That the House call on the government to reverse devastating changes it has made to Employment Insurance which restrict access and benefits, depress wages, push vulnerable Canadians into poverty and download costs to the provinces; and reinstate the Extra Five Weeks pilot project to avoid the impending “black hole” of financial insecurity facing workers in seasonal industries and the regional economies they support.
She said: Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am speaking today to move a motion on behalf of the official opposition concerning the employment insurance reform that was announced in the last Conservative budget.
Before I begin, I would like to emphasize a very important point. The government tried to hide employment insurance changes in its massive budget bill. It hoped that Canadians would not notice and limited debate. We had to wait until May to learn more about the government's intentions. Then, very discreetly, in December, the minister announced that new rules would be imposed on workers looking for a job.
I think this way of doing things is very cavalier and absolutely unacceptable, but unfortunately, it seems to have become the Conservatives' day-to-day modus operandi. How many times do we have to remind them that the employment insurance fund is paid for by employee and employer contributions only? The government has not contributed to this fund for over 20 years. How many times do we have to say it?
Before the government begins its attacks on unemployed workers, it first should have to explain to Canadians what right it has to interfere in the management of a fund that does not even belong to it. The government should then, through an open and clearly defined process, consult and have discussions with the stakeholders involved, namely, employees and employers. This was never done. This undemocratic way of doing things is harmful to employees, employers and economies and undermines parliamentarians' credibility with Canadians.
The employment insurance fund should be available when Canadians need it. They are the ones who contribute to it and so it is only natural that this insurance should be available to them when they fall on hard times. If we examine the figures for last July more closely, we see that 1,377,000 Canadians were unemployed. That same month, only 508,000 Canadians were receiving employment insurance benefits, which means that 869,000 Canadians were not receiving benefits. In other words, less than 40% of unemployed workers are receiving employment insurance benefits. It is shameful.
In the past, the rate of EI coverage was much higher than 40%. Before the Liberal reforms in the 1990s, access rates were between 70% and 90%. As a result of the cuts made in the 1990s, access rates plummeted before stabilizing at about 40%, the rate that we are discussing today. Right now, the most recent figures show that less than 40% of unemployed workers have access to benefits, even though everyone contributes to the fund.
In addition to deliberately reducing access to employment insurance, the Conservatives are now requiring unemployed workers to accept jobs that pay less than their previous employment within a 100 km radius of their home. These new definitions of “suitable employment” and “reasonable job search”, which have been in effect for the past month, will have a negative impact on our economy and on Canadians' living conditions.
We are already hearing horror stories about it. For some, travelling 100 km is not a problem. Big cities usually have extensive public transit systems. What is troubling, is that the same rules are being applied to completely different situations. In the regions, communities are often far apart and jobs are harder to find. The government is not proposing any measures to support regional economic diversification, particularly in areas where the economies have a very high seasonal index.
In addition, the obligation to accept wages as low as 70% of their previous salary will only lead to a downward spiral of ever-lower wages, to the detriment of workers' quality of life.
The Conservatives' way of looking at the economy is rather simplistic, and this only underscores their gross incompetence when it comes to managing public funds. Their approach will weaken our regions, not to mention entire sectors that are vital to our economy.
The Canadian economy cannot be built on just a few key sectors; instead, it will be more prosperous through the diversification of many sectors, including the fishery, tourism, construction, education, retail trade, and so on. All of those economic sectors will be severely affected by this reform. Again yesterday, some staggering figures were published, demonstrating once and for all that Canada's economic performance is not nearly as rosy as the Conservatives would have everyone believe.
A Conference Board of Canada study found that an increase in social and economic inequalities in Canada is tearing the social fabric of our country and that the gap between the rich and the poor is continuing to grow, as is child poverty. Canada is doing a very poor job compared to its OECD counterparts. If Canada's economy is doing so well, as the Conservatives like to shout from the rooftops, should we not be in a better position to offer fair and equitable living conditions and income distribution? Should we not be able to reduce child poverty?
The employment insurance reform will only exacerbate this situation. Contract, part-time and seasonal workers want to be acknowledged and respected for the work they do because they are an integral part of our economy and our prosperity. They are merely a reflection of the seasonal nature of employment in Canada and the economic environment that the government has put in place for them.
Canadians want jobs, growth and prosperity, not a hunt for unemployed workers that will drain the regions and impoverish all workers in unstable jobs, including those in the cities.
It is the provinces that will ultimately absorb the additional costs associated with the lack of access to employment insurance. People with their backs to the wall will opt for the solution of last resort: welfare. Who pays for welfare? Taxpayers, obviously. In short, all taxpayers will once again foot the bill for the Conservatives' mismanagement.
Lastly, we are now well into the month of February. Unemployed seasonal workers are coming to the end of their benefits. This is the black hole of spring. Action must be taken because it is now at our door.
The government need only look at regional unemployment rates to understand that its alleged economic recovery does not warrant putting a stop to the bill extending the benefit period by five weeks. People in the regions with high unemployment rates need it, not so that they can spend frivolously, but rather to put food on the table, heat their homes and put gas in their cars.
Can the Conservative government take quick action and reinstate the pilot project until we have studied the impact of the cancellation of that measure, or is it clearly saying that it is abandoning our regions?
Thousands of people have been protesting for months. Voices have been raised, those of workers, employers, chambers of commerce, elected municipal representatives and the provinces. This government must immediately backpedal on this measure before the problem degenerates into a social crisis and we are faced with serious cases or unfortunate incidents.
I will close by saying that no one denies that the employment insurance system must be reviewed, but the Conservatives' unilateral approach is unfortunately narrow-minded. It avoids all dialogue, even with experts. It is merely an attempt to please an ideological voter base and it quite simply jeopardizes our social safety net.
