The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to advise you that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am pleased to speak today to the motion that has been introduced by the NDP in regard to the employment insurance working while on claim pilot project. It would be nice to get some facts on the record instead of just fearmongering.
While the opposition parties continue to pursue their misguided economic policies, such as a 45-day work year or a $20 billion carbon tax on everything, our government remains firmly focused on jobs, growth and economic prosperity. That is why we are aiming to help Canadians be better off working than not, with our changes to the employment insurance program. In economic action plan 2012, we introduced a number of improvements to the EI system, which I must remind folks is a temporary income support for Canadians who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
The measures we announced ensure that the employment insurance system is better adapted to the needs of Canadians, and is more flexible and fair. These measures also ensure that the system helps Canadians remain active in the labour market and find a job more rapidly.
A new national approach to calculating EI rates will come into effect in April of next year to replace the old “best 14 weeks” pilot project, as it was known. Building on and learning from that pilot project, as we always try to do, the new approach will finally mean that regions with similar employment levels will be treated similarly. That only makes sense.
We are also stepping up our efforts to better connect Canadians with jobs that are available within their range of skills in their local area and to clarify their responsibilities while on EI. In addition, we announced a new working while on claim pilot project, which came into effect on August 5. As I have said all along, this pilot project aims to increase how much Canadians can work and earn while collecting EI. After all, we truly are facing significant skills and labour shortages in every part of this country, even in areas with high unemployment, and we need all of our talent at work.
We need to encourage Canadians to work, not discourage them. We know that the previous pilot project did discourage people from accepting more work because of the low-level cap that was placed on how much they could earn and still protect their EI benefits. Therefore we made efforts to change that, and it has been proven in study after study that people can find a permanent job much more rapidly if they continue to be active in the labour market. That part-time work, I should point out, often leads directly to full-time work for them. Our intention with the working while on claim pilot project is to promote workforce attachment by encouraging people to accept available work while they are on EI. That only makes sense.
I remind hon. colleagues that this pilot project provides the opportunity to test measures designed to encourage unemployed Canadians to work more while on claim. I will explain.
Under the system's previous provisions, employment insurance claimants who found a part-time job or occasional employment saw their benefits reduced by $1 for every dollar earned, once they earned the equivalent of 40% of their benefits or $75. The maximum applied. Everything they earned after that had to be given back to the government.
From a financial standpoint, it was not advantageous to them to accept work that paid more than this threshold.
Essentially, this meant that after one day of work while on claim, working additional hours or days did not pay at all. In fact, in many cases, the worker incurred expenses such as travel for putting in that extra work effort. No wonder then that workers were reluctant to take part-time work when this often led them to being no better off than they were before.
The opposition loves to use examples regarding this project, so let me use one.
Take Tracy, a salesperson who gets laid off and receives $264 in EI benefits per week, which represents 55% of her previous salary. Tracy finds three shifts of work that pay her $12 an hour, around minimum wage, for a total of $288 per week. Under the old rules, Tracy could earn the equivalent of 40% of her weekly EI benefits before having her pay clawed back dollar for dollar. This meant that despite having found a job that could pay $288 a week, Tracy had no incentive to earn more than $106 a week, or 40% of her weekly benefit. Why? Because her EI would be deducted dollar for dollar after that amount. Therefore, her combined income from temporary employment and EI would come to a total of $370. Under the new rules, Tracy gets to keep 50% of every dollar she earns. Using the same example, her combined weekly income would be $408. That is $38 more than under the previous regime.
If they have the choice, Canadians would rather work. As I have said before, statistics show that those who stay connected with the labour market stand a much better chance of finding full-time permanent work than those who do not.
The opposition is against our efforts to help connect Canadians with jobs available in their regions. We know that the best way to fight poverty is to ensure people have jobs. This is why we are proud of the 770,000 net new jobs that have been created since the end of the recession.
Our overall strategy with this pilot, and with all of the measures that we have announced in budget 2012, is to strengthen the EI program as well as the economy. We will always work to ensure that our programs fulfill our goals. The working while on claim pilot makes it possible for Canadians to get more money working than they would if they were to collect EI alone.
We will continue to work to ensure that it is always better for Canadians to work than not.
What we will not do though is allow the NDP to impose a job-killing carbon tax that would ensure that Canadians would have to pay more for their heat, their gas and their food. That will not make them and their families better off.
This pilot though is a perfect example of how we are making things better, better for recipients, better for their families and better for their communities.
This measure encourages Canadians to remain active in the labour market and eliminates factors that deter people from finding a job.
That is why our government will not be supporting this flawed and misleading motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the government to respond to the motion by the New Democrat Party in respect to the working while on claim pilot project.
This pilot project will allow people receiving employment insurance benefits to keep 50% of what they earn while receiving benefits. We believe this will encourage Canadians to accept more available work while on benefits and will ensure Canadians are better off working than not.
Our government is making improvements to Employment Insurance so it will work better for all Canadians. For too long there have been too many disincentives in the EI system that discourages Canadians who want to work from getting back to work.
The purpose of this EI pilot project is to test an approach and allow the Conservative government to determine whether more Canadians are encouraged to accept available work while receiving benefits.
This is a pilot project to encourage EI claimants to pursue and accept all opportunities to work. We are working to ensure EI fulfill the objectives of the Conservative government.
The intent of the working while on claim pilot project is to help EI claimants stay connected to the labour market, while they are looking for permanent full-time work.
Page 147 of the economic action plan 2012 states, “This new pilot project will cut the current clawback rate in half and apply it to all earnings made while on claim”.
Under a previous pilot project, EI recipients who had part-time or occasional work saw their benefits reduced dollar for dollar once they earned $75 or 40% of their weekly benefit amount, whichever was greater. Once they hit this cap, their wages were clawed back 100% from their benefits. As a result, many workers were not interested in accepting available work beyond the 40% threshold.
Canada cannot afford such disincentives to working. While on EI benefits, Canada needs people working. Canada is already facing labour and skill shortages in many regions and occupations. Overall, the Canadian population is aging. Canada has led the G7 in economic grow and that is creating jobs that need workers.
The shortage of workers is not only in Alberta. In Labrador City, for example, there is such a shortage of workers to fill jobs in new mining projects that restaurants cannot stay open and the municipality cannot find enough people to maintain the roads.
Canadians are pleased with the Conservative government's approach. They see the modifications to working while on claim as an improvement that helps workers transition back into the labour market more smoothly.
We believe this pilot project will motivate people to work more since work will pay at the same rate no matter how much income is received.
We want to encourage Canadians on EI to work because study after study shows that part-time work often leads to full-time work. Having a job to go to, even if it is only for a few hours a week, helps workers maintain their skills and keeps them in touch with developments in their fields. It offers the opportunity to make contacts and to hear about other available jobs.
These changes cannot be considered in isolation. This Conservative government has brought in several changes to EI recently to strength the initiatives to accept all available work.
