repercussions, to people.
First, for those watching the proceedings on television, we are talking about Bill C-50, which is summarized as follows:
This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act until September 11, 2010 to increase the maximum number of weeks for which benefits may be paid to certain claimants. It also increases the maximum number of weeks for which benefits may be paid to certain claimants not in Canada.
Before I criticize the bill any further, I would like to explain how it came to be here in the House of Commons. The Conservatives introduced the bill, which required a confidence vote. The Liberals and the Bloc Québécois voted against it. The NDP voted for it to keep the current government in power. Did the New Democrats think that this bill would help workers? NDP members said it would not, but they thought it was a first step toward helping workers. So what is it, really? Maisonneuve en direct aired an interview with Pierre Céré. If I may, I would like to quote a portion of that interview.
Pierre Maisonneuve: Are some of the opposition parties right? Is this a step in the right direction?
Pierre Céré: I would say that the Conservative government is playing a little political game with the opposition parties because it did not have to introduce a bill to implement this measure. In fact, the cabinet minister said that it was not going to be a matter of legislation.
Pierre Maisonneuve: In other words, the government could have gone ahead and done it without holding a vote—
Pierre Céré: Proposing a pilot project is an administrative matter, an executive decision, so at the press conference yesterday, they should have simply announced that they were introducing a pilot project that could have been brought in immediately, and there you have it, on to the next thing. With this bill, however, the opposition parties will be forced to state their position, and then debate and vote on it.
Pierre Maisonneuve: And not bring down the government.
Pierre Céré: They cannot even make a bill like this a matter of confidence, since it must be voted through several readings, passed by a parliamentary committee, be sent over to the Senate, and so on. It is a very long process, a month and a half to two months. They are playing a little political game with the opposition parties, that is very clear. So if one opposition party supports them, that party has fallen into the trap.
The Conservatives set the trap, and the NDP fell into it. Here we are today discussing a bill that offers 5 to 20 additional weeks of benefits. But who will be entitled to those additional weeks? Are they for all unemployed workers? No, it targets only a small number of people who will be able to benefit from them. Who are those people?
The Globe and Mail has said that this measure favours the Ontario auto industry. That is clear. Indeed, the Quebec forestry industry cannot benefit from it, because it lays people off every year. So this bill does not apply. If people have worked 7 years out of 10, they are eligible for the additional weeks offered by the government. This part is unclear. What is also unclear is that the government is saying that this will help many people. According to the government, this measure will cost $935 million and will affect 190,000 workers.
We in the Bloc Québécois have taken steps to learn the real government figures, to find out if these figures are correct and if the bill will affect so many workers.
We asked a lot of questions in order to learn how the costs were calculated and which workers are targeted. This proposal is still unclear. Even the officials agreed that an evaluation could be made using the career transition program that was put in place as a result of the last budget. Instead of wondering about the government's estimate for this bill, the Bloc asked for written explanations of the costs arising from the bill, as well as the calculation of the number of workers affected.
We have not received any reply.
These figures are just more wild guesses by the government, which is trying to look good to the voters. Having said that, I do not believe that voters in general are the real target. In my opinion, they are trying to target people who have lost their jobs after working for 25 to 30 years. That program is called the Program for Older Worker Adjustment or POWA.
Let us remember that the Liberals erased that term from their vocabulary because, in the past, people aged 55 and older working in the textile industry benefited from that legislation and its funding. Today, however, we are seeing a lot of layoffs in many sectors, and even the closing of businesses. Moreover, the OECD forecasts for 2010 include more layoffs, more business failures and an unemployment rate between 8% and 10%.
The said in the House that this was a golden bridge for older people. They will have to wait a little longer for the golden bridge. If they really wanted to help older people, the Conservatives should have first restored POWA and they would not have tabled Bill . There would have been no need to debate the subject and a pilot project would have been enough.
The government only wants to look good; but it does not deserve to look good on this issue.