This approach is not in the interests of all Canadians, who can see through the Conservatives' dangerous game. The government must go back to the drawing board and open a genuine dialogue to determine with Canadians what they want out of their employment insurance programs.
I will be delighted to debate this topic with my colleagues in an effort to advance the dialogue and offer tangible solutions to Canadians in the hope that a genuine consultation can be conducted in this country.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak in support of our NDP motion to fix Canada's employment insurance system and to help those Canadians who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
The House has only been in session for one week. I rose in question period every single day in that week to hold the government to account for the consequences of the draconian changes to Canada's EI system. We raise these issues to throw the spotlight on the government's failure to address the needs of Canadians, but frankly we also do it in the hopes that the evidence we bring to bear will get the government to reconsider its direction.
Certainly, our efforts have worked in the past, even with the Conservative government. After months of raising questions in the House, the government finally backtracked on the F-35, reversed itself with respect to the export of asbestos and of course, most infamously, we were even able to force the Conservatives to concede that there really was a recession in 2009 and to invest in infrastructure renewal. Even with EI, we saw a partial reversal by the minister when she conceded we were right about the punitive impact of her changes to the working while on claim program. Truthfully though, I am less optimistic this time around. Why? It is because the chasm between the reality faced by unemployed Canadians and the minister's fiction about that reality is widening every day and I do not think that is happening by accident.
Let me just give two quick examples to illustrate the point. To justify the government's agenda of change with respect to employment insurance, Conservative members insist on saying that there are thousands of jobs going unfilled in Canada because the unemployed do not want to work. That is simply not the case and the government knows it is utter nonsense. Statistics Canada has shown that there are five unemployed workers for every reported job vacancy in Canada. In Atlantic Canada there are as many as ten unemployed workers for every job that is available. Clearly, the real issue is the government's abysmal record on job creation, not the desire of Canadians to work. What an inconvenient truth. No wonder the Conservatives are continuously loading the dice against Statistics Canada's ability to do its job effectively.
From that overarching myth, let me give another example of Orwellian doublespeak by the government. On Friday, I called on the government to come clean on the new quotas that the minister has given to her staff for recovering money from EI recipients. She is demanding $150 million a year. The minister denied it vehemently, saying there was no such quota, but outside the House she later conceded that there are indeed objectives to that effect. How can we in the opposition, and more importantly, how can Canadians have a fruitful discussion with the government about the devastating impact of its changes when the government so steadfastly refuses to be honest? I understand spin but the government has taken that notion to a level that is completely unacceptable.
Members may remember Stephen Colbert's term “truthiness”. Well, we have it here in spades. Truthiness is what one wants the facts to be as opposed to what the facts are, what feels like the right answer as opposed to what reality will support. That kind of truthiness is a huge threat to our democracy because the legitimacy of democratic governance relies on an informed citizenry.
Let us try to turn the tide and talk about the challenges facing EI recipients in a realistic way. Let us look at the changes the government has introduced since its spring budget last year and see if we can work our way to a consensus about what needs to be done to reverse the damage. I am not overly optimistic but Canadians depend on us to give it our very best shot.
Throughout the recession the Conservatives largely left the existing EI program in place and in this new spirit of hope for co-operation I will even give them credit for adding several EI related stimulus programs to their economic action plans in 2008 and 2009. However, that was then and this is now.
Despite the fact that the economic recovery is far from complete, the Conservatives are now tightening the screws by making eligibility requirements even stricter so as to further limit access to EI, and by limiting the EI appeals process. These punitive reforms cater to negative stereotypes about EI recipients and ignore the realities of regional labour markets and seasonal industries. They will hurt both workers and communities.
Let us look at the facts. It is a fact that fewer unemployed Canadians will receive EI under these new rules. The government estimates that the changes will lead to 8,000 claimants being denied benefits, amounting to $30 million a year. It is a fact that unemployed Canadians will now be forced to accept lower wage jobs, paying up to 30% less than their previous job. This will drive down wages for all Canadians. It is a fact that valuable skills will now go unused. A skilled tradesperson or teacher on EI will now be pressured to accept a different, often lower skilled job. It is a fact that workers in seasonal industries will be particularly hard hit, since frequent claimants are the most targeted under the Conservatives' reforms.
Clearly, this is an ideological attack on workers. If the government were serious about connecting Canadians with jobs, its agenda would not be focused on tightening EI, but rather it would be focused on the urgent need to create jobs.
The real problem in Canada is that there are too few jobs. Further punishing the innocent victims of Canada's economic turmoil does nothing to right the ship. On the contrary, it adds to the decline of the thriving families and communities whose purchasing power drives local economies. If the government wanted to help workers, then it would be investing in training and apprenticeship programs that would train unemployed and young workers for available jobs. It could have adopted my Bill , which would help tradespeople and apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable income so that they could secure and maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres away from their homes.
Those would be concrete steps in the right direction for connecting people with jobs. However, by focusing on cuts to EI instead, the government is simply laying the groundwork for employers to bring in migrant workers and pay them less than the prevailing wage. Am I surprised by all of this? Of course not.
Members will remember the 's comments, in 1997, when he told the American Council for National Policy that, “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”. Not to be outdone, his colleague, the Conservative member for later called unemployed Canadians “no-good bastards”. The minister is on the record saying that she does not want “to make it lucrative for them to stay home”.
Clearly, Canadians cannot trust the Conservatives on this file. The Liberals pioneered the approach of attacking the unemployed, making EI less accessible and raiding the EI fund to the tune of $54 billion. Only New Democrats have consistently fought on the side of workers. We know and believe that employment insurance is not a government benefit. It is paid for by workers and employers. Canadians pay EI premiums in good faith so that EI will be there for them in times of unemployment.