For example, under the connecting Canadians with available jobs initiative, we are enhancing the content and frequency of job alerts and labour market information bulletins for people on EI. Sadly, the New Democrats and the Liberals voted against this much needed and important initiative.
We are also improving coordination between EI and the temporary foreign worker program so Canadians can learn about job vacancies and be considered for positions before employers hire foreign workers.
While it is clear that this Conservative government's focus is on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, the NDP and its leader are fixated on a job-killing carbon tax that would raise the price of everything for Canadians, including gasoline that they need to get to work. Sadly, the people most affected by this would be lower income Canadians.
This Conservative government has worked hard to reduce taxes for all Canadians. That is why we are proud to say that we have taken over one million Canadians off the tax rolls.
The EI program is designed to be a support on the job market, not an alternative to it. Surely my colleagues on all sides of the House will agree that Canadians would rather be working than not.
Unfortunately in some regions that are heavily reliant on seasonal economies, employment insurance is a much-needed support measure. I want to assure Canadians in those regions that employment insurance benefits will be there for them. We have made changes to the best weeks program to ensure that they are not penalized for working partial weeks in the off-season or if they take a lower paying job just to bring in some extra income.
The Conservative government has found the balance between providing adequate income to the unemployed and encouraging them to get back into the workforce. Pilot projects like working while on claim do just that.
Canadians are always better off working than not. We need to remove the barriers that prevent people from fully participating in the labour market. This Conservative government is committed to making targeted common sense changes that encourage Canadians to stay active in the job market and remove the disincentives to work.
That is why I will not be supporting the opposition motion put forward today.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time here today with the hon. member for .
That said, I would like to answer the question myself.
Someone who earns $75 will make less money at the end of the day, that much is certain. I did the math regarding someone who earns $300 a week, and that person would have $30 less per week. So the answer to that question is that that individual earns less money, not more. That is clear. The Conservatives should learn how to count.
I am pleased to rise here today to speak to the NDP motion moved by the hon. member for , the official opposition EI critic. I would like to thank her on behalf of my constituents in Hochelaga.
My colleagues from and could definitely join me in speaking at length about the current situation in the east end of Montreal Island, where many residents and their families are still suffering from the effects of the last recession and the many plant closures in the manufacturing sector.
I cannot help but think of the impending closure of the Mabe plant in my riding of Hochelaga. Over the next two years, several hundred more high-paying jobs—700 jobs—will disappear. This is in addition to the closure of the Shell refinery in Montreal East, which also employed many skilled and highly paid workers.
It goes without saying that the changes made to EI by the Conservative government in its Trojan Horse bill do nothing to help workers and their families. On the contrary, they continue the work started by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, which was carried on by the Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin Liberals.
It is quite interesting to go over some of the history of the misappropriation of the unemployment insurance system, which, ironically, is now called the “employment insurance” system.
In 1990, the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney permanently withdrew from funding employment insurance, clearly showing the government's unwillingness to intervene in problems having to do with unemployment and employment. From then on, workers and employers had to fund the program on their own. Changes to employment insurance also significantly changed the rules of eligibility for benefits.
On March 26, 1993, the Liberal leader, Jean Chrétien, who was the leader of the official opposition in the House of the Commons at the time, wrote the following, and rightly so I might add, in a letter to opponents of the Conservative bill to amend the Unemployment Insurance Act:
The Liberals are dismayed by these measures. By reducing benefits and further penalizing those who voluntarily leave their jobs, clearly the Conservative government cares very little for the victims of the economic crisis. Instead of attacking the real problem, it is attacking the unemployed.
Nonetheless, hopes raised by these comments and the 1993 election campaign were dashed. When the Liberals came to power, they changed their tune entirely, proclaiming that unemployment insurance created unemployment and that the legislation needed changing in order to deal with those who “stay home drinking beer”. I am quoting what the Prime Minister said in an article published in Le Devoir on April 21, 1993.
The government walked away from its responsibility to create jobs. Unemployment became an individual responsibility. In other words, the unemployed had only themselves to blame.
In 1996, the fatal blow was dealt to the Unemployment Insurance Act. It was abolished and replaced with the Employment Insurance Act, which once again narrowed eligibility criteria and reduced the benefit rate.
To add insult to injury, since the mid-1990s, the Liberal and Conservative governments have been misappropriating tens of billions of dollars from the employment insurance fund in order to balance their budgets, when this fund should be used to compensate the unemployed. First the government hijacked the purpose of the system, then it attacked the fund.
As a result, the fund became unstable and to correct that, employer and employee contributions were increased.
Let us be clear: when premiums go up, when eligibility is restricted, and when the money gets used for purposes other than the intended ones, it looks a lot like a tax.
What are the consequences of all these counter-reforms today?
In July, 508,000 claimants were receiving regular employment insurance benefits, but 1.38 million Canadians were unemployed.
That leaves 870,000 unemployed people without any benefits to make up for their loss of income. That means 57% of unemployed workers are not currently entitled to benefits. This historic record was reached through changes made by successive Conservative and Liberal governments. It is unacceptable.
What are the Conservatives doing to deal with this situation? We cannot truthfully say they are doing nothing, since they really have gone even further in limiting access to the EI system. What are they doing to help workers avoid reliance on the EI system, aside from limiting access to it, of course? Nothing.
The government can brag about creating jobs, but the facts are clear: 300,000 more people are unemployed than before the crash in 2008.
The Conservatives’ 2012 omnibus budget, which they brought down in March, amended dozens of acts having nothing to do with budget implementation, and also amended a number of EI regulations.
For example, the new definition of “suitable employment” means that claimants are obliged to accept employment in another field of work than they worked in previously, and they must accept work quite far from their homes or accept a much lower salary than they were earning before. My colleagues have presented many examples of the unbelievable situations cause by this new interpretation.
And then the and her parliamentary secretary ask us why we voted against their budget.
All these examples make me a little skeptical of the Conservatives’ good faith when it comes to helping workers. Are they completely out of touch with reality?
As for the working while on claim pilot project, it ought to enable EI claimants to add to their income while receiving EI benefits. Pardon us for doubting the minister’s words when she states, as she has a number of times, that most claimants who work while receiving benefits will be better off because of this pilot project.
Obviously, she has never been able to provide us with the numbers to back up her statements. On the other hand, she always gives numbers related to people who work more or who earn higher wages.
Here are the facts. The recovery formula used in the current 2012-15 program is likely to discourage many claimants from part-time work or low-wage work, because some of them will earn less than under the system that was in effect from 2005 to 2012.
The proof is in the amount of money provided for this program. Here are the numbers: in 2009, $141 million was earmarked for the project; in 2010, this amount was $132 million; and in 2011, it amounted to $130 million.
So when the Conservatives say that the new program is better but only $74 million over two years—or $37 million per year—is allocated in the 2012 budget, we have obvious reasons to be skeptical.
