That this House call on the Conservative government to abandon plans to further restrict access to Employment Insurance for Canadian workers who have followed the rules and who will now be forced to choose between taking a pay cut of up to 30% or losing their Employment Insurance benefits.
She said: Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am pleased to move, on behalf of the entire NDP caucus, a motion calling on the Conservative government to abandon its reckless changes to Canada's employment insurance system.
First and foremost, employment insurance must be about providing a safety net for workers. Government ministers and Conservative MPs keep saying that jobs are not being filled because the unemployed do not want to work, but Statistics Canada pointed out just last week that there were almost six unemployed workers for every reported job vacancy in Canada. In other words, despite its rhetoric, the Conservative government's record on job creation has been an abject failure.
Therefore, yes, this is the time that workers need to draw on the employment insurance that they paid into all of their working lives. However, instead of helping workers to access what is rightfully theirs, the minister responsible for the program hurls insults by saying, “We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it”. It is outrageous. Workers need EI, not so they can stay at home but so they can keep their homes.
Even before these ill-advised changes, only 40% of unemployed Canadians were able to access EI benefits, and those who do bring home a maximum of 55% of their former wages. Unemployed workers can assure the minister that EI is not lucrative.
What then motivated this last round of EI reforms? Toronto Star columnist, Thomas Walkom, hit the nail squarely on the head when he blamed the changes on “bone-headed ideology and contempt”. The Conservatives have continually demonstrated their hatred of Canada's social safety net, including employment insurance, and the disdain starts right at the top.
This is what the told the American Council for National Policy in 1997. He said:
In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance.
He also derided Atlantic Canadians for using social services, saying in 2002:
I think in Atlantic Canada, because of what happened in the decades following Confederation, there is a culture of defeat that we have to overcome.... Atlantic Canada's culture of defeat will be hard to overcome as long as Atlantic Canada is actually physically trailing the rest of the country.
As Walkom rightly points out, “The contempt is that of comfortable, well-heeled politicians who, deep down, assume that those unfortunate enough to have lost their jobs lack moral fibre”. However, the issue is not that Canadians do not want to work. The issue is that there are no jobs available in many parts of our country. Yes, that means that Canadians will try to access employment insurance. It is, after all, a program that was designed to help the jobless get by while they search for work.
As things stand right now, regular EI covers up to 55% of former salary to a maximum of $485 a week for up to 45 weeks. Last year, 850,000 people relied on the program, including thousands in my hometown of Hamilton where the manufacturing sector has been particularly hard hit. If one were to ask people who have tried to access employment insurance, they would be the first to point out that the system does need reform. The reforms just are not in the direction that the government is moving. We need to enhance, not restrict, access to EI for Canadians who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
As it stands now, less than half of the unemployed qualify for EI benefits. Only 40% of men collect and an even lower 32% of women get any support from EI. The reason is that the rules are biased against part-time, temporary, self-employed and women workers, yet all workers pay into the system.
The conversation we should be having in this chamber is about how we enhance access to the benefits that employees and employers paid for. It is only the workers and the employers who contribute to the EI system. There is not a dime of the government's money in the pot and yet successive Liberal and Conservative governments have raided the surpluses in the EI fund to the tune of $57 billion. They have treated it as their own cash cow to fund everything from debt reduction to new government programs and now it has the audacity to suggest that the program is too lucrative for workers and that things need to change. It is completely outrageous.
If we are going to change the system at all, we should live up to the commitments made by the motion on EI reform that I tabled here in the last Parliament, which, I might add, was passed by the House of Commons. That motion called for the elimination of the two-week waiting period, a lower qualifying period that was consistent across our country, an increase in the replacement wage to 60%, improved funding for training and a mechanism for allowing the self-employed to participate in the program.
Three years later, the government has still only acted on the will of Parliament with respect to one of those proposals, and that is making EI available to the self-employed. All other tinkering the Conservatives have done with respect to the EI system has been counter to the spirit of my motion and has been at the expense rather than to the benefit of hard-working Canadians.
We need to just look at the changes resulting from the most recent Conservative budget. Budget 2012 announced the Conservative government's intention to introduce legislation “to strengthen and clarify what is required of claimants who are receiving regular EI benefits and are looking for work”. Instead, the Trojan Horse bill, Bill , gave the the power to create regulations concerning what constitutes suitable employment and reasonable and customary efforts to find employment.
When asked what the regulations would look like, the minister responded, “We haven't announced those details yet. We want to make sure the legislation gets through first”. Really. Do the Conservatives want us to buy a pig in a poke? That will not happen and the more details we learn, the more we know just how misguided the government's approach has become.
Under the new scheme, frequent EI claimants will no longer be able to hold out for something akin to their former jobs at roughly the same wage. Instead, they will need to accept similar work at as little as 80% of their previous wage during the first seven weeks of benefits, yet we do not know what “similar” means. After that, they must take any work they are qualified to perform for as little as 70% of what they used to make. Less frequent users will fare marginally better. They can hold out for jobs within their usual occupation at 90% of their former wage for 18 weeks. After that, they, too, must accept similar jobs at 80% of their previous wage.
Obviously this has nothing to do with connecting workers with suitable jobs. This is all about driving down wages. The Conservatives love free markets unless, of course, it is a labour market. One has to wonder though for whom they are doing this.
Yes, these changes will help their friends in the tar sands hire temporary foreign workers who can now be paid 15% less than the going regional wage. At the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development, where we have been studying the projected shortages of skilled workers in Canada, many employers have actually come forward to tell us that forcing workers in seasonal industries to do other work during the off season will do permanent harm to their businesses and, indeed, to their entire regions. That, of course, is due to out-migration.
If the fisherman's helpers, forestry workers or farmhands are forced during the respective off-season to take on a job they do not like and that pays less, they will be more inclined to head to western Canada. That leaves local businesses high and dry.
When we combine that attack on rural Canada with the fact that stripping Canadians of their employment insurance will lead to an increased reliance on provincial social support systems, it is no wonder that premiers from across the country are crying foul. Despite the fact that it is their provincial budgets and their provincial taxpayers who will pay the price for these ill-conceived changes to Canada's EI system, none of them were consulted before the changes were announced.
As an editorial in the Saskatoon StarPheonix put it:
This is clearly an issue that needs a national debate--one we were robbed of when the government stuffed the changes into its omnibus bill.
That is why the New Democrats have brought this motion to the floor of the House today. We do need a national debate on the changes to Canada's employment insurance system and the people who pay for that system and who use it must have a say in its future. Until then, we must change course and abandon all plans to further restrict access to employment insurance for Canadian workers.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased today to be able to talk about employment insurance and the consequences for the working people who will be affected.
We decided to present this motion today for one simple reason: as we speak, there are many working people, whether they are seasonal workers or workers who have worked somewhere else in one way or another, from sea to sea, from coast to coast to coast, who are in a situation where they will be denied their employment insurance benefits in future.
The Conservatives say this is not the case and people will not be denied that income. We know very well, however, that a seasonal worker, in Prince Edward Island for example, has no opportunity to find what is called suitable employment. This means that after six weeks they will be required to accept employment that might pay only 70% of their earnings. They will have no choice, because no other jobs are available. Canada does not have large cities from coast to coast to coast. Jobs really are not available everywhere in the country.
Fishers only fish in the fishing season. We know that between fishing seasons, they have to spend time on their boats and equipment. It was agreed that they could spend this time attending to their boats and equipment. Now, they have to agree to go and work about an hour's drive from home.
The Conservatives do not understand what a region is, and what local and regional development are. We know that Canada is not an overpopulated country and the regions are the biggest part of the country.
If the bill is adopted, these new measures will have a huge impact across the country in terms of local and regional development.
These new measures were hidden in a Trojan Horse, in a budget. They should have been debated in the House independently from the budget. It is inconceivable that the Conservatives included amendments to 70 laws— amendments that were completely hidden—in a mammoth budget implementation bill.
Frequent employment insurance claimants in the regions will be told that they have to accept employment.
Let us talk about the tourist season. Many regions make their living from tourism. This is true of Quebec's Charlevoix region, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and all through the eastern provinces and other places.
At the end of the fishing season, fishers have to give up their activities and accept a job that will be offered to them after a month or six weeks have elapsed. Therefore they have no opportunity to repair their boats. If they want to pick up their work again the following year, at the start of the fishing season, they will have to leave their jobs. These fishers are in danger because their boats will not be properly maintained and freshly equipped. Moreover, they will probably have to hire people who will not be trained for fishing because the fishers who accepted other jobs will no longer be available.
The number of workers is not very high in the regions. It is not like in the city. Local and regional development is very different. This must be taken into account.
Commuting for an hour in Montreal is really not a problem. Commuters take the metro or a bus, and that is fine. Forcing people to travel for an hour in the regions is dangerous.
It is a one-hour drive from Forestville to Sept-Îles. There are very few houses between the two points. There are only one or two, and about 100 in Pessamit, a reserve where the concentration is a little higher, or small villages like Ragueneau and Chute-aux-Outardes. Apart from that, it is just one big, long drive. A one-hour drive is 100 km.
This means that every morning and every night people have to travel 100 km through little villages to get to where someone is offering a job. This is unacceptable. We cannot ask people to travel an hour every morning and every evening to get to their place of work. Who will take care of the children? Who will get the children from school? When school finishes at 4:30 p.m. or when the school bus brings the children back home, who will take care of them at home?
People who live outside of cities are likely to be uprooted, because they are going to have to move to the larger centres. As we have often seen, rural areas have been drained of people, because people have moved to cities in a self-imposed exile in the search for a job. This is something that has affected young people enormously because, of course, they went away to study at university and did not go back home, because they relocated to wherever the jobs were.
Now the population in rural areas has just about reached its minimum level. The fact that people have to leave rural areas means that the people who decide to stay will be impoverished. There are not really many jobs in rural areas. There are a few small shopping centres that are often located in the largest town. I am thinking of a place like Bonaventure in the Gaspé that has a population of 3,000; Rimouski has about 30,000 people; Baie-Comeau has about 35,000 or 40,000 inhabitants; and Sept-Îles where of course the population is increasing right now because of Quebec's Plan Nord, the northern plan. Basically, there are not that many services that can be offered to people.
So people will be uprooted. People will have to leave rural areas. What will happen to our tourist regions? People who do not agree to leave their own regions in order to take jobs somewhere else will have to be happy with their income or look to social assistance, the first kind of income security. This security is, of course, a safety net, but it is synonymous with the status of the poorest of the poor in society. If we talk about income security in terms of social assistance, people will find themselves to be poorer than ever.