In my opinion, POWA is important. Here is a specific example. A person in my riding, whom I met during the last election campaign, told me that the plant where he was working was going to close. That person, who was 60 years old and had been working at the same plant for 35 years, would receive one year of employment insurance benefits. Who would hire him after that? We already know that many businesses are closing. How could that man, with limited formal education because he started working at a young age, find a new job? What could that man do? Absolutely nothing!
The Program for Older Worker Adjustment provided that a 55-year-old worker could receive employment insurance until the age of 60. Then, once the worker reached 60, the Quebec pension plan benefits would replace some employment insurance benefits and the worker would continue to receive some income until the retirement age of 65.
We see too many of these people: men and women who have worked hard all their lives to provide food for their families, to educate their children so that they could go to university and have a better life with jobs that would be safe from unemployment.
At the end of their working days, these people will end up unemployed, with children still in school and a house to pay off.
What will they do? A year later, they will end up on welfare. Is it rewarding for someone who has worked their entire life, to end up on welfare and have to use up all their assets such as their RRSPs and their little nest egg they painstakingly saved over the years to buy a cottage some day?
Those people will have to liquidate all the assets they saved up over their lives just to make ends meet. It is quite something to make ends meet. It is tough for someone who is used to getting a salary.
The hon. member for talked about this bill earlier and mentioned all of its negative effects. In her speech, she truly put her finger on the problem with this bill. We have to find a solution to help our seniors.
Some opposition members have said that the Bloc Québécois will never accomplish anything because it will never be in power. I am here to say that they are wrong. We have often talked about the fact that self-employed people should have the right to opt into the employment insurance system. In fact, that is one of the Bloc Québécois' requests. Surprisingly, today, the Conservatives have decided to resolve this problem and allow self-employed people to receive employment insurance.
And so you can see the relevance of the Bloc Québécois here in this House. This party's ideas to try to help workers and all the people of Quebec are important. We see the opposition parties taking up the ideas of the Bloc as their own, and I think they are being ungrateful when they say they can do this or that. Of course, it is always easier using someone else's ideas, but there are laws such as the one on intellectual property. I think they should take time to think it over before they take up other people's ideas. They should tell people that they have taken a really good idea of the Bloc's and brought it forward in the House. From an intellectual property point of view, it seems to me it would only be fair to acknowledge such things.
But no. The Conservatives will not do it. According to the government, it is the source of everything. There are people at home who watch us debate every day. They see what goes on in this House of Commons. They can also see other parties taking all the work done by the Bloc and running with it. They must surely be saying that today the Bloc has a purpose here. It is here to protect the interests of Quebeckers.
So, who benefits? According to the Globe and Mail, Ontario and British Columbia were likely to benefit from the Conservatives' bill. At the end of 2008, the Conference Board of Canada announced that Canada would lose 15,000 jobs in the automobile sector, which is located in Ontario.
The president of the Quebec forestry industry council, Guy Chevrette, notes that nearly all forestry workers are unemployed at least ten weeks a year. It is therefore very clear that this political move by the Conservatives is aimed at drawing support from people in Ontario. When the automobile sector was in decline, the government decided to pay out billions of dollars in order to save the industry. And what did this same government do to try to save the forestry industry, which has been in decline for five years—zilch.
If I may be allowed to go further. There is $70 million over two years for all of Canada. That makes a big difference. Counting all the provinces and territories, that amounts to about $2 million each. Divided by two, because it is over two years, that makes $1 million.
That is a far cry from the billions of dollars given in Ontario. At that point, the political intent of the Conservatives became clear, as I was saying earlier. A pilot project could have done the job and would have achieved the same end for these workers. But no, the government decided to introduce a bill, thinking it would be defeated in the House and would head to elections. The NDP, as I was saying, is hiding behind the workers to avoid an election. So the government was saved. However, is it really helping workers in these circumstances? I do not think so.
Is it possible to go further in this regard? Is it possible to speak for the workers who contribute to EI? It is not always easy, because these workers have a very hard time making ends meet, and the worst is yet to come. It is true not only for Quebec, but for all of Canadians, because they will not benefit from these five to twenty weeks. It is disgraceful to see that, to see a government thinking it is helping people but is not.