The employment insurance system was designed to help workers and their families in the event that they lost their jobs. What I have talked about today clearly shows that the system's initial purpose has been hijacked. The employment insurance fund must be used to provide benefits to unemployed workers and not to balance a budget or impose an additional tax on workers and employers.
I hope that the government will listen to reason and revisits its policies, which clearly attack unemployed workers more than unemployment and have swollen the ranks of the unemployed to more than 1.4 million, including nearly 900,000 workers who have no access to benefits. Otherwise Canadians will have to wait until October 2015 for the first NDP government to deal with the real problems of our society.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her wonderful speech and also for splitting her time, allowing me to speak to this important motion. I also thank the member for for bringing forth this motion. I have had the great pleasure of working with her in the past on the natural resources committee, and I am also pleased to support her fine work here today.
While I was doing my research for this speech, and of course the researchers are very helpful in this area, I happened upon a CANSIM table that looks at the percentage of unemployed people receiving EI regular benefits, stretching from 1976 right through to the current 2012. In 1976, 90% of those people who were unemployed were receiving EI regular benefits. That 90% figure dipped for a while through the 1980s, but also in 1990, 90% of the unemployed were receiving regular benefits. Then we entered into a free fall. We went from 90% eligible down to 80%, down to 70%, down to 60%. In the 2000s, we were under 50%, and currently we are under 40%. That is, only 40% of those people who are unemployed are receiving regular EI benefits.
That really is worrying to me. We are seeing a slow erosion of our social safety net programs. This is very disturbing. We are not seeing it just in this area. We are also seeing it in the old age security program and, looking at the other side, with young people and tuition levels and student loan allowances. It really is an erosion of our social safety net and it is punishing those people who are least able to make up for this lack of help.
Of course I support our motion. It is very important for the Conservatives to reassess what they are doing, not just on this pilot program but in all areas of the social safety net, to make sure Canadians' equality does not span just between groups in the current time but also over time, so that the people born today and in the future have the same opportunities and benefits that Canadians had before them. I am very worried that these programs are eroding what I would call generational justice.
I remind the House of the motion, which states that the new working while on claim pilot project is not benefiting many EI recipients who are able to find employment. In fact for many it creates a disincentive to take part-time work. It is leaving low-income Canadians worse off than before, and really the government needs to take steps to immediately fix this working while on claim project.
The motion stems from Conservative changes to the working while on claim pilot project. Early versions of this program had a clawback formula, which is really what we are talking about. In that, allowable earnings while on claim were equal to the greater of $75 or 40% of weekly benefits. For example, if weekly benefits are $300, the allowable earning would be $120. Earnings above that level were clawed back dollar for dollar. Under the new clawback formula, there are clawbacks of 50¢ on the dollar for every dollar up to 90% of the weekly insurable earnings. Any amount above that 90% of weekly insurable earnings is clawed back dollar for dollar.
It is a bit of bafflegab. We see these things written and they do not make a lot of sense, but when the rubber hits the road that is what really makes the difference. According to the Conservatives, these changes would incentivize all EI recipients to accept new work.
However, we found that the new pilot program discourages part-time or low-paying work for many EI recipients, and many of them will be making less than under the old system. For example, in 2010-2011 the average EI regular benefit was $360 a week; that is for the average person collecting this. That means previous earnings for the EI recipient were about $670 per week.
Under the new system the average EI recipient will have no incentive to accept new work unless that person earns over $300 per week. If the recipient takes one day of work or something like that and does not earn $300, of course he or she is not going to make any money. For example, if the person who made under $300 a week accepted work earning $150 per week, he or she could potentially lose $70 under the new system compared to the old system. Contrary to what we are hearing from the government, the new system would hurt the average EI recipient.
I am particularly concerned about the low earning EI recipient and will let the House know why in a minute, but would first like to clarify the details of the program.
If an EI recipient previously earned $300 per week, then that recipient could earn $165 per week when unemployed and receiving EI. Under the new system the recipient would have no incentive to accept new work unless he or she earned over $125 per week. That means that if this person, a low earning EI recipient, accepted work for $75 per week, he or she would lose $30 under the new system. It does not sound like a lot of money, but in the community where I grew up and to a lot of my constituents in Burnaby--Douglas, losing $30 is a lot. If we talk to anyone who is unemployed, $30 often makes a difference between fresh vegetables and something that is canned, for example.
This also does not include work-related expenses, such as transportation and child care. If these additional expenses were factored in, very few EI recipients would benefit from accepting new work, especially low earning EI recipients.
The effect on low income earners is something I understand very well, because I was once in this category myself. In my early twenties I lived in Nova Scotia. I worked at minimum wage jobs for a few years and then at one point I was laid off. I looked for work but could not find any. Lots of my friends were in the same situation. Lots of people would get a job, work hard, but the job would dry up. They could not find any other work, so like me they would apply for what was then called unemployment insurance. That helped us pay our bills while looking for work. It is not like we had trust funds that we could tap into, or something like that. It is not, as the Conservatives have alluded to, that people were lazy. It is just that the area where we were living did not have any work.
Of course, when I look back I could see that it was because we were youth. Youth unemployment is especially high. Right across Canada youth unemployment is 15% now, but in particular regions it can be 20%, 30% or 35%.
This was not a period that any of us felt good about. In our early twenties, my friends and I felt somewhat like failures. We had gone through high school, where we had done pretty good work. Some of us had received university degrees from the local college. However, none of us could really find work, so we would go on what was then called UI.
Every day while on UI we would go to what was then called a manpower centre. We often had to hitchhike or cycle there because it was so far away. It was not that we were not looking for work or trying hard. We made a lot of effort to do that. Back in the old days before computers, the manpower centre had little cards stuck on bulletin boards and sometimes there would be no cards there. Ten of us would show up after hitchhiking, cycling or walking there, only to find there was no work available and to be told to come back the next day. Sometimes there would be a little card on the bulletin board indicating that one day of work was available shovelling gravel, laying sod or something like that. We would play rock-paper-scissors so that we would not compete against each other for the one job and bother the employer. Or whoever needed the money the most could apply for the job. Often these jobs did not make much difference because sometimes the money was clawed back, and that was discouraging.
That is why we have to be careful with these programs. When sitting in a place like the House of Commons and making a good salary, it is easy to lose track of what it is actually like, or to have what fancy academics call an experiential perspective. Having an experiential perspective is to look from the perspective of the people who are actually affected by these programs. That is perhaps what has been lost here.
It is easy to look at the numbers, the graphs, the Statistics Canada data and all of that, but we should really be talking to the people on the ground and asking how this is affecting them. We have been hearing these stories in Parliament. We are respecting people's last names, but we have definitely been hearing calls in members' offices by people who are saying that a local person is losing a certain amount of money. The person had one cheque stating one amount and comes back with another cheque with a different amount, and there is definitely some money being lost. We can do the calculations and see that they are right.