This law will impoverish Canadians. It will impoverish those who cannot abandon their homes and move to larger centres. This law will also impoverish the regions. That is what people in New Brunswick, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland are concerned about. It seems that the Atlantic provinces will be impoverished by this bill, more than the provinces that have a larger concentration of jobs.
For example, it is not true that people will automatically move to the far north where there are mining developments or major projects. Some will do so by choice, but others will not, because they have to take care of their families and their homes in the community where they live. Not everyone can just pick up and leave.
Naturally, those who want to go to work in those locations will do so because the wages offered by large corporations are very good, for example, those offered by the large oil companies in the far north. We know that the oil companies will bring about all sorts of development and workers will be needed. Some will go work there voluntarily; it seems that often it is young people who choose to do so. Those who have moved around to plant trees will now move to go and work where there are jobs. One does not preclude the other.
However, when the people in our regions are offered employment, there are two things that must be considered: training and individual choice. Workers are human beings. They are not merely pawns on a chessboard to be moved around at will. A pawn must go where it is placed and that is it. Life does not work like that.
In conclusion, I would like to say that it is important to take into account that workers are human beings.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
The government cannot support this motion because, quite frankly, it is factually incorrect. The changes to EI that we are introducing aim to ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not. That is why we believe it is important to invest in connecting Canadians with available jobs in their local areas.
First I would like to clarify and correct the record, given that the opposition has been irresponsibly fearmongering. Based on what I have heard here so far this morning, I think it is time that we put a few facts on the record.
These changes are not about forcing people to accept work outside their own area, or taking jobs for which they are not suited.
The changes are about improving a federal system so that Canadians better understand what the expectations are of them while they are collecting EI. They are about ensuring Canadian workers are made better aware of the opportunities available to them in their own geographic area. They are about helping to ensure that employers have better access to available Canadian workers before hiring temporary foreign workers.
For a moment, let us look at the big picture.
Our country’s economic performance continues to be strong in 2012. In fact, between July 2009 and March 2012, more than 750,000 new jobs were created, resulting in the strongest employment growth by far among G7 countries.
Our economic prosperity, however, depends on our ability to meet emerging and growing labour market challenges.
It depends on our competitiveness and our agility.
Chief among these challenges are skills shortages. According to Statistics Canada, in the fall of last year there were 250,000 job vacancies across the country.
We know that Canadians want to work, but they often face challenges finding work. So what are we going to do to help unemployed workers find jobs?
As announced in economic action plan 2012, over the next two years our government will invest in connecting unemployed Canadians with available jobs that are in their local area and that match their skills, jobs that maybe these individuals were never aware existed. As part of our announcement, we will be sending job alerts twice per day to Canadians receiving EI. The job alerts would come from many different sources, including the job bank and private sector sources.
We will also be linking the temporary foreign worker program with the EI program to help connect unemployed Canadians with available jobs in their skill range in their geographic area. Today employers are required to provide evidence that they have exhausted their efforts to hire Canadians first; we are simply introducing changes to better connect those employers with Canadians who would be able to work and available for it.
The improvements that we have announced will mean that Canadians receiving EI benefits would always benefit financially from accepting available work. When receiving EI, Canadians receive 55% of their maximum weekly earnings; with our improvements, Canadians would never have to accept work that pays less than 70% of their previous income, and that amount could not be below minimum wage.
These changes are about empowering unemployed workers, helping them get back into the workforce, and focusing resources where they are needed most.
We are helping Canadians who want to work to get back to work, and we are ensuring all these changes are grounded in common sense and fairness.
We fully recognize that there are Canadians who are having difficulty finding work, particularly in the off season in those parts of the country where much of the economy is based on seasonal industries. For Canadians who live in areas of higher unemployment or areas where the jobs simply do not exist outside the seasonal or specialized industries, employment insurance would be there for them, as it always has been. We announced these changes one week ago today, and I have been very pleased to see that many employers and workers are standing up to say that these changes to the EI system are needed and are important.
Unfortunately, the opposition continues to mislead Canadians, needlessly creating fear and concern. As I have said before, actions speak louder than words, and this opposition motion demonstrates that the opposition members are against making life better for Canadians and their families. They would prefer that we not make any improvements to a system that sometimes discourages people from working.
As a member of a government focused on job creation, economic growth and Canada's long-term prosperity, I stand here today to encourage all members of this House to vote against this flawed, uninformed motion.
EI is an important program here in Canada—and will continue to be. These improvements will introduce new, needed, common-sense efforts to help Canadians get back to work faster.
That is good for the economy, good for employers—and good for Canadians and their families.
For these reasons, I urge all members of the House to vote against the motion and to support our efforts to connect Canadians with available local jobs.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the motion from the member for .
As the minister just said, the government will not be supporting the motion. It is unfortunate that yet again the opposition continues to fearmonger and mislead the Canadian public for its own political gain.
Canadians need to know what is exactly being proposed so they understand how these changes will help them get back to work more quickly.
First, let us look at the big picture, the overall economic climate.
Our country’s economic performance continues to be strong in 2012. In fact, between July 2009 and March 2012, more than 750,000 new jobs were created, resulting in the strongest employment growth by far among G7 countries.
Our economic prosperity, however, depends on our ability to meet emerging and growing labour market challenges.
This is why Canadians gave us a strong mandate in the last election to continue implementing our long-term plan for jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity.
The skills gap and labour shortages are not challenges for the distant future. They are affecting us now and if left unchecked will hinder our ability to prosper as a country.
Chief among these challenges is the growing skills shortage. According to Statistics Canada, in the fall of last year there were 250,000 job vacancies across the country. At the same time, we have areas with high unemployment. This is a paradox of great concern to our government.
We must let Canadians know about locally available jobs to increase growth and productivity, as well as quality of life for Canadians.
This is why in the economic action plan 2012, we took action to support workers by ensuring EI remains fair and flexible and helps Canadians to find jobs in their local labour market. We know Canadians want to work.
At the same time, we recognize there are Canadians who are having difficulty finding work. In many cases Canadians are not aware of the jobs available in their area and what types of jobs are relevant to their skills.
To help connect available workers with suitable work in their local area, we will be sending job alerts twice a day to Canadians receiving EI. These job alerts will come not only from the job bank that is run by the federal government but also from many different sources, including private sector providers.
Our government is also introducing a connection between the EI program and the temporary foreign worker program to ensure that employers are looking to Canadians first before turning to foreign workers.
However, we also recognize that in many areas of the country there are legitimate labour shortages that are threatening our economic recovery. I can tell this House from personal experience that there are many areas that experience chronic labour shortages, both in skilled and low-skilled occupations.
Whether it was in travelling with the human resources committee or as part of the pre-budget consultations, I have heard from employers from coast to coast to coast, expressing their frustration and fears about not being able to find enough workers. Our businesses have taken all reasonable measures to find Canadians to fill open jobs. They will continue to have access to temporary foreign workers.
In addition to providing more information to Canadians about local jobs, we are also clarifying what constitutes suitable employment and a reasonable job search. This will assist Canadians currently collecting EI in understanding what their responsibilities are while on claim.
Better utilizing Canada's workforce and making Canada's labour market more adaptable will help ensure our long-term economic growth. To be clear, it has always been a requirement of the employment insurance program to be looking for work while receiving EI benefits. Our government understands that every region of our country is different, with varying levels of economic opportunity. We know that every individual has unique circumstances, and we will always take these into account.
As the minister stressed yesterday in committee, the government will ensure changes are fair and reasonable to EI claimants. We are not going to ask EI claimants to uproot their families and find work in another part of the country. We are not going to ask people to work at jobs that are far below their skill level. We are not going to force people to accept unreasonably low wages or bad working conditions. When Canadians are unable to find suitable employment, employment insurance will be there for them, as it always has been.
What these changes will do is ensure that every EI claimant will earn more money and be better off working than not working. In fact our government is very proud to have also introduced improvements to the working while on claim pilot project in economic action plan 2012. Currently, earnings from employment are clawed back, dollar for dollar, for most of the claimants' earnings on part-time work. Effective August 2012, we will cut the current EI clawback in half, so Canadians can keep more of what they earn. Our government understands that part-time jobs often lead to full-time jobs, as the minister mentioned before. It is always in our nation's best interest to encourage labour force attachment.
Our improvements also mean that Canadians receiving employment insurance benefits will always benefit financially from accepting available work. While on EI, claimants receive 55% of their previous earnings. Through this new definition, a job would have to pay 70% of their previous wage to be considered suitable employment.
This is why the opposition motion is factually incorrect. Canadians who are collecting EI will not face a pay cut of 30%. They in fact will be required to look for work that pays more than they are currently receiving on EI.
These changes are about empowering unemployed workers, helping them get back into the workforce.
Specific circumstances and the local labour market will always be taken into account. Those who do not manage to find a job will, as always, be able to count on the employment insurance program.
This is why I ask the opposition to stop playing these political games and fearmongering and to support our economic recovery by voting against this motion and supporting job creation in the country.
Madam Speaker, I would like to start by saying that I plan on sharing my time with my colleague, the member for .
First, I would like to thank our NDP colleagues and particularly the member for for bringing this discussion before the House. I would also like to say that we plan on enthusiastically supporting the NDP motion because we think that this issue affects a large number of people and has raised a lot of concerns, particularly among people who work in seasonal industries.
My colleague from , in a question to the minister, said something important. One element of the budget, which we thought was positive, was the idea that the pilot projects that were established in 2005 to calculate weekly earnings based on the best 14 weeks, if that is what the divisor is in the economic region where one resides, was an important improvement. Previously, it had been calculated on the most recent weeks and not best weeks, so there was an unintended consequence of actually discouraging people from taking available work if it were for a day, two days or three days because it had a perverse effect the year after of diminishing the employment insurance benefits people may need at a time of year when they have no work. That was an important step. I am glad that was renewed and that it will be rolled out nationally. That will help Canadians seeking work across the country.
The other important element is the working-while-on-claim provision. It will only be a two year pilot project. I hope that becomes a permanent part of the Employment Insurance Act, especially for people who run a bed and breakfast in rural New Brunswick or an auberge. After the tourist season is over, they often cannot remain open beyond certain months in the fall. They may want to stay open on weekends in November and December, have Christmas parties or host families coming together at that time of year but they cannot find employees. If they do show up for work when work is available, they would be punished at some future time in their employment insurance benefits. I am glad those changes were recognized as having been positive.
A group of workers and employers in my riding, specifically in the Cap-Pelé and Bouctouche areas, worked together to bring these changes before Parliament and before the Liberal government at the time. Rodrigue Landry, co-chair of this committee, and an employee of a fish processing plant in the Cap-Pelé area in my riding, were part of it. There was also an employee from Westmorland Fisheries, who worked with Ronald LeBlanc, and other employers. Aline Landry was also involved. I am pleased to see that this is continuing.