The reason my colleagues and I brought forward today's motion is to protect that sacred trust from governments' repeated attacks. We will roll back the callous Conservative cuts and we will continue to work with labour, business, provinces and territories to find longer-term solutions to help Canadians find jobs, without treating unemployed workers as the problem.
I invite the Conservatives to reconsider their approach and to support our motion. There is no shame in making a mistake. The shame lies only in the refusal to acknowledge it and correct it.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
I am pleased to rise today to address the misleading statements and alarmist rhetoric the opposition has been using for some time with regard to the reasonable, common sense changes our government has been proposing be made to EI. Our government remains committed to fostering jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians. This is why our government is investing in better connecting Canadians with available jobs in their local areas.
We know that people who remain active on the labour market are more likely to quickly find a permanent job.
Unlike the NDP members, who stand up in this House and defend those who defraud the EI system, our government is making sure that the EI system is there for Canadians who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, and it is providing the support needed to help them rejoin the labour force. Our common sense clarifications are making it easier for unemployed Canadians to find work, whether it be through the increased job alerts we are sending Canadians or the connection with the temporary foreign workers program, so that Canadians always have first crack at the jobs in their local areas. We are making EI work better for all Canadians.
The changes we have made to employment insurance are necessary to ensure that it is fair and efficient. These changes were especially designed to help Canadians find work more quickly and keep it.
Members know the significant benefits that come from meaningful work. We want Canadians to be better off working than not, with the dignity of a having job. This is why we have clarified the definition of suitable employment and reasonable job search. It is to make sure that those who are on EI have a clear understanding of their responsibilities.
Let me be clear. These clarifications are not about forcing Canadians to move away from their local labour markets or from their homes. The government has been clear that these measures will help connect Canadians to the jobs in their local labour markets. Personal circumstances will always be taken into consideration when it comes to commuting times and transportation challenges. If Canadians are unable to find work in their local labour markets, employment insurance will continue to be there for them, as it always has been.
We believe that these clarifications reinforce the responsibilities of regular EI claimants and will assist them in their job search to accept suitable employment.
It is not to force people to accept jobs for which they do not have the skills or ask them to move to another area, or to accept low-paying jobs, as some have erroneously claimed.
I apologize, Mr. Speaker. My French is not necessarily the best.
If the opposition had its way, it would institute a 45-day work year that would cost billions of dollars. In fact, the NDP has put forward plans for over $3.8 billion in annual EI spending. This is $3.8 billion that would have to be paid by workers and employers during this fragile economic time. Premiums would need to be increased by over 15% to cover these spending expenditures today.
I was involved in the EI rate-setting consultations that occurred in the fall of 2011. After travelling from coast to coast to coast, I can assure you that neither employers nor employees are looking for increased EI premiums to pay for this NDP-proposed spending.
EI will continue to provide temporary financial support for Canadians who have lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, while they look for work or upgrade their skills. It will provide help for Canadians who are sick or are caring for a newborn or adopted child and for those who must care for a family member who is seriously ill. That is why we continue to focus on strengthening the employment insurance program to ensure that it is fair and flexible and helps Canadians find work, along with balancing their work and family responsibilities.
To that point, there are several other measures we have recently introduced to meet the needs of Canadians and help them get back to work faster. Just this past August, we announced the new national working while on claim pilot project. The pilot project will allow people who are working part time to receive EI benefits and keep more of what they earn by being able to accept more work. A person receiving EI benefits will now be able to keep 50¢ of every dollar earned. This is instead of receiving a dollar for dollar reduction on income earned after their income threshold, as it was under the old program.
We know how important it is to stay in or be connected to the workforce. We know that unemployed people who accept even part-time work while they are getting EI have a much better chance of finding permanent, long-term employment or of finding it faster than those who do not.
Concerns were raised regarding the new rules for these pilot programs. The listened to those concerns, and adjustments have been made to that pilot program.
If people are in a situation where they cannot find or accept more work, and they worked while on claim last year, they now have the option of reverting to the old program rules, giving them more time to transition to the new program. Making it possible for Canadians to have more money from working than they would have from EI alone is simply common sense.
Working is an important part of our lives. It builds a sense of accomplishment, makes us feel we are contributing to something and means we can support ourselves and our families, resulting in a better quality of life. By making changes to employment insurance, we continue to move in the direction of making sure that work pays and individuals are better off when they are working.
We are continuing to build upon the best job creation record in the G7 with over 920,000 net new jobs created since the end of the recession. Thankfully, Canada has seen some of the strongest growth in the G7. This is why the temporary extra-five-weeks pilot project was allowed to expire. This EI pilot project was a temporary measure brought in during 2008 and extended in 2010 through Canada's economic action plan to help EI recipients during the recession.
This project was always meant to be temporary. In fact, a couple of the regions covered by this pilot project were actually able to end the project early, because their unemployment rate was below 8%. One of the regions under the pilot had almost 5% unemployment for a significant period of time.
Our government will continue to forge ahead with policies that matter to Canadians by focusing on their priorities: jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.
Our government is committed to making targeted and meaningful changes in employment insurance for the benefit of Canadians and the entire country, and that is what we are doing.
Despite the hyperbole coming from the opposition benches, there has always been a requirement for EI recipients to actively look for work while on claim. All these changes have done is further clarify what a reasonable job search and an offer of suitable employment entails. As both the and the minister have said many times in this House, for those who cannot find work, EI will continue to be available to them when they need it.