This program therefore needs to be re-evaluated. The Conservatives should also be careful in their statements not to insult the hard-working people of Canada who are looking for work.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
As my colleagues on this side of the House have previously stated, I, too, will not be supporting this motion. I find it disingenuous of the NDP to be moving this motion when its $21 billion carbon tax would kill tens of thousands of Canadian jobs and drive thousands of Canadians into poverty. Today we are talking about the very important pilot project to improve employment insurance.
As the has said many times, Canada is an emerging energy superpower. Whether it is the oil sands in Alberta, natural gas in B.C. or off-shore oil in Newfoundland, hundreds of thousands of good paying Canadian jobs rely on the energy sector, jobs that would be in peril if the NDP ever gained power. Thankfully, Canadians understand that they can trust the 's low tax plan for jobs and growth over the tax and spend plans of the opposition parties.
It is an inconvenient truth for the members of the opposition that poverty has never been lower in Canada than it has been under this Conservative government. That is something to be celebrated. Whether it is adult, child or seniors poverty, the rates have never been lower in Canadian history than under our strong, stable, national, Conservative, majority government.
This is because Canada has the strongest employment growth by far among the G7 countries. Thanks to the strong leadership of our , Canada has created over 770,000 net new jobs, 90% of which are full-time positions. That is worth celebrating. That puts Canadians back to work. In fact, there are more Canadians working now than at any point in our history. Currently there are over 350,000 more jobs today than at the highest point in 2008 before the recession. That is quite remarkable.
Statistics Canada revealed that there were 250,000 jobs in our country that remained unfilled this past spring. These are not even in top of mind locations such as Alberta. In Labrador City there is such a shortage of workers to work in their new mining projects that restaurants cannot stay open and the municipality cannot find enough people to maintain the roads.
That is why the new working while on claim pilot will allow Canadians to keep more of their earnings. Under this new program, the majority of people who work while they are on claim will benefit and will be better off.
Previously, claimants could only earn either $75 or 40% of their weekly benefits. That is not much money. Any earnings above that threshold were reduced from the benefit payment, dollar for dollar.
The new pilot project allows EI claimants who are receiving regular, parental or compassionate care benefits to keep half of their earnings from the first dollar earned. This will ensure that EI claimants will always be better off working than not working. It will also allow more Canadians to keep more of what they earn while on EI. This is a pilot project to encourage EI claimants to pursue and accept all opportunities to work. We are always working to ensure our programs fulfill our goals.
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 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 always be there for them as it has always been.
Because of an aging population, we can expect skills and labour shortages to become even more severe over time. That is why we need Canadians to contribute their talents to the economy as much as possible. Unfortunately, our government receives no assistance from the opposition parties as we work to solve these challenges. That is what we are doing, working to solve these challenges.
Indeed, not only did both the Liberals and the NDP vote against these changes to working while on claim, they also voted against the youth employment strategy, the EI hiring credit, the targeted initiative for older workers, and the list goes on and on.
Sadly, the NDP seem to be more concerned about implementing a $21 billion carbon tax on the backs of Canadians. That is okay but it is not okay to try to solve the EI problem.
Having voted against countless initiatives that we have put in place to help Canadians get back to work, I cannot help but wonder why the NDP is against helping Canadians return to work, find jobs, become productive and feel good about themselves because they are working.
Our economic action plan is achieving results. The 770,000 net new jobs proves that, but we know we can do better to connect Canadians to available jobs.
Currently, Canadians on EI only get three job alerts every two weeks from the Job Bank website. We are changing this so that job alerts are sent out daily. This is what Canadians need. We have heard about the gentleman who biked to work and picked cards off the wall. That is what used to happen. Now we have to do better and that is why these job alerts on a daily basis are so important. Job alerts will not only provide EI claimants with information about job opportunities within their area and field of expertise, but they will also include information on related occupations to which their skills might be put to good use.
We are also increasing information sharing between the temporary foreign worker and EI programs to ensure Canadians have the first shot at these jobs before employers can hire foreign workers. We are taking care of Canadians.
Let us look at some of the measures the opposition has opposed so far.
Young workers entering the workforce face uncertain job market prospects. Budget 2012 invested $50 million over two years to enhance the youth employment strategy to help more young people gain tangible skills and experience, and to connect young Canadians with jobs in fields that are in high demand.
Despite the fact that the youth employment strategy helped over 57,000 youth get the job skills and work experience they need to successfully enter the labour market, the NDP members voted against this investment for our young people. Not only that, they are proposing, as I said, a $21 billion carbon tax that would raise the cost of essentials for these young workers that they need to transition into the workforce, such as basic groceries and public transit.
How about the older workers? When we increased funding to the targeted initiative for older workers to meet the needs of unemployed people 55 to 64 years old who live in communities with a high rate of unemployment, the opposition voted against that.
How about Canadians with disabilities? No government has done for more for persons with disabilities than this Conservative government. We recognize that Canadians with disabilities are at times disproportionately impacted by economic turbulence and encounter unique challenges in finding jobs during a period of economic recovery. That is why budget 2012 also invested an additional $30 million over three years in the opportunities fund to enable Canadians with disabilities to obtain work experience with small and medium-sized businesses. Again, the opposition voted against this measure.
It is pretty clear what the pattern is: Our Conservative government invests in Canadian workers and the opposition opposes it, whether it be the needy, the vulnerable or those facing barriers or entering the workforce. The opposition continues to oppose these measures.
The contrast is pretty simple. On this side of the House, we have our low tax plan for job and economic growth. This plan has led to the highest number of workers in Canadian history with the lowest percentage of people in poverty in Canadian history. Across the way, we have the NDP that wants to impose a $21 billion carbon tax on Canadians that would kill jobs and increase poverty among the vulnerable. How the NDP feels that such a tax would be beneficial to Canadians looking for work is beyond me.
Our government will continue with our plan and that is to ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not.
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have shared my time today with the member for .
As many of my fellow government MPs have indicated, we cannot support the motion, which would take away from the good work the government is doing to help workers, improve the economy and reduce poverty. Our government has been very clear. We will ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not working.
The new working while on claim pilot project is meant to encourage EI claimants to pursue and accept all opportunities to work. I do not think anyone can argue with that concept. I can assure all members of the House that under this new program the majority of people who work while they are on claim will benefit and will be better off.
Sadly, it is clear that the opposition does not want anyone to benefit from working while on claim. In fact, the opposition voted against significant funding for this new working while on claim pilot project, funding that goes toward putting money back into the pockets of hard-working Canadians who want to keep their skills active by working while on claim.
This is not the only measure to help Canadians return to work that the opposition has voted against. The opposition voted against increasing funding to the youth employment strategy to help our youth gain work experience and successfully transition into the labour force. The opposition voted against the EI hiring credit, which rewards small businesses by reducing their EI premiums if they hire new workers. The opposition voted against the apprenticeship incentive grant, which provides direct financial assistance to people taking skilled trades in order to help us address the looming skills shortage.