However, I must say that there is an enormous amount of concern across Canada regarding the employment insurance reforms that this government is proposing.
This is a national concern. It is not a concern in rural New Brunswick only. It is not only a concern in eastern Quebec or northern Ontario. These regions will be among the hardest hit by the changes the Conservatives are proposing.
Right here on Parliament Hill there are workers who are in seasonal employment. The people who work in the food service sector, in the cafeterias and the restaurant in this very building, find themselves facing layoffs at times of the year when the food service operation scales down. The government has inadvertently, I hope, ended up punishing people who work very hard on Parliament Hill every day that we are here and have done so, in numerous cases, for many years. These employees will be hurt by these changes.
So, too, will be a lot of very vulnerable persons, often single parents or women, who work in various seasonal sectors of the economy. It is important to remind ourselves that it is not the workers who are seasonal, it is the jobs in sectors of the economy. Up to 25% of Canada's GDP comes from seasonal industries, and it is not only fish processing in my riding, tourism operations or agricultural operations. I am talking about people who work for municipal governments, school boards and sectors of the economy from coast to coast to coast. In every community, there are people who will be hurt by these proposed changes.
There is no doubt: the people who will be hit the hardest by the cuts are the people who work in seasonal industries.
I received an email from a woman named Patricia Fraser who operates a mid-sized landscaping company on the outskirts of Moncton in a community called Indian Mountain. She hires 8 to 12 people every year. The company has been in business for almost 30 years. She does not see, with these proposed changes, how she will be able to keep these very hard-working women and men who year after year do a great job for her company and her clients. She will lose these workers. Her business is threatened. These very changes, Patricia Fraser tells me, will have a direct impact on a very important employer in an area of my riding where there, frankly, are not great employment opportunities.
As I mentioned in a question for the parliamentary secretary, it is a ridiculous idea that people can commute one hour to go to a job and one hour to return home from a place in rural New Brunswick.
Basically, we are going to tell someone living in Richibouctou or in Saint-Louis-de-Kent, an hour from Moncton, that he will have to travel 105 km twice a day, on roads that are exceedingly dangerous in the winter, in order to take a job at a very modest wage, at minimum wage.
Many of the workers in my riding are making $10, $11 or $12 an hour right now. They are not very well paid. If people do not to take a job at 70% of their wages or a job one hour away in Moncton, they will be punished and cut off employment insurance. For them, economically, they would be better off on provincial income assistance programs.
The government is effectively telling people that they will not have access to employment insurance because it will send them an email a couple of times a day about jobs. However, as my colleague from the NDP correctly noted, 20% to 30% of residents in rural Canada do not have access to the Internet or email capacity in their homes. The government is also cutting the community access centres where many people have been able to have access to the Internet. The failure of people to respond to an email about a job in a retail sector an hour away from where they live would lead to their employment insurance benefits being cut off. The consequences of that will be to empty communities in rural Canada.
One of my good friends, Dr. Donald Savoie, an expert in regional development and a professor with a Canada research chair at the Université de Moncton, clearly said that several rural and remote communities will die as a result of these changes.
Maybe the real objective of the government is to make life more difficult and complicated for the people in rural Nova Scotia, or on the outskirts of Newfoundland and Labrador or in rural New Brunswick, in my riding. Maybe it wants to complicate people's lives and the lives of their employers, the people who pay their wages, build businesses and hire people in very tentative and difficult economic circumstances. Maybe the government is telling these people that it is not worth it any more so they should pack up and leave.
The social consequences of those changes will be far-reaching and devastating.
In the small communities that I represent, most of the people who work as volunteer firefighters tend to be younger people, often with families, many of whom work in seasonal industries.These people will be forced to get an apartment in Halifax or move to other parts of the country. The government will say that it is not forcing people to move, but in employment law there is a notion of constructive dismissal. An employer does not actually need to tell an employee that he or she is fired. Rather, the employer can change the person's working circumstances, conditions of work or workplace climate to make it so toxic and so unacceptable that the person must leave his or her job. In law, that is the same as calling the employee in and firing him or her. It is called constructive dismissal.
What the government is doing is constructive relocation. It will say that it is not forcing people to leave, but if people cannot find employment that allows them to pay their bills and look after their family, or if the small business they work for cannot get access to a qualified labour pool and, therefore, shuts down, the economic reality is that constructive relocation will take place and those people will leave those communities. We will not have volunteer firefighters who do fantastic work, not only fighting fires but in performing rescues in these communities.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the NDP motion with respect to what will happen with the changes to employment insurance.
For those who do not know, I represent the riding of Random—Burin—St. George's, which is predominantly a very rural riding. In fact, there are 180 communities in the riding, seven of which are isolated. That means one can only get to those communities by ferry. We all know that when we are dependent on the ocean and the winds and the weather with regard to getting back and forth, that can have a dramatic effect on whether people are able to get to work if they are forced to take a job in a location that is an hour away. Some ferry rides are only 20 minutes, some are only 10 minutes, but there are things that impact on whether these ferries run.
I stand here to speak to the motion because I find it hard to believe a government that has MPs who represent rural ridings can still move forward with these changes without any consideration to the impact they will have, not only on people but also on the seasonal industries as well. Other colleagues have spoken earlier about this.
The impact of the government's proposals may very well put seasonal industries out of business because their employees will no longer be available to them. This has been mentioned before with regard to the tourism industry, the fishing industry. In municipalities, all of which depend on seasonal employees.
The problem we have is somehow the government is failing to recognize the contribution that seasonal industries make to the overall economy in an area and in a province.
Let me speak to tourism for a minute. If there are tourists flying into St. John's, Newfoundland, they will spend two or three days in the city, because it is a beautiful city. However, by and large, tourists come to Newfoundland and Labrador to visit the outports, as they are called, and rural areas of our province. The money they spend in those rural areas is really important to the overall economy of the province and is a lifeline for some of these rural communities.
We now are going to tell people that they have to move, that they have to take whatever job is available, whether it is an hour away or in a skill set similar to theirs. We are going to force people to take jobs for which they probably do not feel qualified, more than likely jobs that are so far away it means they will have to move away from their families.
That has always been a serious issue in Newfoundland and Labrador, but with the seasonal industries there, people have been able to work in their communities. Yes, some will go from one seasonal industry where the season may be short to other seasonal industries. Therefore, they will get more weeks of work than they would just working in one particular seasonal industry. The problem we are having with all of this is there is no consideration given to the impact this will have on families, particularly if they have to move away.
Do not get me wrong. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are used to working away. They have to do it because they do not have a choice in a lot of cases, and they are very hard-working, industrious people. The fact that they have been going to Alberta time after time to try to provide for their families speaks volumes to their need to work and to their wish to work. To suggest in any way, shape, or form that people are on EI because they want to be on EI is far from the truth. People want to work, but sometimes they do not have a choice.
People will work in seasonal industries, but then they have to depend on employment insurance. We must not forget this is a program into which they have paid. This is not the government's money.
Both the employees and the employers pay into the EI program. If the need is there for people to access this type of benefit, they need to be able to do that. Otherwise, we are telling them, yes, they can pay into a program that is supposed to be there for them if they need the benefit, but no, we are going to force them and suggest to them that they are going to have to drive an hour. In rural Newfoundland and Labrador, for some of those locations, an hour's drive might not be too bad in the summer, but we have to consider winter. Winter driving in Newfoundland and Labrador leaves a lot to be desired.
I wonder whether any of the Conservative MPs who represent rural ridings have spoken up about this and have discussed it with the minister and the . I cannot believe for a minute that those members are not hearing the same kind of backlash with respect to this decision as we are hearing from our constituents.
As an example, Burgeo is a community in my riding. From there, it is about a two-hour drive to get to either Stephenville or Corner Brook, where there might be jobs available. Will we now require that people drive over those treacherous roads? I say “treacherous” because we have a very large moose population. They will have to drive on those roads where so many accidents have happened and lives have been lost. Will we tell them to drive to work for two hours early in the morning and then at the end of the day back to Burgeo, in the dark, from either Stephenville or Corner Brook?
That does not make a lot of sense for a number of reasons. First is the cost and the wear and tear on their vehicle, if people have one because not everybody does.Then there is the price of gas and the issue of safety. It appears that none of these have been taken into account.
Another example is Harbour Breton in the Coast of Bays area. There are other communities around Harbour Breton, but none so close that people can hop in their car for 10 minutes to go to work. Harbour Breton is in an area where we have seen a revitalization of the fishery with respect to the aquaculture industry. In the aquaculture industry, there are seasonal employees. Not all are, but about 250 people in Harbour Breton are employed in the aquaculture industry. Those who are seasonal are trained, so they have a skill set. The company invests in those individuals so that when it needs them the following year, they are available, and the company does not have to start training over again. It is bothersome that none of this is being taken into account.
When people go down the path toward the impact this would have on individuals, it would appear that there has been no consultation whatsoever. It would appear that the government has not spoken to any of the people affected, certainly not to employers in the seasonal industries. It certainly has not considered at the impact this would have on those who work in seasonal jobs.
I have to repeat this. I cannot believe, for the life of me, that there are MPs on the Conservative side who would not understand and appreciate what this would mean to their constituents. If they have the same feedback we have had, it does not make sense that it is full steam ahead with no consultation.
We cannot forget it was only after considerable pressure by the opposition that we even received the details of the changes that were to be put forward by the Conservatives with respect to EI. Not being upfront with those changes was unfair and was not the right thing to do. It took pressure from those who were concerned about those constituents to get the details so we could talk to the government about those and try to impress on it how important it was that it not go forward with this. This will have a devastating impact, particularly on rural communities and on the people who live in them.
The government has suggested that it will put the jobs that are available online. However, it plans to close CAP sites, which are one of the avenues people have to access this information. In Newfoundland and Labrador there were 147 CAP sites. In alone there were 32. Those are what people use to get the information to find out if there are even jobs available. Now these—
Madam Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for .
First I would like to say that I am proud the NDP has proposed this motion on employment insurance.
I find it sad that the government thinks that people who receive employment insurance are a bunch of lazy slackers. As the member for put it so well, there are still people who prefer to receive employment insurance because they want to go hunting. That is how the Conservatives think.
The parliamentary secretary asked whether it was not better to have a job 12 months a year rather than six months a year.
Yes, it is much better.
The parliamentary secretary said she went to visit Newfoundland. I would like to know whom she spoke to in Newfoundland. Let her report to the House on whom she met in Newfoundland, because there is a fishing industry in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the Gaspé.