On August 15, Quebec's Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife released a report on job losses in the wood and paper processing industry. The report indicates that since April 1, 2005, 130 plants in this industry have closed permanently, 10,251 workers have been laid off and 89 industries have closed temporarily, affecting 5,585 workers. This means that a total of 16,000 workers have lost their jobs. Workers who have been laid off every year will not qualify for these additional weeks of benefits.
What about the automotive sector in Quebec? I will give some examples. They saved the auto sector in Ontario, but there are also auto workers in Quebec. The eastern townships have the largest concentration of jobs in auto parts in Quebec, behind the Montreal area. The manufacturer of gaskets for car doors closed its operation in the eastern townships in February 2008. The company had cut staff significantly since 2005 and laid off more than 1,500 workers. Dana, in the same region, laid off 140 employees. In Rivière-Beaudette, in the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Montupet, a French company, has closed its aluminum engine parts plant, and 195 people will lose their jobs. In Trois-Rivières, Aleris and Dayco closed their doors in late 2008, putting more than 500 people out of work. In Quebec City, Veyance Technologies has also laid off workers. Most of these jobs were lost in late 2008. These employees will not qualify for the extended benefits proposed in this bill.
But what about the Bloc Québécois? I will tell you what the government could do. It could even appropriate the Bloc's intellectual property and come up with bills that should be almost perfect. It could introduce an eligibility threshold of 360 hours for all regions, permanently increase the benefit rate from 55% to 60%, create a POWA, increase from $2,000 to $3,000 the threshold of insurable earnings to qualify for benefits and allowing self-employed workers to contribute voluntarily to the employment insurance plan. We have already proposed these measures. The government could take them as its own and claim to be the saviour of the unemployed and the people of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise in the House to join in the debate on Bill . But before I start, I would like to take a few moments, if you will allow me, to congratulate some very deserving people.
I want to congratulate Mr. Gilles Vaillancourt, who was re-elected as mayor of Laval on Sunday, November 1. I also want to congratulate our former colleague, Mr. Réal Ménard, who was elected as mayor of the Hochelaga borough, in Montreal, and Ms. Caroline Saint-Hilaire, another former colleague, who was elected as mayor of Longueuil, one of Quebec's largest cities. I am very proud of our colleagues who decide to go elsewhere to fight other battles. When they win those battles, I am all the more proud because these people have very strong convictions that they showed here, in this House, and they were able to learn about politics and to bring this knowledge into a different level of the political sphere, that of municipal politics.
I am also rising because I listened to my colleague from this morning. It struck me when he said that this bill was nothing but a smokescreen on the part of the Conservative government. I told myself that, once again, we have before us a bill that is just smoke and mirrors, that targets only certain people and the only objective of which is to satisfy the needs of certain people that the Conservatives would very much like to see vote for them.
Instead of meeting the needs of the whole population, the Conservative government is targeting certain groups, as is the case with many of the measures that it puts forward. The Conservatives are targeting specific groups, and wondering which group they will need next. For example, if they do not have enough votes in Ontario, in the north and also in the south, they try to figure out which riding they need. What are these people missing? Are they unemployed or do they want children? Do they need specific measures for their businesses? What exactly do they need? Make no mistake about it: the leader of that party is very crafty, to say the least. The measures are always very targeted and very specific so as to please a certain segment of the population and ensure that these people will vote for the Conservative government.
The only place where they are failing is in Quebec. Indeed, Quebeckers are not fooled by such measures. They are not fooled because they have seen this before. In 1995, the Liberal Party decided that the employment insurance account was no longer a fund created by workers to get benefits when they would find themselves out of work. From then on, that fund would belong to the government. So, Quebeckers have seen this before the previous Conservative Party, which promised them the moon, but did not deliver at all. They have also seen this with the current Conservative Party. And they are not fooled by the New Democratic Party, which barely managed to get one member elected in Quebec. Incidentally, the NDP is now losing ground because it changes its mind whenever the wind shifts direction, which is not normal.