On that, a gentleman came up to me at the hockey game the other night and told me about how his business was booming, but he was having trouble getting skilled workers. It is prevalent in my riding and I know it is across the country.
The opposition also voted against the creation, and then the extension, of the targeted initiative for older workers. By doing so, it voted against helping older workers in single industry towns find new skills and employment after a major employer shut down. The opposition voted against the tool tax credit that helps skilled tradespeople cover the cost of the tools required to carry out their professions. Both of these initiatives, the opposition voted against.
To add insult to injury, the NDP is proposing a $21 billion tax on everything. This NDP carbon tax would increase the cost of everyday essentials, such as groceries and home heating, a cost low-income Canadians can ill afford.
Canadians voted for a Conservative majority government in the last election because they know we understand the needs of Canadian families. They trust us to handle this delicate economy in these fragile economic times.
The changes that we made to the employment insurance program are meant to be taken as a package. Therefore, the focus of today's debate should be larger than just the working while on claim portion.
Overall, Canada's economic performance is strong. In fact, we have the strongest employment growth among G7 countries, creating 770,000 jobs, new jobs, since July 2009.
The EI program is a vital resource to Canadian workers during times of transition. It provides temporary income support to those who are not working because of job loss, childbirth, illness and various other reasons. The program must also encourage those receiving EI benefits to take the jobs available to them and to remain actively engaged in the labour market. Why? Study after study shows that those who remain connected to the labour market can more easily find permanent employment, and getting Canadians back to work on a permanent basis is really what Canadians want. It is what this government wants. It is what we should all want. I think even my colleagues opposite should agree with me on this.
This new working while on claim pilot project removed the previous disincentive to accepting all available work by removing the cap on the wages employees can keep. We are doing this by allowing a person receiving EI to keep 50% of every dollar they earn while on claim.
Under the previous system, claimants could only earn up to $75.00, or 40% of their weekly benefit amount, whichever was greater. Anything they earned beyond that threshold was deducted from the benefit payment dollar for dollar. This meant that often after one day of work while on claim, working additional hours or days did not pay at all.
This was a fundamental problem with the previous model. Simply put, it discouraged claimants from accepting more work beyond the 40% threshold.
Our new working while on claim project removes that disincentive and in most cases provides a higher weekly income to EI claimants. More important, it keeps a strong labour market attachment for people in the workforce and helps them keep their skills up to date, giving them a better chance at finding a stable job faster. This is an important change for Canadians, a change that keeps more money in the pockets of EI claimants who are looking for work. Unlike the NDP's job-killing carbon tax, which would take more money out of their pockets in the form of a $21 billion tax.
Our government is committed to making targeted common sense changes to the EI program. This new pilot project is just one example of recent improvements to EI. We have also taken steps to connect unemployed Canadians with available jobs. Sometimes people do not know where the available jobs are. Using resources such as the job bank, we are sending job alerts twice a day to people receiving EI. Previously, EI claimants received three job alerts every two weeks, so that has improved drastically.
In addition, we are linking the temporary foreign worker program with the EI program to help identify available jobs and to ensure that Canadians always have the first crack at local jobs before foreign workers.
We are also introducing changes to the best weeks pilot program. In areas of high unemployment, workers will be able to cherry-pick a smaller number of weeks to set their average earnings. This will ensure that in areas of high seasonal unemployment workers are not penalized for working more half weeks and accepting lower paying work in the off season.
A lot of members of Parliament can relate to that. I have some areas in my riding that due to the high prevalence of tourism, which is the second biggest industry, there are a lot of people doing seasonal work. We recognize that and this program should hopefully help these people.
Lastly, we are clarifying what is meant by “suitable employment” so that claimants understand what is expected of them when they are looking for work. We will no longer have a one-size-fits-all definition but a carefully considered approach that accounts for the varying circumstances of those receiving benefits.
We understand that in some regions there is only seasonal work available, as I have alluded to. For those regions with high seasonal unemployment, EI will still and will always be there for them, as it has always been. These changes, including the new working while on claim project, will strengthen employment insurance for all Canadians.
What astounds me is that both the Liberals and NDP oppose every single measure we put forward to help Canadians who are on EI. Not surprisingly, the NDP plans to threaten tens of thousands of Canadian jobs with a job-killing carbon tax. Just look at the NDP's platform where it proposed that $21 billion tax.
This government has brought in this new pilot project to genuinely try to make EI better. At the end of the pilot it will be assessed, as all pilot projects are. We should all wait to see if these changes do what they are meant to do.
No one can profess to get it dead on every time, but when we know a system is not working we have to try to fix it and we have to have an open mind. The bottom line is, at the end of the day, I cannot support the motion today. I urge my comrades and colleagues in the House to do the same.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the NDP motion before the House. I know we have been in the House all day debating this very important motion and we are getting toward the end of the debate today, so I am happy to have an opportunity to speak.
I thank the member for who brought forward the motion, as well as the member for . I know both as our EI critic and as our HRSDC critic, they have worked really hard on this file.
I have been listening to the debate all day and it is very interesting to hear the mantra, the message, the narrative, the talking points of the Conservatives who are saying that all the opposition does, the NDP and the Liberals, is oppose everything. I really want to set the record straight. This motion is an opportunity to deal with something that is very specific, and that is the working while on claim pilot project for EI. It is a very specific motion. The reason it is very specific is because we are trying to address something that is clearly not working. Therefore, for the Conservatives to come out with this blanket black and white statement that the opposition is opposed to everything, is simply not true. It is sort of the big lie technique, as I heard one of our members say earlier.
I remember a few budgets ago where the NDP successfully convinced the Conservative government to make changes to EI and to include additional funds. As a result, we voted for those measures. We look at legislation, budgets and motions before the House based on their merit. If the working while on claim pilot project were actually working for people, we would be supporting it.
The whole point of today's debate is this. We have been inundated in our offices across the country by real people who are on EI and who have a terrible time with this so-called pilot project that is meant to help them. Let us be very clear about this. This is not a motion just to oppose the government for the sake of opposing. This is a motion to demonstrate and focus the attention of the House on a project that is really important to hundreds of thousands of people and the fact that it is not working for them. We want it to work for them.
I will read the motion. It states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the new Working While on Claim pilot project is: (a) not benefiting the vast majority of EI recipients who are able to find employment; (b) creating a disincentive to take part-time work; and (c) leaving low income Canadians worse off than before; and that the House call on the government to take steps to fix Working While on Claim immediately.
The motion is very straightforward. It is looking for a pragmatic approach to say to the government that its claims that the project is helping just about everyone is not true.
I forgot, Mr. Speaker, to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
The motion is for us to draw attention to something that is very important.