The government simply cannot support a motion that is full of such misguided rhetoric and faulty information and is not in the best interests of Canadians and their families. Therefore, I call on all members of the House to join me in voting against this flawed motion. I encourage members of this House to embrace the EI components we put forward to make sure that Canadians can be better connected to jobs in their local areas so that they can have the prosperity they need for their families.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House today to speak about this important legislation. I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague, the member for , the hard-working . The member is also a professional pediatrician and a real asset to our community. We thank her for giving up her profession, although she is still on call, working double-duty, and has her hand on the pulse of the country, helping Canadians. She is passionate about this particular aspect of employment insurance and ensuring that we have this stop-gap measure in place to help Canadians in the difficult times between jobs.
I would first like to drill down into some of the details of what our government is doing to connect Canadians with available jobs. It is very important to clarify that the changes we are making are ensuring that unemployed Canadians are made aware of the available work in their local labour markets within their skill set. Basically, if there is no available work within their skill set, then EI will be there to support them as it always has been.
The government has established clear definitions for suitable employment and reasonable job search. These new definitions provide clarity for Canadians. Please note that these improvements only apply to Canadians receiving regular EI benefits and EI fishing benefits, specifically those from our coastal communities. They do not apply to Canadians receiving EI special benefits, such as the maternity, paternity, compassionate and sickness benefits.
I will focus on suitable employment for a moment. Several factors will affect the definition of suitable employment, including first and foremost the personal circumstances of the claimant. I think this is the point that the opposition may have avoided mentioning. Sometimes the opposition uses a bit of scare factor, using inaccurate information about the impact of these changes.
As a member of Parliament from western Canada, I was born and raised in Alberta and spent the last 23 years in beautiful British Columbia. I have owned my own business and worked for a variety of companies. I have been a union member and in management of an international company. I understand that applying for EI is not something anyone enjoys, probably ranking right up there with having a root canal done.
From my experience, the vast majority of Service Canada employees are hard-working, dedicated and professional people who care about Canadians. They care about my constituents in Kelowna—Lake Country and all of our constituents across the country from our 308 respective ridings. They take the personal circumstances of each claimant into consideration when they are determining what is considered suitable employment. The claimants receiving EI will not have to accept work if they have a health problem that prevents them from taking a particular job.
Here I think it is important to eliminate some of the fearmongering and non-factual information out there, and let Canadians rest assured that we want to lay out the facts and the truth.
If claimants have family obligations preventing them from working at certain times of the day or if they have limited transportation, for example, for commuting to and from work, that will also be taken into consideration. Of course, if claimants are not physically capable of performing the work, they will not be required to take a job.
As the has mentioned many times in the House, these changes will be implemented in a fair and reasonable way. I think it is very important to reassure Canadians that this is fair and reasonable.
However, the topics raised by the opposition have not been reasonable. They have created fear about commuting times, telling people that they will have to take any job within a day's drive or something of that sort. The reality is that the requirement is for a job within an hour's commute, unless the claimant's previous commuting history and the community's average commuting times are longer. That is simple common sense.
If a claimant indicates they cannot travel outside their community because they do not have a car, that will be taken into consideration. Canada has the world's 34th largest population, but is the 2nd largest country geographically speaking. It is a very diverse country, so we have to take each region into consideration.
I will focus now on the two criteria for suitable employment that have drawn the most attention. One is the type of work, and the other is the wages that are considered reasonable. 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. Clarifying what a frequent claimant is important, I think.
Frequent claimants would be required to expand their job search to jobs similar to the job they normally perform from the start of their EI claim. They would also be required to look for work that pays wages starting at 80% of their previous hourly wage. If a claimant has had three claims, then they have to apply for jobs paying 80% of their previous hourly wage.
In determining what criteria will apply, EI claimants will be placed in one of three categories: long-tenured workers, frequent claimants and occasional claimants. I will take a few moments to define these categories.
First, the long-tenured workers are those who have paid into the EI system for the past 7 of 10 years and have collected EI regular or fishing benefits for 35 weeks or less over the last 5 years. These workers will initially be required to look for a similar job that pays 90% of their previous wages. After 18 weeks of EI benefits, long-tenured workers would be required to expand their search to jobs within their previous field and apply for jobs that pay 80% of their previous wages. Therefore, after first looking for work paying 90% of their previous wages and having been on benefits for 18 weeks, they would have to look for work paying 80% of their previous salary. After receiving benefits for a further 6 weeks, they would need to expand their search to any work they are qualified to perform so long as the wages are within 70% of the wages 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 to their usual occupation with similar wages, of at least 90% of their previous hourly wage, for the first six weeks of their claim. After receiving benefits for 6 weeks, they would have to expand their search for jobs similar to the one they normally do with wages of 80% of their previous earnings. After 18 weeks they would then need to further expand their job search to include any work they are qualified to perform so long as the wage is at least 70% of their previous earnings. They have a tiered process and different percentages over time.
It is a sad statement when the opposition engages in disinformation or fearmongering. I feel I need to point out the obvious, which is that no one would ever need to accept employment below minimum wage. No Canadian would have to. The fact is
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, I know we are all here to help provide decorum in the House and I thank you for providing that discretion.
The simple truth is that under these changes, EI claimants will always make more working than claiming EI. As many people know, employment insurance pays 55% of a person's average weekly income. Therefore, even if someone is a frequent claimant, a reasonable job will offer at least 70% of his or her previous earnings, which is a substantial increase over the 55% of earnings collected on EI.
This is why the opposition motion in the House today is factually incorrect. Canadians receiving EI will only be required to look for work paying significantly more than what they are currently collecting on EI. That will not push them into poverty; in fact, it will be quite the opposite.