If the Conservative government is so smart, I invite the to introduce a bill to melt the ice in Chaleur Bay so that people can fish in winter. If he is so smart, if he really believes in jobs 12 months a year and if he wants to support the fishing industry, I invite the Prime Minister to melt the ice in Chaleur Bay. That way, people could fish 12 months a year.
In addition, let him put some fish in the sea because this same government shut down the groundfish fishery. I invite the parliamentary secretary to come and tour New Brunswick. Let her come, and I will take her around to the employers who are having problems as a result of seasonal jobs: they want to keep their employees. However, the government's bill does the exact opposite. It wants those employees to go work elsewhere.
Industry back home in New Brunswick, and in the riding of Acadie—Bathurst, amounts to fishing and peat moss. Has anyone ever wondered how you harvest peat moss under the snow? This Conservative government is really out of touch with the reality of the regions to a ridiculous degree. The parliamentary secretary says she comes from a rural area. All right, but she may come from a rural area where there are secondary or tertiary processing jobs and employment 12 months a year.
If the Conservative government wants to do the right thing, let it put tools in place. Let the put the tools in place for us to do the secondary and tertiary processing instead of sending all our fish to Japan.
Under these new regulations, unemployed workers are required to look for work twice a week. Some 3,000 people lose their jobs at the end of June because the fishery winds up in June and starts again in mid-August. The biggest surprise this government could have right now would be for fish plant employees to decide, twice a week, to go and see employers one hour’s drive away about jobs those employers do not have. Employers would tell the Conservative government to get those workers off their backs because they would not be able to produce anymore with them coming to work in their yards when there are no jobs.
The government's parliamentary secretary said they were going to send unemployed workers job alerts twice a day to tell them where they could find work, but the problem that was raised is that some of them do not even have a computer. The government responded that 85% of people filing employment insurance claims did so online.
They file employment insurance claims online because the government requires them to do so. It has shut down human resources offices everywhere. There were more than 100 human resources offices in Canada, and since the Conservatives intend to close some of them, there will only be 22 left.
Applying once for employment insurance means going to a neighbour and asking to use his computer. This happens once a year. But if a person has to ask to use his neighbour’s computer twice a day to check jobs, the neighbour will get fed up.
The government is saying that if you want a job, you will have to use a computer to get it, because that is where the jobs are. Is the government telling us that it is going to send out two letters a day to Canadians to tell them that jobs are available? My goodness, I do not know what planet I am living on. If there are that many jobs in Acadie—Bathurst, I cannot wait to find out where they are. I am sure that the residents of Acadie—Bathurst cannot wait to know where all these jobs that the government is announcing are.
We are not against motherhood and apple pie, we are not against the fact that the government is telling people that there are going to be jobs available at specific locations. We are not against employers posting jobs or workers being available. The problem is telling somebody that if he does not go to a specific location for a job and accept it, his employment insurance will be cut off. If I were an employer, I would tell the government to mind its own business because it is not up to the government to dictate who should be in the private sector. If the government forces somebody to work for a particular employer and the person does not like the job, how productive will he be?
The 70% model sounds good, does it not? For those who get a job at 70% of their salary and are then laid off, will the next job be at 70% of that salary? Will it be 70% until the person receives the minimum wage? The government wants to help employers keep wages down. The government is going to play a role in forcing people to go and work for employers who will not increase wages. The Conservatives are going to make sure that people remain in poverty. That is what this measure is all about.
Furthermore, this measure is found in Bill . Why did they not separate it from Bill C-38? They should let the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities conduct a real study. If the bill put forward by the minister and the federal Conservative government is so good, why is the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador not satisfied and why was it not consulted? Why is the Province of Nova Scotia not satisfied and why was it not consulted? Why is the Province of Prince Edward Island not satisfied and why was it not consulted?
The exception is New Brunswick, because we know that our premier, Mr. Alward, follows everything that the of Canada says. The Conservatives are in power in New Brunswick and they will not touch this with a 10-foot pole. The premier might have to answer for this in the next election in New Brunswick, because at the moment he does not represent the seasonal workers in our province.
The people in our province who work in the fisheries are wondering where they are expected to find a job. What will happen to the 60-year-old woman in Caraquet who has almost reached retirement age if she tries to take her car to work at a McDonald's in Bathurst with the winter road conditions that we have? By the way, it is not funny when you drive along the coast. With the wind, even if there is not much snow falling, it becomes a storm. On the peatlands and in open country, the roads can be impassable just because of the winds. This is what they are doing; they are putting people's lives in danger.
The Conservatives think that people are happy to receive 55% of their salary and feel as though they are on vacation. They should see these people's living conditions and they should live in these conditions. They should answer the calls that I get in my office from people saying that they would like to work. They should remember the time when the fisheries were good and people worked 35 weeks per year. They worked 15- and 16-hour days, 7 days a week, for 35 weeks. I will never allow them to call our workers lazy slackers. These are the same people who leave our region to go work out west, where they can find jobs.
If the Conservative government wants to help people get jobs, it can help us get a better airport in Bathurst. The runway needs to be lengthened. It can give us a building that is capable of handling our people travelling up to the far north for jobs. This is the same government that cut $18 million from ACOA and that gives us no tools. Tools are what we want. It is the government's responsibility to provide tools and to make it possible to get jobs, not to do what it is doing at the moment, cutting employment insurance so that people fall on hard times, sending them onto welfare and putting all the burden onto the provinces.
I hope that the Premier of New Brunswick is also listening to me; I hope he realizes that we, the taxpayers of New Brunswick, are the ones who are going to be paying for the federal government's mistakes—
Madam Speaker, I am going to answer the questions of the hon. member for regarding the fact that some people prefer to take advantage of the EI program to go hunting. Imagine. I do not know whether the hon. member likes to hunt, but I do know that the goes fishing and uses a government helicopter to pick him up on the shore. The Conservatives do that.
If they want to slash spending, they could begin there. They have earned that reputation. A minister travels to England or to another country and uses a big limousine at a cost of $3,500.
People back home are hard workers. The and member for Madawaska—Restigouche should remember that, in 1993, under the government of Brian Mulroney, there were only two Conservatives left in the House because that government had begun cutting back on the EI program.
Now that he is the minister responsible for ACOA, he should provide the regions with economic development tools, to give people an opportunity to find work. Instead, he is cutting $18 million. He is slashing funding for agencies such as the community economic development agencies in all the regions of New Brunswick, including Enterprise Peninsula, Enterprise Chaleur, Enterprise Restigouche, and everywhere.
Instead of uttering such nonsense, the minister should help the region, and he should be proud of it. He should say that he was elected to defend the interests of his region in Ottawa, instead of insulting it, but that is what he is doing: he is insulting our region.
He is the minister responsible for La Francophonie, but he is not even able to state our case regarding Supreme Court judges and the Auditor General of Canada. He does none of that. Last week, people in his riding told me that they were ashamed of their MP and that they regretted electing him. They had forgotten what happened in the late 1980s. Now, they see what he is doing. There are seasonal workers in Madawaska too. The minister is also calling them lazy, and that is unacceptable. What the minister did last week is unacceptable.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from for drawing our attention to seasonal industry. What we are talking about is the economy. This is an industry. It is a fact of life in our regions. This far-reaching change to employment insurance is going to destroy that industry. The harm has already begun.
This is a fact of life in our regions. There are people who are starting to leave because they know they will not be able to stay there; their plans for the future for their regions will simply be dead in the water. They want to make a go of it.
Since being elected as the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, I have tried repeatedly, as have many people in my riding, to communicate with the so we could meet with her and explain how things are in our region. Things on the upper north shore and in Charlevoix are not the same as they are in Quebec City or Montreal or Toronto or Calgary. Things are different. We wanted to talk to her about our concerns about employment insurance well before this plan to destroy it.
We tried to contact the minister by mail, by email and by telephone. We planned a meeting with her assistant. The result was a telephone meeting that was quite simply quickly forgotten and gave the impression that it was simply to stall for time.
I am more concerned than ever for the people of my riding, for the families who live on the upper north shore and in Charlevoix. Does the government realize it is causing an exodus from those regions?
I was talking with someone from Les Escoumins. She told me that when she went to get a coffee at the convenience store, the cashier told her that six people that day had let her know they were leaving the region to go and work in Sept-Îles, a city more than 100 km from Forestville or Les Escoumins.
Is this how the Conservatives deal with all the issues before them? Do they always go it alone? Do they always run the country as they like, with no consultation, without meeting with the people who are directly affected by this measure? Has the minister ever once set foot in Charlevoix? Has she ever gone to the upper north shore? Yes, Charlevoix and the upper north shore look nice on a postcard, but the people who live there see the landscape in a whole different way.
The government has to stop playing with numbers, because at this point its calculations are pitiful. It is not taking into consideration the regional economy, the reality of the lives of these people who are developing economies after the losses in the forestry industry and a declining tourism industry. The people are making plans and developing an economy so they can make a go of it.
I have a list of people I have met with on this issue. A lot of them would like to meet with the minister to explain the situation to her. We are prepared to cover her costs. We want her to meet with people. That is one of the duties of a minister and a member. We want the minister to come to us, but perhaps not in an F-35.
The Conservatives have completely lost touch with their human side. All that matters is their cronies and big business. That is all that counts.
There is another resident in my riding who works for an extermination company. There are very few bugs from January to March. There are not many insects. With three children at home, this resident needs money. What should he do? Go and work for a competitor? The competitors have no more jobs to offer than anyone else. Going to work for a competitor will mean that he will have to leave his employer. If an employee wants to climb the ladder in the business, he has to be able to trust his employer, and this trust has to be reciprocated by the employer.
Clearly, many sectors of our economy in the regions are seasonal, and there is not enough work in the winter to cover this period of the year where people are on employment insurance.
The Conservative government has climbed into bed with management and the rich and is abandoning workers. The government lacks an overall vision when it comes to the regions. It should trust the elected representatives who represent that segment of the population. I thought that that was something that the current wanted to achieve at one point, by giving more power to members.
Actions speak louder than words. Are we to conclude that the Conservative government is trying to divide the regions, to divide east and west? In eastern Canada, the sectors of economic activity in many municipalities are seasonal. The government is attacking the resource regions, which inevitably have to contend with work cycles. I would really like to know what regions the Conservatives were referring to when they said that they wanted to give the regions power.
To give you a better idea, here is what is really happening in Charlevoix. I have before me a regional overview prepared by the Charlevoix Mouvement Action-Chômage. For several years, the Charlevoix economy has been in bad shape. The population is not well educated, over 40% of the residents have no high school diploma; the employment rate is anemic, unemployment is verging on 15%; and the average person's income barely exceeds $21,000.