We have heard the repeatedly claim, “the vast majority of EI recipients working while on claim will benefit from the new pilot project”. It has to be on the record. The facts are irrefutable that this is not the case. Many people are not only not benefiting, they are hurting and taking home less money now than they were under the previous program. There is something wrong with that picture.
Members of the House do not have to take my word for it. The Canada Employment Insurance Commission is an independent body that analyzes what goes on with EI. It submitted a report to the government on these changes in May, so it is a very recent report. It estimates that while 403,000 Canadians would benefit, 240,000 would be negatively affected.
If we do the math on this, we can see that it means that nearly four in ten EI recipients will be negatively affected by this pilot program. Any idea that this will help the vast majority of EI claimants is simply not true. It is really a cruel thing to keep saying that people are being helped when in actual fact they are not, certainly not the vast majority. This debate is focusing very much on the facts.
The parliamentary secretary, the member for , claimed on September 24 “those who work more will be able to keep more when it comes to their employment insurance”. As we see from the report from the commission, and as we our constituents, this is simply not the case.
I hope members across the floor recognize that we are not just doing something to oppose for the sake of opposing. We are trying to be proactive and constructive by bringing forward a motion for correction.
My colleague from earlier today gave a wonderful outline of why she knew it would be very unlikely that the motion would work. It is unfortunate and in a way sad and disappointing that the government is not willing to acknowledge the problems that exist with this program. It begs the question as to what really lies underneath these program changes.
Many members have made the point today that employers and workers contribute to the EI program. It is not a government program, but it is an important part of Canada's social safety network. Unemployed Canadians need to be able to rely on it when they are in difficulty. It begs the question as to why the government would do such a shoddy job in bringing forward a program that will not in any way live up to the goals and objectives that those members themselves have put forward. That is why we have the motion today.
Many of us could speak at length about the overall situation with EI just from our experience in dealing with constituents. It is really incredible to see how this program has taken a dive over the years. My colleague from pointed out earlier that some research done by CANSIM showed just how much the EI program had changed in the country. We know now that less than 40% of unemployed Canadians receive EI benefits. That number is higher for women and seasonal workers. Women are often in part-time work so they fair even less well than that general statistic. Surely this should raise concerns for us.
In the 1990s, 70% to 90% of Canadians who were unemployed were eligible for EI. The rules were relatively fair and they did the job that they were designed to do, and that was to help people through difficult periods of unemployment. We have seen a downward spiral, which started with a Liberal government that made reforms, but things became worse. Now we are at today's situation where even a so-called pilot project that is designed to help people keep a bit of money while working is hitting the people who are most vulnerable, the people who are making the lowest wages. That is patently unfair.
I hope the members of the Conservative government across the way will consider the motion on its merit. I would like to prove the member for wrong. She gave a great speech earlier. I hope she might be wrong and the motion might go through. I hope the Conservative government will recognize that there is a genuine attempt here to show what needs to be done to the program. The motion calls on the government to make the changes so unemployed Canadians can receive the help they need.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak in favour of the motion put forward by my colleague from . I am also very honoured to share the time with my colleague from , although I am not sure if she reciprocates. She just about forgot me, but never mind, I am up now.
The motion that we are talking about today focuses on the Conservative government's provisions to the working while on claim pilot program and calls on the government to take steps to fix the program immediately.
Some heady claims have been made about the government's revisions to this program. The has been quite adamant on two claims: first, that the vast majority of employment insurance recipients will benefit from these revisions; and second, that everyone who works will keep more. Her parliamentary secretary, the member for , has been equally unequivocal in these very same claims for the revised working while on claim pilot. However, all is not what it is claimed to be.
According to a recent publication of the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation entitled, “What the New EI Rules Mean”:
EI beneficiaries with earned incomes that are around half the size of their weekly EI benefits (or smaller) will generally see a decrease in total income. This is because they will experience a 50 per cent clawback on income that was previously exempt from any clawback. EI beneficiaries with earned incomes that are greater than roughly half the size of their weekly EI benefits will generally experience an increase in total income, because they will experience only a 50 per cent claw back on income that was previously subject to a 100 per cent clawback.
So much for the claim that “everyone who works will keep more”.
What about the “vast majority” benefiting from the revisions?
According to a May 2012 report by the Canada Employment Insurance Commission, 240,000 EI recipients stand to be negatively impacted by these revisions. That is about 40% of all EI recipients, which is a far cry from the vast majority by any reasonable definition.
The commission expressed its concern about disincentives built into these revisions and notes:
...claimants who currently work a few hours a week while on claim, below the current allowable threshold, may decide to not work these potential hours as they would be subject to the 50% earnings exemption from the first dollar earned.
Compounding the problem here is the fact that those who are adversely impacted by these changes are those who can least absorb this financial setback. It is those who earned income that was less than half their claim who will be penalized under these changes.
It is not the operating assumption or principles of the NDP that workers on EI need incentives to look for and secure work. However, what the working while on claim program is meant to do is remove disincentives to work. In this, the revisions to the program fail miserably in that it has put in place, by way of removing the shift in clawback, a very obvious penalty for about 40% of EI recipients seeking to get back into the labour market. This is moving backwards at a time when employment insurance, properly managed, would provide an opportunity to move forward for Canadians.
With 1.4 million Canadians still unemployed, and I would note 300,000 more than pre-recession levels, we should be extending EI stimulus measures to wrestle down current unacceptably high levels of unemployment in this country.
With most Canadians living paycheque to paycheque, we should be eliminating the two-week waiting period. It must be remembered that employment insurance is not available to those who voluntarily leave their work. Therefore, there should be nothing punitive in a system that is intended to provide support to those who find themselves involuntarily without work. This, after all, is an insurance scheme that workers have paid into in an effort to save themselves from financial ruin should they lose their livelihoods.
Further to this point, and to ensure that EI provides meaningful benefit levels, the rate of benefits should make their way to 60% of insurable earnings.
It has also been noted by many that periods of unemployment are getting longer. This signals the need for improvements in the quality and monitoring of training and retraining programs.
As the last proposition, I would propose that we return the qualifying period to a minimum of 360 hours of work, irrespective of the regional rate of unemployment. This is a critically important proposition. Since the mid-1990s, the number of unemployment persons eligible for EI benefits has fallen by half, from about 80% to 90% down to about 40%. It has been estimated that Liberal government policy changes to the Employment Insurance Act in the 1990s are responsible for about half of this decline in EI eligibility.
Certainly there has been an obvious and precipitous decline in eligibility in the wake of the stricter eligibility requirements introduced by the Liberal government.
The other part of the equation that explains this rapid decline in eligibility are the long-term changes in labour market that have been ignored by both Liberal and now Conservative governments.