Let me be clear on a further point. The has said many times in the House that if there are no available jobs, EI benefits will continue to support Canadians, as they always have. It is simple.
I will now turn briefly to the topic of 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 job fairs. I think all Canadians want to work, so we are trying, through our Service Canada staff, to help them become more employable.
EI claimants will also be required to look for a job daily and to keep a record of their job search. These search efforts will be consistent with the opportunities available, something that has already been in process. For example, in a community with few job openings, a job search should focus on identifying new opportunities and not on 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 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 the politics of fear and confuse Canadians into believing things that are untrue.
Personally, I am not into fearmongering and I do not think it is helpful to Canadians and my constituents or any of our constituents. Sadly, this is not the first time we have seen the members opposite ignore the clear realities of the Canadian economy to advance their narrow political interests.
I would ask all hon. members of the House to support our government's plan for jobs, growth and economic prosperity. This is the reason Canada is leading the G8 in job growth with 920,000 net new jobs created since the depth of the recession. About 90% of them are full-time jobs and 75% have been created by the private sector.
Therefore, I would encourage all members of the House to join me in voting against this factually incorrect motion. Let all members of the House stand shoulder to shoulder to work together to make Canada a stronger, safer and better place for all.
Mr. Speaker, let me first say that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am very much pleased that the NDP brought forward this motion today to speak about this very important matter, because really we did not have an opportunity. I sit on the human resources standing committee and this issue, as all in the House would know, was brought forward in the omnibus bill, so the impacts of these changes were never given a fulsome debate. Certainly, there are consequences here that will have tremendous negative impacts on many communities in this country.
I know that the Conservatives are trying to paint this as fearmongering. The exercise here is to try to bring them to the light, bring them to the truth, to the fact that these changes will have substantive negative impacts on many communities and Canadians. They will be far-reaching.
If members do not believe the opposition, then they should listen to the premiers from across the country.
Pauline Marois had a one-on-one meeting with the . She said that the meeting was okay and that they talked about the promises he has made with respect to fixing EI, because she had brought forth concerns about the changes to EI to the Prime Minister.
Let us talk not just about Premier Robert Ghiz but all party leaders in Prince Edward Island, who went across the province to solicit input from Prince Edward Islanders. In unison they said that these changes will hurt islanders.
In Nova Scotia we saw Premier Darrel Dexter and Liberal leader Stephen McNeil both raise these concerns. Jamie Baillie, who is a little shy of the boss, was not quite ready to make the jump and stand up for Nova Scotians, but I am glad the other two did.
They are speaking because they know that these changes will have a tremendous impact on them, because the people who will be losing access to or who will be knocked off of EI benefits because of the government's changes will end up on the provincial welfare rolls. That is the next step.
The Conservative government does not understand that so many Canadians live their lives that close to the line. That is a fact. The government should listen to the concerns that are being raised by the premiers. I doubt it will.
Municipal leaders right across the country, especially in rural communities, have sounded the alarm. I know in my own riding that the councils of Warden Lloyd Hines of Guysborough County and Warden Duart MacAulay of Inverness County have raised the issue of the impacts of these changes.
At the provincial level we see that there will be a movement of people out of rural communities to Saskatchewan and Alberta. The country will be tilted toward Saskatchewan and Alberta. This is coming from a guy who spent nine years in Fort McMurray, a place I have a lot of time for, and I really enjoyed the time I spent there. However, people should not be forced to make that decision. The premiers say that is where the people are going. The municipal leaders say that the changes are chasing people out of rural communities into urban centres. That will be the movement there.
It is not just seasonal workers. The municipal leaders understand because they are closer to the problem. They deal with problems day in and day out. They understand that if a group of seasonal workers has to leave town, then the merchants, the teachers and the nurses will leave town. When that critical mass is not there, services are lost because they can no longer be justified. Therefore, it is not just about those seasonal workers. It is about the impact on the seasonal industries and their access to trained labour. That is the broader issue here.
It is pretty cute. Some people have to get off the Hill. People have to get out and see what is going on in other areas of the country. I find, as a member from a rural area in one of the regions, that I am always trying to bring the reality of the region into the bubble here.
The parliamentary secretary stood up and said the changes are great for her riding. They are embraced by her riding. The annual household income in her riding is $90,000 a year. The unemployment rate is just over 6%.
Let us compare that to Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, where the unemployment rate is 17% and the annual household income is $40,000 less. It is a different reality.
Might I say that the incomes of $40,000 less are from revenue being generated almost entirely through seasonal industries. I know that in Nova Scotia almost over half of the regional GDP is generated through seasonal industries.
I have had an opportunity to speak with industry leaders, business leaders and organizations. I had a representation from the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. It is very fearful of the impacts of the changes being brought forward by the government.
The landscape association of Nova Scotia has shared its concerns. At one time, to be a landscaper all one needed was a half-ton truck and a wheelbarrow, and one could put oneself forward as a landscaper. I know that over the last 10 to 15 years there has been a lot put into professional development and training of professional landscapers.
Sometimes it is tough to lay sod in February. Many landscapers knit together landscaping in the summer with snow removal in the winter. However, sometimes there are gaps for their employees. They are fearful they are going to lose those trained employees. It is somewhat naive to take untrained employees, put them on a front-end loader that is worth $200,000 and expect that the machine will be looked after and there will be productivity. They need trained, skilled labourers as well.
I have been speaking with people in the tourism sector or people who own fishery operations. These people too need people year after year who are trained. They are fearful, and I am also hearing from business that because people have to go from $15 an hour to $10 an hour, they will take that job until the $15 an hour job is back up again. The employer who has the $10 an hour job is going to be forced to seek yet another employee. There will be a turnstile of employees with those lower wage jobs. The greater fear, for those who work in those industries, is there will be a downward pressure on wages, on the payment per hour. Benefits for those people will be at risk.