Charlevoix’s economy is based mainly on tourism. Unemployment of varying duration is a fact of life for many households in the region. Wages are low. A benefit rate of 55% of gross earnings leaves seasonal workers in an unstable financial position. Being dependent on weather and tourism, the economy is vulnerable and people are increasingly concerned. The number of hours required to qualify for employment insurance has increased from 420 to 560. That is troubling, particularly when you know that work lasts 12 to 14 weeks for some people. When they do manage to qualify, benefits are not paid long enough for them to make ends meet for the year. There is a black hole. Some people cannot find work in winter because there is not enough for everyone. The economy they want to create there is not established. They need an economic safety net, a social safety net, to proceed with their projects. Some people in the region may go 14 weeks without any income, even if they have children, a house to pay for and grocery bills.
Transitional measures were introduced in 2000. Why were they introduced? Because the map drawn for the purpose of calculating rates did not reflect the actual situation in all the regions. The map has not been redrawn. Since then, pilot projects of all kinds have been introduced across the region. Is that not an indication that the act is ineffective?
Action-Chômage also briefed me, but I am going to go to my conclusion, since I only have a minute of speaking time left.
The following appears on the Service Canada website concerning employment insurance: "The plan is financed by premiums collected from workers and employers. The accumulated funds cover both the benefits paid to unemployed persons and the costs of administration."
Why do budget cuts have to be made to a program that is self-funded? Someone explain that to me. It seems to me, and to many others, that this bank should be highly effective in meeting workers' needs.
Is the familiar with the difficulties caused by a tight family budget? I may not be an eminent lawyer or a learned political scientist, but I have personally experienced that situation.
Once I was told at the employment insurance office that if I had been there a week earlier, I would have been eligible for benefits but that, as it was, I was short nine hours. I spent three months without any income, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I believe the minister should listen to the members in this House, who can teach her a great deal and explain the realities of our regions.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Our government cannot support a motion that is factually incorrect. The changes we are introducing would ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not.
By accepting a reasonable job under the new definition, Canadians would actually increase their income from what they were collecting on EI, and in many cases that increase would be substantial. That is why our government is investing in connecting Canadians with jobs in their local labour markets.
These fair and reasonable measures announced a week ago today by my hon. colleague the would help Canadians return to work more quickly. This would help address the growing skills and labour shortage in Canada by helping Canadians who want to work get back to work. These are necessary changes to ensure the EI program is working more effectively for Canada and for Canadians.
Thanks to the strong leadership of the and the our economy has created 750,000 net new jobs since the end of the recession.
At the same time, we recognize that there are Canadians who are having difficulty finding work, particularly in the off-season in parts of the country where much of the economy is based on seasonal industries. Our government is committed to helping these Canadians find jobs they are qualified for in their local labour markets.
But for those individuals who live in areas of high unemployment and are unable to find jobs, the employment insurance system will be there for them, as it always has been.
These EI improvements are only the most recent in a series of economic action plan measures we have introduced to support jobs, growth and economic development. One of the programs that helped us achieve this economic success is the work-sharing program. I have had experience with that in a previous life, in my business experience. It has made a difference to both employees and employers alike in helping them survive the ups and downs of economic recovery.
Through the economic action plan, the Conservative government made the work-sharing program more accessible and extended its duration to help minimize the effects of the economic downturn on Canadian companies and their employees.
Since February 2009, more than 300,000 Canadians have benefited from the work-sharing program under the more than 11,000 agreements signed with employers.
How does it work? Work-sharing helps businesses avoid temporary layoffs when facing a reduction in the normal level of activity that is beyond their control. A good example would be manufacturing jobs, where economic slowdowns mean orders dry up unexpectedly. If workers agree to a reduced work week while their employer recovers, they may receive EI benefits, effectively allowing two or three workers to share one job but to still have their job.
Employers are able to retain their skilled employees and avoid the costly process of recruiting and training new employees when businesses return to normal levels. Employees keep their jobs and maintain their skills, all the while supplementing their wages with EI benefits for the days they are not working. They have helped their employer stay in business and stay open in the community, and they have not had to sacrifice their take-home pay.
This is the type of well-functioning program Canadians have come to expect from this government and it is a win-win for everyone involved.
Unlike the divisive politics of members opposite who try to pit one region of Canada against another, our government believes in programs, such as the work-sharing program, that are equally available everywhere in Canada, and that is important to note.
There are plenty of success stories that highlight how effective this program is, and if I may, I will share a couple.
Mascot Truck Parts, based in Ontario, was founded in 1936. The company has evolved over the past seven decades to become one of the largest heavy-duty specialists in North America, applying its expertise to rebuilding all makes of transmissions, differentials and steering gears.
The economic downturn hit the manufacturing and automotive industry hard and this had a major impact on Mascot. To avoid layoffs and keep the business running, the company signed a work-sharing agreement that began in August 2009 and ended in July 2010. It allowed Mascot Truck Parts to keep 107 employees and avoid laying anyone off when it was affected by the downturn.
In Alberta, there is a 475-person company called Standen's Limited that benefited from a work-sharing agreement between March 2009 and May 2010. The company manufactures heat-treated alloy steel products, such as leaf springs, tillage tools, trailer axles and other speciality products used for heavy-duty agriculture, transportation and light military vehicle applications.
The business exports internationally to the U.S., South America, Australia, New Zealand and China. When the downturn started to affect its bottom line, Standen's was able to keep its original staff on the payroll. Thanks to work-sharing, the business was staffed up, ready to roll when product demand resumed.
I have given two concrete examples of an effective EI program that works. The measures we introduced to support job growth and economic recovery have given us the strongest job growth numbers in the G8, something we should all be very proud of.
As Canada continues to move out of the recession, the Canadian labour market is shifting from one where we needed programs like work-sharing to one where there is a skills and labour shortage. With this evolution, our government is removing the disincentives to work that exist within the EI system to ensure we can match Canadians with available jobs in their local labour markets that are appropriate to their skill sets.
The communities I live in and represent in Brandon—Souris, Manitoba, are right now exemplifying exactly what is happening. We have a high demand for skilled labour, and unfortunately those people are not available within our region. I am not saying people should have to move, but if they choose to, Brandon—Souris is a great place to come and live, and the job opportunities are plenty. I would compare the lifestyle to any other part of Canada.
In closing, I urge my hon. colleagues to support our measured and reasonable changes to the employment insurance system. It is for this reason that I cannot support the opposition motion today.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to share my thoughts on this NDP motion. I do not believe it will come as any surprise to the House to hear that I cannot support a factually incorrect and inaccurate motion.
Let me be clear on what our changes would do.
We would connect out-of-work Canadians with local jobs in their local communities within their skill set. The changes we would be making are common-sense adjustments to ensure that EI is not discouraging people from trying to get back into the job market. As we face unprecedented labour and skills shortages, it is important that the employment insurance program is working most effectively for Canada and Canadians. That is why budget 2012 announced revisions to the working while on claim pilot project. This national pilot project would ensure that Canadians who are collecting EI benefit from accepting all available work.
Previously, only a portion of earnings were exempt from being clawed back. Once earnings exceeded this exemption, EI benefits were clawed back dollar for dollar.
The practical result of this policy is not hard to see: EI claimants turning down any work that exceeded this exemption because they would not profit from their labour.
While an individual is waiting for a permanent, full-time job to open up, their skills are underutilized. Under this new pilot, we would cut the current clawback rate in half and apply it to all earnings made while on claim.
We know from experience that part-time work will often lead to full-time work. This project would ensure that EI claimants always benefit from accepting work because it would allow them to keep more of what they earn while on EI.
Let me use an example to illustrate how an EI claimant would benefit from this new working while on claim pilot project.
Imagine William, a retail salesperson, who has been laid off and is receiving EI benefits of $450 per week. He has found part-time work in a store that pays him a total of $600 per week. Under the current working while on claim pilot project, William can earn wages equivalent to 40% of his weekly EI benefits with no reduction to those benefits. This allows him to keep $180. Earnings above the 40% level reduce his benefit payment dollar for dollar, so William's combined earnings and EI benefits are $630.
Under the new working while on claim pilot project, William's EI benefits would only be reduced by 50% of his earnings from working while he is on claim. His combined weekly income would then be $750. We believe it should pay to work. With this new pilot, it would always be more beneficial for claimants to accept work than to receive EI alone.
We know the job market varies from region to region. We know that some seasonal workers, especially in rural areas, may not be able to find other work in the off season. The has been crystal clear. Our government is working to help these Canadians find jobs in their local area appropriate to their qualifications. For those who are unable to find employment, employment insurance will be there for them as it always has been. However, in areas where there are more jobs than unemployed Canadians, it makes no sense for EI claimants to stay at home when there are jobs they could be doing.
As announced in economic action plan 2012, we are introducing a new permanent national approach to better align the calculation of the weekly amount an EI claimant receives with their regional labour market conditions.
As of April of next year, subject to Parliament's approval, the amount a claimant receives weekly will be determined using an average of his or her best weeks of employment. In higher unemployment regions, fewer best weeks will be used in this calculation, making it more beneficial for workers to accept all available work in slower seasons of employment.
By replacing the previous selective pilot with a national program, we would ensure that those living in regions with similar labour market conditions receive similar benefits.
These are two great examples of improvements our government is making to employment insurance to ensure Canadians are always better off accepting all available work. Matching Canadian workers with available jobs in their local area is critical to supporting economic growth and productivity as well as quality life for Canadians.
Our country's economic performance continues to be strong. From July 2009 to April 2012 more than 750,000 jobs have been created. These gains in job creation along with the further rise in business confidence bode well for continuing economic growth. We need to maintain that momentum. We have a strange dichotomy in this country where some regions that have high unemployment rates also have labour and skills shortages. While the unemployment rate in my province of Saskatchewan is 4.9%, there is 18% unemployment in northern Saskatchewan. Mining companies are begging for workers because they cannot find Canadians to fill those job shortages.
The Canada Job Vacancy Survey of Statistics Canada's tells us that about 250,000 jobs went unfilled in the fall of last year. We need to ensure that the EI program contributes to economic growth by encouraging people to fill those available jobs. That is good for them, for their families, for their communities and the economy at large.
Let me briefly outline a few of the other measures that are part of our plan. We would be investing $21 million over two years to help unemployed Canadians to find jobs more quickly. We would offer more labour market information to claimants to support their job searches, including expanded online job postings. This would include daily emails with jobs that are specific to EI claimants, based on geography and the skills a worker possesses. We would also ensure that employers consider Canadians before they hire temporary foreign workers.