The only party in this House that always stands up, that always has the same convictions, and that has always achieved success is the Bloc Québécois. Why? Because the top priority of Bloc Québécois members is to ensure that the people whom they represent are well represented, regardless of the riding and regardless of who may have voted for them. Once we are elected, we represent our whole population. All our fellow citizens can rest assured that we are going to fight tooth and nail for them in this House.
This is why, this morning, when the member said that this bill was nothing but a smokescreen, that immediately caught my attention. I thought that, indeed, this legislation is just a smokescreen. We are going through an economic period where people really need support. People really need their government to support them with true measures that will help them make it through the worst crisis ever, even worse than the Great Depression, in 1929.
The impact of this crisis is noticeable in my riding. At the Laval volunteer centre, where the Christmas basket campaign is getting underway, we help, year in and year out, 52 organizations and we distribute 540,000 kilos of food products, so that families can feed themselves. Increasingly, the people who need the food provided by the volunteer centre also rely on these other organizations. We are talking about people who work five days a week but who, unfortunately, have a spouse who has lost his job and was only able to find part-time work, at a much lower salary. These people cannot make ends meet anymore, and they do not have access to EI, because access is limited. Not all workers can qualify for EI, even though everyone pays premiums.
Because so few people can access it, many find themselves in awful situations, such as losing their house, their car, and the opportunity to send their children to school. Some people are having a hard time because they have to choose between paying the power bill and buying groceries.
These people have no choice but to take any job they can find. The problem is not that these people are lazy or do not want to work. The problem is that they cannot continue working where they used to work because there have been so many layoffs.
The hardest-hit sector after forestry and manufacturing is probably tourism. In Quebec, 30,000 businesses and 300,000 people work in the tourism industry. Most of the workers are women: 59% in food services and 71% to 72% in the travel sector.
The data suggest that these women are the ones who will suffer the most because of limited access to employment insurance. The Conservative Party introduced a bill, but it could have simply implemented a pilot project. If the Conservatives really wanted to help unemployed men and women, they would not have brought this measure in as a bill. They would have brought in a pilot project so that people could access it right away.
A lot of people might already have benefited if it were already in effect. The Bloc Québécois would have preferred to fast-track this. Unfortunately, I think that we are the only ones here who want to move things forward, who want the government to do something for unemployed workers and give them the help they need.
Unfortunately, but also fortunately, all of the stakeholders in Quebec and Canada agree with us, even Ken Lewensa, who says that these measures will not help unemployed workers, that they will only be good for a small group of people. It is now November 3 and well past October 29, when this bill should have been passed or received royal assent. People would have had the opportunity to collect employment insurance benefits for more weeks. As things stand, people who lost their jobs in January will not be eligible.
We know how many people have lost their jobs every month, every week, every day since January.
This government does not really want to bring in measures to facilitate access to employment insurance, as we have been calling for through the bills we have been introducing diligently and in good faith for some time now. We have been working closely with the people involved, with groups that represent the unemployed, and with groups of workers affected by employment insurance accessibility measures. We have been working diligently. In spite of that, the Conservative Party has always refused to vote with us on these bills. Yet when it was in opposition and we talked about the POWA, for instance, it agreed with us. But not any more.
It is always surprising that when a party moves from one side of the House to the other, it changes its ideology. It no longer believes in the same things, the same people, the same needs, but its needs change based on its political needs. It is surprising and upsetting for citizens who believe that by electing a government, they will be listened to, heard and defended.
At present, this government is not defending our citizens. Under the pretense of maintaining law and order, they are introducing all kinds of justice bills. Yes, some of them are beneficial and we are supporting them, but others are nothing more than smoke and mirrors, targeting only part of the population. This is exactly what they did with the child tax benefit. Instead of developing a network of child care centres like we have in Quebec, instead of making sure that mothers are able to work because they have reliable child care for their children, the government decided to give mothers $1,000 a month per child.