We should consider the following: Since 1976, the number of multiple job holders has increased by 150%; the number of part-time job holders has increased by 55%; and self-employment has increased by 29%. As one expert on employment insurance, Professor Leah Vosko, said:
Workers least well-protected [by EI] are clustered in part-time and temporary forms of paid employment and self-employment, and in sectors of the economy long viewed as ancillary but experiencing considerable growth in recent decades, such as sales and services....
This is a particularly important analysis for my riding of and my city of Toronto. The changing labour market has reshaped my riding and my city socially and economically. I would note that while there has been a 59% increase in the number of temporary and contract jobs right across this country over the past decade, over that same decade there was a 68% increase in Toronto. Part of this story too has been the loss of well over 100,000 manufacturing jobs in Toronto, even pre-2008 recession.
Again, Professor Vosko was quoted in a recent study on the EI system as follows:
A notable overarching finding is that EI’s entry requirements disfavour part-time workers. For instance, in urban areas and metropolises, where entry requirements tend to be highest, more than 50 per cent of workers in this group do not meet the 700 hour threshold.
Insensitivity of regular benefit requirements to the changing nature of employment in this formula contributes to disentitlement of workers falling outside the norm of the full-time permanent job in low-unemployment regions where workers in part-time and temporary forms of employment face high entry requirements.
So it is that, in Toronto, less than 25% of unemployed workers are even eligible for EI benefits, far less than the national average for eligibility, which hovers around 40%, and well below the pre-Liberal reform levels when 56% of unemployed workers in Toronto were eligible.
There was a time in our history that employment insurance played a critical social and economic role by countering poverty and limiting income disparity in this country. Over time, successive Liberal and Conservative governments have undermined the effectiveness of our employment insurance system to accomplish these goals which has been done both through deliberate changes to the system and by way of the sheer failure of successive federal governments to adapt the system to changing labour market conditions.
This, of course, is to say nothing of the failure of successive federal governments to ensure that Canada has labour markets that provide good, productive jobs, jobs that can support families and keep Canadians out of poverty.
In the meantime, I urge the government to fix immediately the harm it has caused with its revisions, the working while on claim program.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the opposition motion today. I will be splitting my time with the member for and I am happy to hear what he has to say, after my 10 minutes.
I would like to make a couple of introductory comments.
I have been here all day, listening to the discussion and the debate on both sides of the House. I think what is important for Canadians to understand, and for us here in the House to understand, is that this is a pilot project. By the nature of a pilot project, we are looking at what we can do to make things better. Instead of rolling something out that is a fait accompli, we are rolling out a pilot project, making some changes, making some improvements, trying to make things better for all Canadians. In this case, through the EI system, the employment insurance program, we are trying to make improvements. We are trying to make sure there is an opportunity for Canadians to gain full-time employment. It is really about opportunity. That is the end goal. It is the end goal for all of us here. It is the end goal for most Canadians, most family members. They would like to provide for their families through full-time employment.
That is not the case in every part of the country, or at any time of the year, or during what we have had recently with the recessional aspects of what has happened to the economy worldwide and throughout parts of Canada. Therefore they have to take up part-time work. They have to take opportunities that are available. Some of them are for one day, some three days and some four days.
I am not going to get into the semantics of arguing, taking a specific case or a case where somebody works two days or one day, this many hours or that many hours. The concept here is that we are trying, through a pilot project on working on claim, to get people to be able to keep more of their money when they are working while they are also on employment insurance.
Under the previous system, there was a disincentive to work. Under this system that we are piloting, we are trying to encourage people to work.
The whole concept is an incentive to work, so that if people are only working a day or two a week and there is an opportunity, now we are hoping that they will be able to work three or four days a week, maybe five days a week. Before, they were able to keep so much of their money. It may mean one or two or three part-time jobs. I know it is difficult. It is a balancing act for families and individuals who have to do that. I know it is a lot of work. In my community of Burlington, there are a lot of people who are doing that. They are juggling different jobs to be able to make ends meet.
The concept here in this pilot project is to encourage that, promote that, so that in the end, in most cases, in many cases, often part-time work leads to full-time employment. It is better for your resumé. It is good experience. It brings income into people's homes. It also gives them an opportunity to have more money and to further themselves and their career.
I am not going to get into the discussion about what the NDP would do. We all know that the NDP campaign had a carbon tax in it. It had the $21 billion piece in there. But that is not what we are here today to talk about. However, that is the kind of thing the NDP was promoting. We all know that the more taxes people pay the harder it is on the lower-income individuals in this country because it will be applied to everything, whether it is gasoline, groceries and so on. Those are essential needs, not luxury items, and that carbon tax, that additional tax the New Democrats have been promoting, will be a tax on everything.
What we need to talk about is getting people back to work, making sure we have a tax system that is fair and that we move forward.
Through our economic action plan, we have been able to create a little over three-quarters of a million jobs, net new jobs, in this country. That is a net of the job market that was available prior to the recession.
The economic action plan has been very aggressive and very active in the marketplace. It has been successful. It has been able to deliver jobs, deliver opportunity.
What is really important about those jobs is that they are not all part-time jobs. They are mostly full-time employment. That is what we need, that is what families are looking for and that is what will help the economic growth, the productivity of this country.
Often we compare ourselves to other countries, and one area in which Canada is lagging behind, in my view and in the view of many economists, is productivity. These programs we are doing here, including the programs we have put through EI, have assisted in our productivity. We are trying to make Canadians and the Canadian economy more productive, efficient and effective than other economies around the world and we are being successful, not just because of the government's programs but because of Canadians' will to work, to make a difference and to add value to their families, to their country and to their community.
I applaud all Canadians who are out there looking for work and doing what they can and taking up part-time jobs. There is no doubt that it is a difficult task, whether juggling family commitments or other commitments in terms of being in certain places at certain times and moving to different jobs. That is why our EI programs are important, to make that happen.
Earlier today I heard that it is not our money. That is absolutely right. It is not our money. It is the employers' and the employees' money. However, the vast majority of employers in this country, which supply funds to this program, do not lay off people. They do not collect themselves. It is for the potential of their employees losing their jobs or being laid off. The vast majority of employees of this country never collect EI. They pay into the system all their working lives and never have to collect, because it is an insurance program.
I do not want to collect EI and I do not know many Canadians who want to collect EI, but it is an important social net that Canada has developed and it is a good social net. Somebody needs to make sure we manage the money and the program so it works for those who actually need it. We need to speak up and be able to develop programs to make sure that pool of cash is there. We as a government have decided, and rightfully so, that EI money should be used for EI. That is unlike previous governments, which have used the EI fund for other purposes. It is now the law that EI money has to be used on EI programs.
The other area in which I am very proud of our government is that we have done a lot in the area of poverty. EI is an insurance program that is a bridge between jobs and opportunities and things that are happening. However, it obviously affects the income levels of Canadians and it is an important safety net for us as an income support program. We have done a lot and I am very proud of this government. We have the lowest poverty rates in Canada of any government in the history of Canada, and I am very proud of that.