While the opposition NDP prefers to attack hard-working Canadians who go to work every day filling crucial roles, we want to better connect Canadians with available jobs. Under our plan Canadians would always benefit financially from accepting suitable employment.
Our government's top priority is creating jobs and long-term prosperity for Canadians. That is why we are making these practical, common sense changes to connect out-of-work Canadians with jobs in their local areas. I urge all members to support our government's initiatives and to vote against this factually incorrect opposition motion.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
My perspective on this motion is a Newfoundland and Labrador perspective. In that light, I begin.
First it was the fishery, and now it is the fishermen. That will be a theme throughout my speech.
First the fishery was destroyed. Under consecutive federal Liberal and Conservative governments, groundfish stocks, such as cod and flounder, were practically wiped off the face of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. There has been an embarrassing lack of recovery; in fact, there are no plans for a recovery. The Conservatives voted against that bill, my bill, the Newfoundland and Labrador rebuilding bill, last fall.
It has been 20 years since the biggest layoff in Canadian history, the shutdown of the northern cod fishery. It was comparable to the Prairie dust bowl of the 1930s, and the anniversary is coming up on July 2. Members should mark that on their calendars.
There has been no recovery and there is no recovery plan. First our fishery was abandoned, and now our fishermen and our mariners are being abandoned. They are being systematically abandoned. The latest blow comes from the proposed changes to employment insurance. These changes, as I said Wednesday during question period, will empty what is left of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, what we call the outports. First the fishery, now the fishermen.
Today's motion calls on the Conservative government to abandon plans to restrict access to employment insurance for Canadian workers who have followed the rules and who will now be forced to choose between taking a pay cut of up to 30% or losing their employment insurance benefits.
These changes amount to an attack on seasonal workers. The Conservative government is telling frequent EI claimants that they will be required, after six weeks of collecting benefits, to take any work available within a one-hour commute, providing it pays at least 70% of what they were making before they were laid off.
Tell me that will not hurt. It means two hours of commuting for a job that pays 30% less and that probably requires daycare expenses and fuel expenses. There are no subways in Newfoundland and Labrador. That may be news to the out-of-touch Conservative government. That is 30% less pay, with increased expenses.
In very many rural areas there is little other work besides seasonal industries like fishing, forestry and tourism. That is a reality. Most seasonal workers would be classified as frequent claimants. There was a point in time a few decades ago when the fishery employed fishermen and plant workers full time, year round, 52 weeks a year. That gets back to my point about the fishery being destroyed under consecutive Conservative and Liberal governments and the need for an inquiry.
Instead of changing EI rules, the Conservative government should come up with a rebuilding plan for fish stocks off Newfoundland and Labrador. That would get my people back to full-time work. How is that for a novel idea to get Canadians back to work?
The Conservative changes to EI punish frequent EI claimants. They punish seasonal workers. According to the St. John's Telegram, the daily newspaper in my riding, Newfoundland and Labrador is the province with the single highest number of frequent EI claimants. Of 67,700 claimants in Newfoundland and Labrador, almost 54,000 could be classified as frequent, meaning nearly 80% of my province's EI claimants would fall into the frequent category. Nationally, the average is 32%. That is a big spread. In effect, the changes to EI could have a disproportionately larger impact on my province than on other provinces.
That would hold true also with changes to old age security and GIS. More Newfoundlanders and Labradorians depend on their government pensions as their main source of income, because many seasonal industries do not come with pension plans. That is a reality of life too.
First it was the fishery; now it is the fishermen.
In so many areas of Atlantic Canada, there is only seasonal work. It is the nature of the industry—well, ever since the fishery was destroyed under the Liberal and Conservative watch, again.
The changes to EI amount to a race to the bottom. Let us take, for example, a seasonal worker in outport Newfoundland who finds a job that pays 70% of what he or she made in the fish plant. That would have to be near or at minimum wage, which a person, let alone a family, cannot be expected to survive on. On top of that, there are the added expenses I mentioned earlier: daycare, fuel, that sort of thing. I repeat: it is a race to the bottom. More people would probably draw from provincial welfare just to get by, placing a larger fiscal burden on the provinces.
I will summarize the Conservative plan for Atlantic Canada for outport Newfoundland and Labrador.
First, walk away from the fish and pretend that the stocks never existed, with no recovery plan and no rebuilding targets. The same goes for the Conservative pretense of supporting the seal harvest.
Second, abandon the fishermen. Examples of that would include the potential elimination of owner-operator fleet separation policies, which would essentially kill the traditional inshore fishery. Another example is the steady deterioration of search and rescue services, although the Conservatives are spreading a vicious rumour that the Italians are actually picking up the slack on marine medical calls. Another is the cuts to ACOA, which mean regional development boards are basically on their way out, as is any presence of the federal Department Fisheries and Oceans following continuous cuts to science and management.
First it was the fish, and now it is the fishermen. Where is the consultation? The Conservatives have a habit of pulling legislation out of the air and ramming it down the throats of Canadians. We see it as they raise the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. There was no talk of that during the last federal election. That has made people scared. There was no talk of these EI changes either. In fact, there was no consultation with Canadians, period.
Elizabeth Beale is the president of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council. She states:
These are important policy changes and we need a full policy discussion.
Good luck with that, I say. It will not happen with this Conservative government.
Beale makes another great point. She says:
What's being missed in this discussion and missed in the national dialogue is the inference that Atlantic Canadians don't want to work.
Members will recognize that idea, the idea that unemployment rates are high and therefore Atlantic Canadians want to stay home and twiddle their fingers, but as Beale said,
The reality is completely different.
We need to keep in mind that the has said Atlantic Canada has “a culture of defeat”. That quote still rings in the ears of Atlantic Canadians.
The changes to EI would reduce the incomes of people in rural communities who are older and unable to take jobs elsewhere. That is a fact. That is the reality.
Kathy Dunderdale, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, has said:
There seems to be a real disconnect between what the federal government is trying to achieve and the reality of people's lives in rural parts of the country—particularly here in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, much of our rural areas are dependent on the fishery—what is left of it—and tourism. Both are seasonal, so these changes would hurt economically sensitive areas.
First it was the fishery, and now it is the fishermen.
It would seem to me that the time of the Conservative government would be better spent in implementing a rebuilding plan for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. It would seem to me that the time of the Conservative government would be better spent in dropping plans to eliminate the owner-operator fleet separation policies. It would seem to me that the time of the Conservative government would be better spent giving people hope for the future, hope for our culture and heritage—hope, not punishment on top of punishment.
Years ago the said that Atlantic Canada has a culture of defeat, but it is the Conservatives who are defeatist toward us. They are defeatist, out of touch, and out of luck come the next election.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to support the motion of the hon. member for , which reads:
That this House call on the Conservative government to abandon plans to further restrict access to Employment Insurance for Canadian workers who have followed the rules and who will now be forced to choose between taking a pay cut of up to 30% or losing their Employment Insurance benefits.
I support this motion. It is necessary to do so because we have before us Bill , a budget implementation bill that we call the Trojan Horse bill because there are so many things hidden in it. It is extremely controversial for this reason as well as others. It contains far too much. We have said many times that this bill should be split into at least five parts. It cannot be examined in the proper committee because the Standing Committee on Finance is discussing the environment. This bill should be examined by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities or the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. It needs to be examined in the proper place.
Moreover, the Conservatives are limiting debate. They are not only reducing the time the committees have to debate this bill, but they are also passing time allocation motions in the House. Once again, the Conservatives are trying to distract Canadians while they impose major, negative changes on them. By way of evidence, did the Conservatives talk about changes to environmental law, old age security and employment insurance during the election campaign? No. They did not say a word about those issues. They hid their intentions throughout the election campaign.
Let us now discuss the section of Bill that deals with employment insurance, which is also very controversial. Members of Parliament have to vote without having received much information. The said that she has not yet announced the details as she wants to make sure that the bill passes first.
What details are we talking about? Just trifles; for example, the definition of suitable employment or the acceptable distance to be travelled. The bill abolishes the existing definitions, but when we ask for clarification and new definitions, the information is very vague. For example, a reasonable commuting time is said to be one hour. Is that one hour by car? If I drive for one hour, I will be halfway to Montreal.
What about the people in remote areas who do not own cars? Will they also have to travel one hour by car? In some parts of my riding, there are far fewer north-south public transit routes. Will these people have to spend one hour on the bus? How will it work? We do not know. In short, major changes to employment insurance are hidden inside a mammoth bill. Once again, the Conservatives are controlling the debate on the bill. That is not all.
When we listen to what some of the Conservatives are saying we can hear the contempt they have for employment insurance recipients. During her appearance yesterday at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, the said that the government was working on removing disincentives to work. She added that it is question of improving the federal system in order to ensure that Canadians better understand what is expected of them when they receive employment insurance benefits.
Such comments suggest that EI recipients are abusing the system. There are indeed people who abuse the system, but they are the exception. Not everyone abuses the system, but they are being treated as though they do. I invite the Conservatives to come to Hochelaga and see what life is really like, what people really need. Employment insurance is a social safety net that was established decades ago to respond to a real need. This tool that Canadians created to be used when they need help is getting a bad rap from the Conservatives. I wonder sometimes whether they really know anyone who is poor.
Let us now talk in greater detail about the changes proposed by the Conservatives and the ensuing problems. Take job search, for example. The government says that it is going to send out emails about available jobs twice a day.
I knocked on a lot of doors during the election campaign. When I told people to consult our website to learn more about the NDP platform, they would often tell me that they did not have Internet access, that they could not afford it or that they did not have a computer. They could have gone to the library, but the Conservative government has cut the community access program, so there are a lot fewer computers available in libraries.
The hon. members might recall that, a few months ago, the Service Canada job search website did not work for a number of weeks. So what happens in those types of situations? Are the people going to be penalized? But one of the biggest problems—and we are going to hear about it a lot—is the impact on the regions and on seasonal work. Let us talk about seasonal work. Seasonal workers are often highly skilled workers. You cannot just drag people around from job to job.
Under the proposed measures, these people could be forced to leave their skilled occupations or their regions or both. As an example, a witness who raises silver foxes recently appeared before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. That industry has a six-month season and he has one employee who has very specific expertise and who returns every year.
This employer told us that if his employee did not come back, he would not know what to do or where to find another employee with that kind of expertise. The witness also told us that the same is true in horticulture and livestock farming.
In-school child care services are another example. Do we really want to have to look for new child care providers every year? Do we want people with a lot less experience looking after our children every year?
Every January and February, only a few groups came to visit the museum where I used to work. As a result, at least 10 of the 20 guides would not get any hours. Zero. So they needed employment insurance every year. Since those guides have been there for three or four years, they would automatically fall into the new category of frequent claimants. This means that if they have not found another job after six weeks, they would have to accept work at 70% of their previous hourly wage or they would no longer be entitled to employment insurance.