There were comments made by my colleague, for whom I have a lot of respect, to say people will not make less than minimum wage. That is why it is called minimum wage. When one hits the bottom, there is nowhere to go.
The most egregious aspect of this is the contempt government members have held for seasonal workers in this country. We read last week that there is a bonus being paid to the public servants who can find anybody who runs afoul with the EI system. The government has put a bounty on seasonal workers. Any public servant who can shake a seasonal worker out is going to get a reward.
If there is anything, it has to start from a position of respect. It is obvious through these changes that the government holds no respect for seasonal workers, for rural communities and for people in those industries. That is why I will be supporting this motion today and why I will be encouraging my party to support this motion today.
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to commend and congratulate my colleague from for his work on the EI file.
To hear the government playing with words today and trying to take us for fools is quite outrageous.
I commend my colleague from on her motion. Obviously, it is not a competition to determine who spoke first. As parliamentarians, we must make sure that we work together in the best interests of the public.
What makes me sick in all of this is that the government is in the process of creating different classes of Canadians. In other words, the government is targeting people who have chosen to live in a remote area, who have the right to have their place in the sun. Often it is a matter of tradition, such as a family of fishermen who have lived in the same place since the 17th century. They are now being told that if there is work in Alberta, they have to move there.
Is that how we define Canada? That is completely unacceptable. What is worse is how it is being pushed on us. First they force a massive omnibus bill on us and then they start talking about clarification. This has been going on for months, and then on a Friday evening around 5 p.m., right before Christmas, they shove this down our throats.
In the meantime, many people are having a hard time making ends meet. They are being told to go work an hour away from home if they want to work, but there is nothing much to see there but trees. The government is also suggesting that the workers take a 30% wage cut, even though they will have to pay for the extra gas and extra daycare costs. As for single parent families, they are being told to sort things out themselves, otherwise they will lose their benefits and be forgotten. They will then end up on social assistance and will no longer be the federal government's problem. They will become the provinces' problem, end of story.
I have been an MP for 16 years and I have never seen anything like this. They can point fingers at us all they want. When we were in government we made changes. And when the minister disagreed with my colleague from , he had the courage to go see the workers and talk to them. Whether we agreed or disagreed, the minister had the courage to go see them. Now, the ministers hide. Members come here in their bubble to try to talk about clarification, but they are hiding.
We never, ever abandoned seasonal workers. How did we manage? We implemented pilot projects and we also tried to find alternative solutions. We always tried to find solutions that would allow people in the regions to have their place in the sun.
What I find tiresome is the fact that not only does this government take the divide and conquer approach, but it also pits the regions against one another. This government is telling people in the regions to leave because there are jobs elsewhere. I am happy that there are jobs in some regions, especially in the natural resources sector. However, the beauty of this country lies in its diversity. It is natural for people to decide to stay in their region and make a living from what they do best, whether it is in the fishery, agriculture, forestry or tourism.
Furthermore, the parliamentary secretary, with her condescending bombast, told us that everyone on her committee is happy. Her average income is $90,000 a year. In other regions, people get by and are happy with an income of $40,000. They should not be comparing apples with oranges.
This motion is important. Once again, it allows us to discuss the type of society we want to live in. I do not believe that this is a partisan issue. As a parliamentarian, I have two jobs. The first is to ensure that I protect the quality of life of my constituents, and the second is to ensure that the bills and motions we debate will improve this quality of life. We must also ensure—at least the opposition must—that we act as watchdog and keep a sharp eye on what happens.
What I liked about the speech given by my colleague from , and the speeches of other members on this side of the House, is her comment that we all make mistakes. Acknowledging one's mistakes is a wonderful antidote to cynicism.
We pushed the Conservatives on some employment insurance related issues and they backed off. Then they came back and tried to bamboozle us. It is good to realize that everyone makes mistakes sometimes and to be able to grow and prove how much we care about our constituents.
This motion is well written. I do not understand why the government does not want to support it. This is not a war of semantics. The question is simple. The Conservatives need to put themselves in the shoes of the people of the Magdalen Islands and realize that it means something when 4,000 people take to the streets to demonstrate. We sometimes see two or three signs here and there, but when 4,000 people are demonstrating in such a small place, that is a large percentage of the population. This means there is a problem. These people are not crooks. I will refrain from saying anything that I cannot say here.
When I was the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, I recall that the members of the Reform Party—because these are former Reform members—always talked to me about immigrants as though they were terrorists. Now they have changed their tune; now it is the seasonal workers in the regions who are crooks. I do not believe that the 4,000 residents of the Magdalen Islands and the people who protested in Charlevoix or the Gaspé are crooks. These are people who have bills and expenses to pay every month. They are being told that it is over and their EI is being cut off. They are falling through the cracks.
Worse still is how this reform is being applied. We know all too well that cheques are slow to arrive. Temporary employees had to be hired again. The time it takes to receive a cheque is creating other problems. Not only are people not getting paid, but when they are, it takes time. It takes more than prayers to put food on the table.
I clearly do not understand. What do we have against our citizens? Why do we treat those people as second class citizens? Some people like to stay in some regions and they manage to survive financially through seasonal work. I do not understand why we treat them as a bunch of crooks.
It is all about respect, and that is why we will support the motion. However, when we have this kind of motion, it is also appropriate for the government to stand and say that it has made a mistake. Sometimes that happens. With all the debate and argument, the government can say that it has made a mistake. It does not have to look at the people like they are nothing.