The mothers who unfortunately could not receive preventive withdrawal benefits if their lives were in danger were probably forced to turn to employment insurance benefits to use their 17 weeks of sick leave, although they were not sick, but pregnant. If they had two children in two years, they were able to benefit from those 17 weeks twice, for a total of 34 weeks. If they were laid off for one week, they are not even eligible for the program. Yet some of them have been working for a very long time.
This bill makes no sense. It is out of touch with reality. It does not take into account the fact that people who lose their jobs will look for news one right away and not wait 20 weeks, 45 weeks or 50 weeks. They will move quickly because they need to work. They need that financial contribution. People do not work these days to buy luxury items. Both spouses go to work these days because they need two incomes. It is not because they want to live in luxury. They want to ensure that their family, their children, have everything they need for their development and comfort.
It is very disappointing to have a government that promised so much transparency and so much support offer so little. However, when it comes to defence and the oil companies, it is ready to invest. It is ready to lose money, to give out unprecedented opportunities not to pay taxes, and to give tax credits the likes of which we will never get. This government is prepared to let people who have money in tax havens get away with not paying taxes.
We need all of our money in times of economic crisis. We need to have a government that supports the people instead of its party's supporters.
It is clear that we will vote against this bill. Like all bills we vote against, it does not adequately meet the needs of the people we represent.
In Quebec, as I was saying earlier, people are not fooled. They know that the Bloc Québécois is here to defend their interests and that we will always do so.
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech and the very good answers she gave to all the questions she was asked.
I am pleased to speak in this House to condemn this bill and show that employment insurance has become a cash cow and a discriminatory system that creates two types of workers: those who are entitled to benefits and those who are excluded.
This supposed improvement in employment insurance will do nothing for workers who are already excluded from the program. We need a comprehensive reform that will correct the injustices committed by the Liberals, who in 1997 turned employment insurance into a tax on workers and employers. EI became PI, pathetic insurance, shafting vulnerable workers, seasonal workers and students. Everyone pays into the plan, but not everyone is eligible for benefits. The unemployed were the real victims of the war on the deficit waged by the Liberal government, which reduced its deficit by excluding workers from employment insurance.
Today, the $54 billion that was stolen from workers must be used for the purpose for which it was intended, which is to provide the unemployed with financial support. The government must restore legislation to protect all workers who pay into the plan. To use this money for any other purpose is embezzlement. The changes in EI eligibility, which the Bloc Québécois condemned at the time, have had the expected effect. The percentage of benefit recipients dropped from 83% in 1989 to 42% in 1997. Whether the likes it or not, that numbers are still the same today. If the Conservatives and Liberals set out to dismantle the system, they can say “mission accomplished”.
With Bill , the government wants to accentuate the discrimination against workers by allowing only a portion of them—the ones known as long-tenured workers—to receive between 5 and 20 additional weeks of benefits. Oddly enough, when we look closely at the eligibility criteria, we see that this measure will benefit workers in the automotive sector in Ontario.
Furthermore, this same government would have us believe that 190,000 unemployed workers will be eligible for benefits. Once again, the and his are trying to pull a fast one on us. That is nothing new. We are rather used to it. The told this house that if the EI qualifying period were set at 360 hours, claimants would receive 52 weeks of benefits. Nothing could be further from the truth. That same estimated that such a change would cost $4 billion, while the Parliamentary Budget Officer put the cost at $1,148,000,000. Obviously, the will repeat the same old nonsense we hear from her to anyone who will listen .
I wonder if the minister truly understands the act she is supposed to administer. On May 5 of this year, I sent her a letter regarding the intolerable situation facing workers of Beaulieu Canada, in my riding. In my letter I said, “If you refuse to acknowledge the figure of 40% eligibility, why are you preventing your officials from disclosing the number of people who apply for employment insurance benefits compared to the number who qualify to receive them?”