By the way, in Quebec, 15% of employment insurance claimants are seasonal workers. Instead of a short-term and repressive view for reducing the unemployment rate, perhaps there might be other options. For example, we could invest in training. But no, the Conservatives are making cuts to training.
I have two examples from the recent budget. First, we see cuts of $44 million—so, 64.7%—to contributions that help older unemployed workers in communities with a high unemployment rate or those affected by downsizing. Then, transfer payments to apprenticeship incentive grants and apprenticeship completion grants, worth $155 million, are being cancelled completely. It makes no sense.
Furthermore, when the government gives grants to large companies, perhaps it could ensure that jobs are created quickly—in Canada, not in Mexico or the United States—and that the companies do not take the money before relocating elsewhere, which is what Caterpillar and Electrolux did.
I have three more comments to make before I wrap up. First, employment insurance is fully funded by employees and employers. It belongs to employees and employers. What is the point of paying into it if you are not allowed to use it? It would be like buying a car and not being allowed to drive it.
The new definition of suitable employment suggested by the minister is at odds with the International Labour Organization's, which says that a government seeking to promote employment and guard against unemployment should take into account the claimant's training, experience and qualifications.
The third and final point I would like to make is that by forcing workers to take lower-paying, less fulfilling jobs that they are likely to quit more rapidly, the government will increase rather than decrease poverty.
I would like to reiterate what I said at the beginning of my remarks: this motion is important and must be adopted.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the .
As many government members have already stated, we cannot support a factually incorrect motion.
I would like to drill down on some of the details of what our government is actually proposing with this legislation.
The changes we will make will ensure that unemployed Canadians are made aware of all available work in their local labour markets within their skill set. However, if there is no available work within their skill set, then EI will be there to support them. It always has been there to support them and always will be there to support them.
As indicated in Bill , the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act, the government intends to establish clear definitions for suitable employment and reasonable job search. Please note that these improvements can only apply to Canadians receiving regular EI benefits and EI fishing benefits. They will not apply to Canadians receiving EI for special benefits, such as maternity, parental, compassionate, or sickness.
Let me focus on suitable employment for a moment.
Several factors will affect the definition for suitable employment. These factors will include, first and foremost, the personal circumstances of that person who applies. This is a point that the opposition members have been very ignorant on as they attempt to scare Canadians with respect to the impact of these changes. As a member of Parliament from Atlantic Canada, I want to assure my constituents that the personal circumstances of an EI claimant will always be taken into account when determining what is considered suitable employment.
Claimants receiving EI will not have to accept work if they have a health problem that prevents them from taking a particular job, or if they have family obligations that prevent them from working at certain times of the day or if they have limited transportation options for commuting them to and from work. If they are not physically capable of performing work, they will not be required to take that job.
As the stressed again at committee yesterday, these changes would be implemented in a fair, practical and reasonable way.
What has not been reasonable is for the opposition to enlist in a campaign of fearmongering on topics such as commuting time. Under our proposed changes, a workplace must be within an hour's commute unless the claimant's previous commuting history and the community's average commuting times are longer than that. It is simple common sense.
Let me focus on the two criteria for suitable employment that are drawing the most attention. They are the type of work and the wages that are considered reasonable. In determining what criteria apply, EI claimants will be placed in one of three categories: long-tenured workers, frequent claimants and occasional claimants.
Let me take a few moments to define each of these categories.
Long-tenured workers are those who have paid into the EI system for seven of the past 10 years and who over the last five years have collected EI or fishing benefits for 35 weeks or less. These workers would be initially required to look for a similar job that would pay for 90% of their previous wages. After 18 weeks on EI benefits, long-tenured workers would be required to expand their job search to jobs within the field of one they previously held and to apply for jobs that would be above 80% of their previous wages.
Frequent claimants are those who have had three or more claims for regular or fishing benefits and have collected more than 60 weeks of EI benefits in the past five years. They would be required to expand their job search to jobs similar to the job they normally performed from the start of their EI claim. They would also be required to look for work that paid wages starting at 80% of their previous hourly wage. After receiving benefits for six weeks, they would need to expand their search to any work they would be qualified to perform so long as the wages would be within 70% of their previous employment.
Occasional claimants would include those not captured by the definitions of frequent and long-tenured workers. Occasional claimants would be allowed to limit their job search for their usual occupation, with similar wages of at least 90% of their previous hour wage for the first six weeks of their claim. After receiving benefits for six weeks, they would have to expand their job search to jobs similar to the one they normally performed, with wages that would be within 80% of their previous earnings. After 18 weeks, they would then need to further expand their job search to include any work they would be qualified to perform, as long as the wage would be at least 70% of their previous earnings.
It is a sad testament to fearmongering in which the opposition has engaged that I feel the need to point out the obvious, which is that no one would ever need to accept employment below minimum wage in Canada. The simple truth is that under these changes, EI claimants will always make more money working than by collecting EI, which is currently not the case.
As many people know, employment insurance pays 55% of an individual's average weekly income. The maximum annual salary used to calculate the weekly average is $45,900 per year. Therefore, if an individual is a frequent claimant and a reasonable job search will offer at least 70% of previous earnings, that is a substantial increase over 55% of the earnings that would be collected on EI.
This is why the opposition motion we are debating in the House today is factually incorrect. Canadians receiving EI will only be required to look for work that pays significantly more than they are currently collecting on EI. It is a net benefit to claimants.
Let me also be clear on a further point. As a Canadian from Atlantic Canada, I understand that in many small communities there may not always be economic opportunities outside peak seasons of employment. The has been perfectly clear on this point. If there are no available jobs in one's community, EI benefits will continue to support Canadians as they always have.
Let me turn briefly to the topic of a reasonable job search.
Canadians receiving EI benefits will be required to undertake job search activities, including researching and assessing job prospects, drafting a resumé, searching for job vacancies, applying for positions, attending interviews and undertaking other efforts to improve their employability, such as attending workshops, going to employment agencies and also job fairs.
EI claimants will also be required to look for a job daily and to keep records of their job searches. These search efforts will be consistent with the opportunities that are available. For example, in a community with few job openings, a job search should focus on identifying new opportunities and not applying for the same job or to the same business every day. In comparison, a job search in an area with numerous job opportunities should focus on both identifying and applying for available positions.
As part of the investment we are making under this initiative, EI claimants will be made aware of local jobs in their local labour market.
These improvements to EI will help more Canadians get back into the labour force and enable them to better support themselves and their families.
Unfortunately, we have seen the opposition attempt to play politics of fear and to confuse Canadians into believing some of these things are not true. Sadly, this is not the first time we have seen members of the opposition ignore clear realities of the Canadian economy in order to advance their narrow interests.
I would ask all hon. members in the House to support our government's plan for jobs, growth and economic prosperity. This is the reason Canada is leading the G8 in growth of 750,000 net new jobs created since the depth of the recession in July 2009. Therefore, I encourage members to join me in voting against this factually incorrect motion.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to address this House today in support of an initiative that will allow our workers to find jobs more quickly.
I would first like to congratulate the hon. member for . The hon. member is from New Brunswick and I am from Quebec, of course. He clearly showed that the program is beneficial for his region. It is a win-win situation.
It is certainly a win for our employers in Bellechasse and Les Etchemins who need people. We are hiring in Bellechasse and Les Etchemins. People are coming from Quebec City and Montreal. We even have people from outside the country. One of the companies I am thinking of is Exceldor, where most of the workers in one of the production facilities come from every corner of the world.
We need workers. We need an active workforce in Bellechasse and Les Etchemins right now, and in Lévis too. That is why we want to create tools so that workers in search of jobs, people who are temporarily out of work or out of the labour market, can have access to the jobs that are available.
Is it not bizarre that the New Democrats, who say they want to help working people, want to stop them from finding jobs? Have you thought about how illogical their position is, today, when they oppose the idea of job seekers finding a job?
Fortunately, here on the government side, we have created 750,000 jobs. Why? Because we have companies that are not suffocated by taxes and operate in a context of prosperity that benefits all of us here in Canada. This country is the envy of many others in the OECD. That means that our is praised both in Europe and by all the big economic decision-makers.
So the measure we are proposing today is a win-win measure. I would like to explain why. First, it enables working people who are looking for jobs to have easier access to the pool of jobs available in their immediate environment. There are tools like the Internet, for example, or various communication tools. That is why we are investing. In fact, we are investing $21 million. Today, we need only look to the extensive use being made of communication tools by the new generation, in particular, whether that be the Internet, social networking or the various communication systems available to us.
Essentially, with what is called Job Alert, we will be able to inform people who are looking for work about jobs available in their area. That is the first measure. It must be remembered that the employment insurance system is in fact Canada’s largest labour market access program. It is therefore important to ensure that it is on the leading edge of the technology. That is one of the first things our program does. It connects workers with the jobs available. That will apply everywhere, throughout Canada.
It means that Canadians who are receiving employment insurance benefits will receive daily notices of job postings from a variety of sources, so they are aware of jobs that are available in their region. So far, this is a measure that should gain the unanimous approval of the parliamentarians who are here today.
The second measure is also sensible and intelligent. It aims to ensure that if there are jobs available in regions, workers who have the skills to fill those jobs will be able to access them. That means that instead of receiving employment insurance benefits, which provide only a fraction of the income they were making, workers will be able to earn additional income.
Because of this measure, workers who are looking for a job will be able to temporarily, or, you never know, perhaps over the longer term, work at jobs that will put more money in their pockets. It is another measure that is very sensible and warrants the approval of all parliamentarians. The purpose of the measure is to enable workers to connect with jobs that are available and to tell people seeking work that there are opportunities for them in their area that will enable them to obtain additional income besides employment insurance benefits.
So I think that it is important to tell those who are watching us today that it is a reasonable measure, one that is beneficial to workers because it enables them to earn additional income and thereby have more money in their pockets. For example, during the off-season, if there are jobs available, seasonal workers will be able to fill these jobs. That will give them access to more ready income to support their families. This is the second measure in this reform being put forward by our , a measure that will be very beneficial to all regions across the country.
The third factor is that there are currently jobs that are not necessarily filled by Canadians. Foreign workers are even brought in to fill these positions. Would it not make more sense to first offer these jobs to Canadians? It is very simple. There are jobs available here in Canada. We have Canadian workers who have the skills to fill these jobs.
So before offering them to foreign workers, would it not be logical to develop mechanisms to ensure that these jobs here in Canada are first offered to Canadians and filled by Canadians? It strikes me as a rather basic principle that should gain the assent of every parliamentarian in this House.