I am not talking about semantics like wording, clarification or reform. What I care about is to ensure that those individuals who work like crazy will have food on their table, that they will be first class citizens and help their kids to become great citizens.
With all that, if we are not doing it, we are creating another problem, a major social problem in every region. The time has come for the government to wake up.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to share my time with my colleague from .
Like my NDP colleagues, I wish to stand and condemn this employment insurance reform.
For a government that claims to be strong on economics, it does not appear to have understood how a strong and dynamic economy works. For a sound and stable economy, we need to create good jobs, diversify our areas of expertise and encourage innovation.
At the moment, the Conservatives, rather than concentrate on effective ways to stimulate the economy, seem to be holding a knife to workers’ throats to force them to accept poorly paid, undesirable jobs instead of helping to making these jobs more desirable. It is deplorable.
Not only that, but instead of promoting improvements to people’s standard of living, they have raised the bar even higher, to unheard-of levels. The employment insurance system is part of our economy. It is what gives us a sound and diversified economy. It is precisely this system that makes our tourism industry possible and means that fishers, supply teachers, and forestry, silviculture and farm workers can have jobs.
These jobs contribute enormously to our economy and to the overall quality of life of all Canadians, even those who will never draw benefits in their lives.
For a government that claims to have a strong mandate from the people, it is not listening to them at all.
It needs to be said and it needs to be condemned: never during the election campaign did the Conservatives say that they would slash employment insurance. They spoke about abolishing the Senate and then went on a Senate appointment binge. They spoke about responsible management and spent $1 million on limousine travel and all the orange juice that went along with it. Members know what I am talking about. This is not what people are entitled to expect.
That brings me to the reform. What to say about this reform? Is it the work of a clear-headed and intelligent manager? Hardly. It is a mess for everyone. Even the government will end up a loser at the end of the line.
Historically, the most serious problem with employment insurance is the 42% access rate. In my region, the number of workers paying into EI who will never be able to draw any benefits if anything unfortunate should happen to them will continue to grow. It is a scandal. Instead of attempting to correct the situation, the government is just plundering what remains of employment insurance.
Unfortunately, as we will soon see, the government has vastly misjudged the economic impact of this bad reform, which was inspired by an obsolete ideology and implemented in a rigid and thoughtless way.
This is no joke. Just last year, even the automated call system caused a crisis requiring emergency measures. Can you imagine what this will look like a year from now if this reform is not repealed? It will be hell.
For a government that has never brought down a budget without creating a deficit, it is taking extreme risks. It is a very bad idea to conduct dangerous economic experiments based on a pro-business ideology. These improvised experiments will have disastrous consequences for the lives of many Canadians if immediate action is not taken.
Now I must talk about my region, the kingdom of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. According to a study by a local organization, LASTUSE, and the Mouvement Action Chômage Saguenay—Lac-St-Jean, which work with unemployed workers, 45% of jobs are unstable or seasonal. That is virtually half of all jobs in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. This means that, at any time, 45% of regional workers may need to claim assistance under an insurance system that they pay for and that is essential to our economy.
The Conservatives have failed miserably at creating jobs in my riding, as they have in many regions they have abandoned.
Rather than support workers who often earn their living not knowing what tomorrow holds, rather than offer hope, the Conservatives cause even more misery for those who are being asked to make the biggest effort.
What can we do for workers who have unstable jobs? How will employers retain the expertise of their seasonal skilled workers? What will workers affected by the reform do when the pilot project adding weeks to the employment insurance benefit period in regions with higher unemployment rates is not extended at the end of April?
I really would like an answer. The spring gap is coming, and the people of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean want answers from the government. They want solutions.
The unemployment rate reached 9.3% in my region in February, whereas it was 7.3% in November. We will clearly be hitting a wall very soon.
The government has to get a grip, admit it was wrong, go back and do its homework and cancel this unfair reform that threatens Canada's economic stability.
It is a disaster for too many Canadian families.
I want to talk about my colleague the and invite him to do some thinking. As a regional minister, is he still faithfully representing the people in his constituency?
Sometimes I get the impression he is behaving more like the powerless critic of a government with ill-advised policy positions that put Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean at a disadvantage. Or perhaps he is somewhat blind.
As a Conservative member, would the act the same way if he were still mayor of Roberval?
I have seen some disturbing studies on seasonal workers in my riding. Many people are brush cutters. This is extremely hard work; they work in summer, but not in winter. So these people wind up on unemployment. It would be better to find something for them. We could even send them off to study forest safety or machinery repair; that would improve their living conditions. However, that is not what we do.
Another thing that worries me is that many workers are illiterate. Many people in Quebec still have a hard time reading. Instead of holding a knife to their throats, it would be much better to give them training and help them acquire other trades that would permit them to earn money all year round.
Soon, if everyone works all year round, there will be no more seasonal workers. Workers want to work all year, but their jobs are only seasonal. For a fisher in Gaspé, when the fishery closes and the fish plant shuts down, that is the end.
In Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, tourism and agriculture are affected. Here is an example. According to an estimate I found yesterday, one in every 5 workers who does not return to agricultural work represents a loss of $27 million for the country. We know what may follow. The government's actions are irresponsible; it should sit down and work with everyone else.
The hon. member for Bourassa suggested working together in the best interests of the community. That is not what I see here in the House. People are not working for the community; everyone is working for their own interests. I think the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP would be well advised to sit down and try to reach solutions for our constituents. We must not make them any poorer. That is not acceptable.
Today in 2013, beating up on people who are earning $12 or $14 an hour and making as little as $300 a week just does not make sense. They are not the ones abusing the system. If the fund had not been cleaned out in the past, the money would be there to train our people and improve their conditions.