I will read the response I received from the minister on September 21, 2009. By the way, you better not hold your breath when waiting to hear back from this minister.
You claim that only 40% of people who apply for benefits are entitled to them. It is important to note that this number includes people who are outside the parameters of the employment insurance program, such as people who have never worked, and therefore have never paid employment insurance premiums; people who have not worked in the past year; people who left their employment without just cause; and self-employed workers, because they do not pay premiums.
Why not add members of Parliament, senators, and even the Governor General to the list of groups that are not entitled to employment insurance?
Does the minister know many people who have never worked or many self-employed workers who try to file an EI claim? In my riding, and in any other Bloc Québécois riding, I do not know a single one. People who have never worked know they are not entitled.
Because the Minister does not know the categories of workers who pay into employment insurance, I am going to educate her by describing those who make up the 60% who are not eligible. They are workers in unstable employment, a majority of whom are women; seasonal workers in the tourism industry or the fishery; agri-food workers; and students. These are the workers who are not eligible, the same ones the Liberals excluded with the pathetic insurance their reform produced. These are the same workers that the minister has excluded, not to mention the workers in the forestry industry, who have endured repeated layoffs in the last several years because of the inaction and incompetence of her government, a government that creates unemployment and poverty.
This government has deliberately chosen to exclude the victims of the economic crisis. The Bloc Québécois advocates a realistic recovery plan. Our party is proposing several changes to employment insurance: a new approach that assumes claimants are acting in good faith and speeds up delivery of the first cheque; eliminating the waiting period, which is immediate help for workers who have lost their jobs; a 360-hour eligibility threshold that allows access to employment insurance for part-time workers; increasing weekly benefits to 60% from 55%; increasing insurable earnings to $42,500; calculating benefits on the basis of the 12 best weeks, which would benefit seasonal workers; establishing an income support program for older workers that would bridge the gap between a layoff and payment of their pension; expanding a claimant’s right to receive benefits while taking training courses; and expanding and adjusting the job-sharing program.
The measures the Bloc Québécois has proposed would allow workers who have lost their jobs to deal with the crisis and receive the support they need while they wait for the economic recovery.
Older workers are at risk of ending their lives in poverty with the measures the Conservative government is proposing. When they were in opposition, the Conservatives talked about bringing back the program for older worker adjustment or POWA. A program like that would enable people over 55 to receive income until they retire. Instead of that, the government is pushing people who lose their jobs and find themselves with no financial resources into poverty; they will have to liquidate their assets before they retire, and they will receive the guaranteed income supplement, leaving them below the poverty line.
That is not a very nice way for people to live out their later years. This government would also prefer to keep seniors in a state of perpetual poverty rather than act on Motion M-300, which I moved last spring, and which received majority support in the House of Commons. Need I say who opposed the motion? It is not hard to guess.
Since the Conservatives came to power, Quebec's economy has come under attack by a series of regressive measures: cuts to equalization payments, a $2.6 billion shortfall in the GST harmonization file, cuts to culture, the projected relocation of the securities commission to Ontario, which Bill just happens to support, and the planned parliamentary reform that will reduce the Quebec nation's political weight. The Conservatives' real priority is to strengthen their political base in Ontario and consolidate their votes, just like they did in Alberta.
Once again, Quebec workers, who have already suffered because of the economic crisis and this government's incompetence, are being left out. It sure looks like this government's priority is to impoverish Quebec and its workers.
We will not let this oil-soaked government reduce Quebec to a second-class state in a completely chaotic Canada.
If the Conservatives made this big a mess with a minority government, imagine what they would do if they had a majority.
We are fighting this battle alongside groups working to protect the rights of unemployed workers, such as the Sans-chemise, Mouvement Action Chômage groups and major unions. We want the $54 billion stolen from the employment insurance fund to be given back to the workers who contributed.
When the time comes to vote on this bill, I will stand with the members of the Bloc Québécois and vote against Bill . That is what we will do for any bill that is not in Quebec's best interest until the day we achieve full independence as a country.