My community is mainly made up of small and medium-sized businesses. The largest business in my community is 800 people and the vast majority are small and medium-sized businesses. People in my riding have come to see me who have relied on the EI system.
In terms of poverty in my area, I am very proud of this government's support for seniors. This is National Seniors Day and on the housing side, supporting low-income seniors, we have been able to develop a couple of new housing developments in my riding to help support seniors. On National Seniors Day, I thank the government for its efforts on that.
Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks on the topic at hand I want to say how disappointed I was in the response to my question by the member for . The contempt that he has for rural communities and natural resource industries was proudly on display. I guess the rest of the caucus has been infected with the mission and message of its leader, who wants to bring natural resource industries to their knees via a carbon tax and excess regulations.
I would remind the member opposite and all members of the House that at the current time it is the natural resource industries that are carrying the country. I proudly represent a natural resource constituency. The member for often extolls the virtues of Hamilton's steel industry and so on. I would remind members opposite that the steel has to come from somewhere. It is dug out of the ground in mines in rural Canada. It would behoove members opposite, especially members of the NDP, to remember this.
As the final government speaker of the day regarding the topic at hand, I would like to talk about why the motion should not be supported by the House.
We heard from the relevant minister, the parliamentary secretary and several government members about how successful our economic action plan has been. We are talking about over 770,000 net new jobs, 90% of those being full-time jobs. As of last Friday, it was shown that our GDP continues to grow, in fact beating market expectations. There are 350,000 more Canadians working in Canada today than at any previous point in history. Poverty for seniors, adults and children has declined from 40 year highs under the previous Liberal government to historic lows. Over one million Canadians have been removed from the tax rolls completely because of our low-tax plan for jobs and growth, and that is truly a remarkable achievement. These are all indications that Canadians are better off under our stable national majority Conservative government. Now is certainly not the time for risky economic experiments.
Members opposite sneer and laugh when we bring up their proposed $21 billion carbon tax as if that is some big joke. It is not a joke. It was in their platform, that $21 billion comes from them. Canadians are going to know that if the NDP had its way, it would do what it does best, pick their pockets.
Canadians understand that the global economy is fragile. There are challenges around the world. We can see what happens when a country's finances get out of control by looking at what is going on in Europe on our TV screens every night. That is why Canadians voted in the last election to put their trust in our Conservative low-tax plan for jobs and growth.
The changes to EI that were announced in economic action plan 2012 continue through with the good work we are doing to ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not. Under the new working while on claim pilot project, we are encouraging EI claimants to pursue and accept all opportunities for work. As is always the case, we are working to ensure our programs fulfill our goals.
I talked earlier about the constituency I represent. My people are free people. They farm. They log. They ranch. They are self-employed. They are proud to be free, proud to be self-reliant and proud to be independent. The dignity of work is something that my constituents truly appreciate.
I can assure the House that under this new program the majority of people who work while on a claim will benefit and will be better off. The changes we are proposing are designed to help Canadians get back to work more quickly.
As a result of the strong leadership of our and our , who by all accounts is considered the best finance minister in the world, Canada is leading the G7 in job growth. I never tire of saying 770,000 net new jobs, most of them permanent jobs. However, we are still currently experiencing job and labour shortages in many occupations and regions of this country. In short, we cannot afford to have Canadians sitting at home unaware of the demand for their talent and skills. This skills and labour shortage will only be magnified by our aging population and by competition from other nations for skilled workers.
This is part of the reason the government is working to coordinate the temporary foreign worker program with the EI program to help connect unemployed Canadians with available jobs in their local area.
The jobs are out there. According to Stats Canada this spring, there were over 250,000 job vacancies each month across the country. In my own constituency, the potash mines and the trucking industry are crying for workers. Indeed, when one goes further west from where I am in Saskatchewan, and in Alberta in particular, worker shortages are of great concern to employers and governments.
We know that some employers are hiring temporary foreign workers while Canadians with the same skills in the same community or region are claiming EI benefits. For example, in January, 350 people in Alberta who cited significant experience as food counter attendants had claimed for EI benefits. At the same time, employers in the province were approved to hire more than 1,200 foreign workers for the same jobs. In Ontario, over 2,200 general farm workers submitted EI claims while employers received approval to hire over 1,500 foreign nationals for the same occupation.
We believe Canadians should always have the first opportunity to fill jobs in their local communities. How will we ensure that Canadians are given the first crack? By linking EI and the temporary foreign worker program we will be alerting Canadians to these job opportunities through the job alert system. We are also increasing the frequency with which we are sending out job alerts to Canadians on EI. Before, it was three job alerts every two weeks. Now it will be two job alerts every day. As we face unprecedented skills shortages across the country, it will be critical that we work to help Canadians find available jobs and keep them.
EI is an important program here in Canada and will continue to be. These improvements introduce much needed common sense efforts to help Canadians get back to work faster.
Let me be clear. These changes are not about forcing people to accept work outside their own area or to take jobs for which they are not suited. For example, we will not be asking those with manufacturing experience in Ontario to move to Alberta to work in food services. We will not be asking administrative professionals in British Columbia to move to Ontario to work on farms, although I must say, as a farm owner, working on farms is very often a rewarding and pleasant occupation. What we are doing is connecting Canadians with local jobs that require a similar skill set. The suite of changes we announced in the economic action plan 2012 will support Canadians in their return to work.
Beginning in 2005, under the Liberals, the previous version of the working while on claim pilot tested to see if allowing claimants to earn more while receiving EI benefits would encourage people to accept all available work. Under the previous pilot project, EI recipients who had part-time or occasional work had their benefits reduced dollar for dollar once they earned $75 or 40% of their weekly benefit amount, whichever was greater. To put it another way, once they hit this cap their wages were clawed back 100% from their benefits. This discouraged many of them from accepting available work beyond the 40% threshold. Why would Canadians accept further work if they were not going to be paid for it? This often meant that after one day of work while on claim, working additional hours did not pay at all.
We need to encourage Canadians to work, not discourage them. We know that the previous pilot did discourage people from accepting more work because of the cap that existed on how much they could earn, so we changed that and removed the cap. We are building on what we learned from that pilot and are making further improvements to work incentives through this more moderate clawback rate over a greater range of earnings. I would remind members that the purpose of a pilot is to do a test. Under this new pilot, EI claimants can keep more of what they earn.
The choice is clear. There are two paths being proposed here today. There is our low-tax plan for jobs and growth, which is clearly working, and then there is the option put forward by the NDP, a return to the failed policies of Pierre Trudeau, with high taxes and out of control spending. I think it would be wise for members to stand up for Canada and support our economic action plan.
The motion is factually incorrect. It fails to take into account all the changes we are making to EI to ensure Canadians are always better off working than not. It is contrary to our economic action plan, which is delivering. For these reasons, the government will be voting against the motion.