To summarize, there are three important principles. The first is to connect available jobs to workers. The second, which is equally important, is of course to ensure that the jobs available in our regions are first filled by Canadian workers. Of course our country, which welcomes people from many nations, will continue to be happy to offer some jobs to other countries. These are straightforward measures.
We want to ensure that it is fair for all Canadians and that it provides the right level of support given the availability of jobs wherever they happen to live.
At the same time, we are proposing new EI measures that will help EI claimants to get back to work more quickly. Our government is committed to making targeted, common sense changes to the EI system so that Canadians are better encouraged and supported in their job search.
Canada's well-trained and highly educated workforce is one of our key advantages in competing and succeeding in the global economy. However, too often barriers or disincentives discourage workforce participation. We are making changes to ensure that the EI system better supports employers who have jobs to fill and we are also going to ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not.
We are investing $21 million over a two-year period in new targeted measures to help unemployed Canadians find jobs more quickly.
I must say that we realize that some Canadians have a hard time finding employment, especially when there is no work during the slow season that some regions experience. Today, those people can rest assured that if there are no jobs available, they will be entitled to their benefits.
This is a balanced initiative, and I encourage every member of the House to support it because this is what we need to ensure that our workers have more money in their pockets.
Mr. Speaker, it is disheartening.
The member talks as if farmers were not aware that Canadians cannot do that work. The government is creating categories of workers and it is also creating cheap labour.
We should not think that foreign workers are not an important asset to our economy. Right now, in this debate, some rather despicable labels are being used, if I may say so.
The problem is that while the government may want to connect workers with jobs, it is disconnecting them from their region. That is the real issue. If we want to be compassionate towards seasonal workers, if we want to understand how tourism, agriculture, forestry or fishery works, we must first understand that there are meteorological and regional realities.
Instead, the government is taking action without consulting the provinces. Of course, it will be able to say that EI numbers have gone down, because there will be more welfare recipients. And if there are more people on welfare, it means the provinces will have to bear the burden. The money always comes from the same pockets.
Why did the government not consult? Instead of overreacting, it could have developed a strategy for seasonal workers before creating cheap labour and telling people to move to regions where there is work available.
Will the Conservatives also provide the train ticket?
Mr. Speaker, I am not at all pleased to be rising in the House today. In general, I am happy, indeed very happy to be here, but I am less happy to have to debate this issue.
I will say at the outset that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
I would like to go back a few years in time to the root of the matter to remind hon. members that the problem we are facing today has been fabricated. It has been created by those who are now exploiting it for the purpose of making decisions that are truly contemptuous of Canadians in general, more particularly Canadians who are currently having trouble finding a job.
If, a few years ago, the Liberal and Conservative governments had not dipped into this fund, which Canadian workers paid into out of their own pockets, it would now stand at more than $50 billion and not be an underfinanced fund of less than $2 billion. Now, the government can exploit the idea that the fund needs attention because it will be short of money. It can say that people are abusing this paltry sum of $2 billion. Collectively, we had produced a $50 billion cushion, but it is no longer there. If we had that money today, we could introduce a pilot project to help the regions solve the problems the seasonal industries are facing. There would not be a problem.
There could be a major reform to do exactly what countries with few human resource problems, such as Germany and Norway, are currently doing: focus on ensuring the money is used for their obsession with ongoing training. That is the key. In Germany and Norway, when someone wants to take a course, they do not take away his employment insurance benefits if that course serves economic needs. If someone does not know how to read but wants to learn, he does not lose his benefits. He is asked if he is able to learn to read within a certain number of weeks. Those countries have understood that if they support their citizens in learning basic skills or trades that are in great demand, the entire community will be more prosperous in the short and medium terms.
If Canada had the $50 billion in its possession right now, it could start establishing those policies across Canada and see Canada become as prosperous as Norway and Germany.
I would like to remind the House that the two countries in question are not at the same end of the spectrum. The Norwegians are clearly social democrats, but the situation is not that clear in Germany. However, both countries share this obsession with ongoing training and use job search tools with a view to training people. And yet they are stuck in an economic quagmire much worse than ours.
The U.S. economy is struggling to get back on its feet, but it is not a disaster. Yet, these two economies are located close to partners, Greece and Spain, which are having major problems and are on the verge of economic disaster. Despite this terrible mess, they are succeeding with fewer human resource problems and a level of prosperity that is comparable or superior to our own. They have not used tools as big as $50 billion to help people prepare for employment. This money was squandered on all sorts of things, so that now this government can exploit the bogus underfunding of what should have been a major tool for Canada’s prosperity.
Now we have before us Bill , which reduces human resource and environmental problems to budgetary issues. The budget will fix everything.
I made an important note to myself: the budget is the top priority. The proof of this is that the vast majority of NDP governments in the provinces have an exemplary roadmap enabling them to deliver balanced budgets, with a few rare exceptions. Overall, the NDP has been more successful in this regard than other provincial governments. It is a top priority.
The problem, when it comes to the big issues and the major responsibilities in society—the environment and human resources—is that when things are limited to a budgetary analysis, it is easy to lose sight of the investment and sustainability side of things.
This is normal. If I am responsible for the budget, the only question I ask myself is whether I can save $2 tomorrow. I want to save $2 tomorrow. I do not ask myself whether that $2 is going to cost us $25 in terms of loss of skills and investments for the future. Bill , the mammoth budget bill, reduces hugely important responsibilities, such as the environment and human resources, to a simple budgetary calculation, and nothing lacks long-term vision more than that.
My next comments will focus on what is happening in the regions. Since I was elected, Service Canada centres have actually been closed in the regions despite the fact that in the last election campaign the Conservative Party unveiled with great fanfare, in Quebec at least, a slogan that read “power to the regions”—that vaguely reminded me of slogans from a gentleman by the name of Duplessis, in Quebec—and despite the fact that for 40 days they plastered telephone poles with the slogan. In towns in my riding, 20%, 25% or 30% of the postal services have been closed.
We have just learned that there will be a 50% cut in rail service between Halifax and Toronto. Why not? The government is going to hit the tourism industry hard. Why not also arrange things so that fewer tourists can take the night train to go and spend a week in the maritime provinces or Quebec? Why not? An excellent idea, good timing, terrific.
And now here we are, dealing with this employment insurance reform that deals a huge blow to the tourism industry, which by its very nature is highly seasonal. Many regions are extremely attractive in the summer, but not in winter. They therefore find it difficult to develop. Even the most brilliant business people in these regions are unable to develop a 12-month cycle. Believe me, if they could they would. These are business people and they are brilliant. If there was a way to come up with an initiative that would be the least bit viable in December, January and February, they would do it.
For almost a month now, in my role as the NDP critic for SMEs and tourism, I have met with many people from Quebec and the maritime provinces. I met with Minister Paris in Nova Scotia. And of course, I met with the organizations in my own bailiwick, such as Tourisme Rivière-du-Loup. I met with the people who handle tourism for the Acadians, those who administer tourism for all of Newfoundland and Labrador and all of Nova Scotia, and those who handle special tourism development projects in southern Nova Scotia.
I met with dozens of organizations. Fully one-third of them said that they were worried. Two-thirds told me that they were truly angry about the decisions currently being made. They all said that they had never been consulted. We are talking about an industry that is worth billions of dollars. We are talking about close to $1 billion for New Brunswick alone, approximately $2 billion for Nova Scotia and over $5 billion for eastern Quebec. We are talking about a multi-billion dollar industry that necessarily goes through difficult economic cycles. The people in this industry are therefore directly affected by the kind of employment insurance reforms that are going to be forced down the throats of Canadians, even though they were never consulted.
The current government is telling them not to worry because of the so-called “reasonable””clause. They put the word “reasonable” in their bill. The word means absolutely nothing if it is not defined first. It will be reasonable based on what and from whose point of view? I will give just one example of something impossible.
Like me, a senior Conservative government official from eastern Canada asked the question, and he had no more of an answer than I did. Let us imagine a hotel manager who, in the four winter months, loses 80% of his business. It is a seasonal industry and there is no ski hill beside his inn. Will he work at the corner hardware store for four months?
The businessman who owns the corner hardware store knows that the hotel manager is a bright man and, for years, he has not hired him for those four months because it is not cost-effective to give him two months of training for him to learn all about paint, when he will then leave to go back to the hotel.
Business people in the regions are not idiots. They are bright people. I find this government extraordinarily presumptuous when it says that it will establish a system that will finally work for them.
Mr. Speaker, we are in the House to discuss a motion by the official opposition concerning employment insurance.
Our motion essentially asks the Conservative government to abandon its plans to further restrict access to employment insurance. The proposed changes arise from Bill to implement the budget. In addition to containing no job creation measures and triggering the dismissal of tens of thousands of public servants, the latest Conservative budget tightens access to employment insurance by giving the the authority to create new rules to define what constitutes “suitable employment” and “reasonable and customary efforts to obtain suitable employment.” That appears in a budget of more than 400 pages.
Incidentally, the minister refuses to provide all the details of her reform, but is asking us to vote for Bill , which will give her the authority to change the employment insurance plan as she wishes. She is in fact asking us to sign a blank cheque.
We do not have all the details of this reform. However, on May 24, the minister tried to clarify the government's intentions in part, although without disclosing all the details. Essentially, unemployed workers are now more than ever being compelled to find a job outside their area of activity and their area of residence.
We also know that the government will establish three classes of workers based on the frequency with which they file employment insurance claims. After receiving benefits for a certain period of time, unemployed workers will be required to accept lower-paying jobs or else their benefits will be reduced. Frequent claimants, who have filed three or more claims and received more than 60 weeks of benefits in the past five years, will, after a period of time, be required to accept jobs at 70% of their previous earnings. We find those changes unacceptable for a number of reasons.
The main problem with this reform is that it disregards the fact that many businesses operate on a seasonal cycle, particularly those in the tourism, agri-food, forest and other sectors. Seasonal industry makes a major contribution to economic activity. What would Lac-Saint-Jean be without forestry? Where would eastern Quebec be without the fisheries? What would Quebec City and a number of Quebec communities be without the economic contribution of tourists? These industries and the workers who support them contribute to the economic growth of Quebec and the rest of Canada. It is essential that the federal government acknowledge through its programs that these sectors are important and legitimate.
For lack of adequate coverage by the employment insurance program, many workers are abandoning these sectors of activity, leaving business people without skilled workers. For example, Le Quai des Bulles, a Kamouraska business employing a dozen seasonal workers, is afraid it will lose workers as a result of the reform. It is important to understand that 26% of employment insurance claims are filed by seasonal workers, and 30% of those are Quebeckers.
I will be pleased to continue my speech after question period.