If the government wants to create employment, it must invest money. At present, job creation in my riding stands at zero. There is none. Back home, all we see is the loss of jobs in the paper industry and forestry. It is unacceptable.
As I was saying, the unemployment rate really makes me sick. Here are some figures: in the months of October and November 2012, it was 7.3%; in December it was 8%; and now it is 9.3%. It is unacceptable to have poverty in a country as rich as ours, and unacceptable to beat up on people earning low wages, push them into poverty and send the bill to the provinces. It is unacceptable. I cannot accept it, personally.
I also want to say something about the appeal process. People liked the old process; they could be heard, at least. Now, it is impossible. A written submission has to be made, or none at all. Previously, people could have an advocate and they could speak up. They no longer can.
Earlier, someone mentioned service. The employees of Service Canada are overwhelmed because of the budget cuts. Press 1, press 2, or press 3: your call is important, Mr. Speaker. Get a coffee and sit down, because you will find it a very long process.
Mr. Speaker, the NDP motion today very clearly calls on the Conservatives to throw their reform in the trash bin. That is what the people are calling for. The motion is calling for the five weeks pilot project to be reinstated, to avoid what is called the “black hole”. These are the two things set out in the NDP motion.
When we say throw the bill in the trash bin, we do not mean to come back with something else. And while we are on the subject—I have been here and I have been talking about employment insurance for a long time—I would like some attention to be paid to the employment insurance program, to seasonal jobs and to our regions. I would like the piecemeal cuts to employment insurance to stop, and I would like the government instead to find a way to make the program work for working people. It is an insurance policy.
In all honesty, it is called an insurance program that employees and employers pay into, but if there were a vote today on whether employers want to pay into the employment insurance fund, the answer would be no.
Employers are happy to profit from employees, but when they are done with them, they want to get rid of them. I say that with all due respect, even though I know it will make some people angry. In its employment insurance reform, the government is offering to allow companies not to pay up to $1,000 in employment insurance for each new employee. The government will even help companies collect $1,000 if they hire a new person, when the purpose of employment insurance is to help workers.
On the subject of Bill , what the NDP is saying is that if the government wanted to make changes to employment insurance and it was just a matter of clarifications, why did it not bring them up at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities? Why did it not invite industry and workers? Why did it not sit down with those people to address the problem?
When the Liberals made their changes, it started with the Conservatives, in 1988. At that time, the Liberals said that if there were changes to employment insurance it would be disastrous for New Brunswick. I recall the former minister of human resources, who was not the minister at the time, Doug Young, who in 1993 replaced the minister who is still in the House today as the minister for ACOA, saying that was insulting.
The government has said that the NDP is scaring people, but the first thing the minister for ACOA from New Brunswick said was that people still like to get employment insurance so they can go hunting and fishing. That is insulting. It is the worst insult that can be thrown at working people. It means that it is not enough to have seasonal work and cut employment insurance, he is even going to criticize us if we go hunting and fishing. He is insulting people who want the benefit of employment insurance.
We live in regions where work is seasonal. We did not choose the place where we came into this world. That is not a choice. Mr. Speaker, you certainly did not choose the place where you came into this world. The people where I come from, whether on the Acadian Peninsula or in the Acadie—Bathurst region, or in the Gaspé or Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island, living along the coastlines, did not choose to come into the world in those places, but they did. And that is part of our country. So is the country united or divided?
There was a time when things were not going all that well in Alberta. It was a time when people were poor, but I am happy for them now that things are going better. When I asked the minister responsible for ACOA for assistance for the Bathurst Airport, for renovations and an extension to the runway for our workers who were going to work in the west, the first thing he said was that rather than work to promote economic development in our region, he would prefer to have an airport that would enable people to go and work elsewhere.
On the one hand, the government is saying that there are jobs across Canada and that people should be mobile and prepared to work elsewhere. On the other hand, when we want to help people go and work elsewhere, the government makes it impossible for us to do so. It is cannot even provide northeastern New Brunswick with an airport.
I do not want people to move elsewhere, but it would at least be useful to those who do so, for Canadians and people from our region who want to go.
Last Friday, I watched Le Téléjournal national with Céline Galipeau. I would like to comment on statements made by Toronto journalist Tasha Kheiriddin. I would like to invite her to come and see us. The people back home are not too fond of her at the moment.
What did Tasha say on TV? She said that people from the Atlantic provinces who worked seasonally ought to know that Canada is a country of immigrants and that since immigrants work anywhere, they should go and work out west.
I do not believe that this journalist understood what she was telling the women back home, the mothers who work in fish plants, because it is not just men. In fact most of the people who work in these plants are women. Should they all hop on a plane to work out west because that is where the jobs are, and leave their children at home? People like that are called 20/10s. They go and work for 20 days and return home for 10 days. Those are the kinds of jobs we have back home.
The NDP motion refers to a five-week black hole. What will the government do in March and April when the employment insurance benefits stop?
The journalist said that the Conservatives had created approximately 900,000 jobs. They did not create them where I live. There are no jobs there. Finding work is difficult. That is why a pilot project has been under way in the regions since 2004 for people with seasonal jobs in places like the Gaspé, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. The five weeks of benefits would see the workers through until the next season.
Paul Robichaud, New Brunswick's Deputy Premier, said that this would hurt the province and employees. He asked the government to backtrack; otherwise the people in question would end up on welfare. However, things can be even worse. If two people who live together work in a fish plant and one is receiving employment insurance benefits or returns to work and the other loses employment insurance benefits, then there is no entitlement to welfare. This will mean total poverty.
And that is why we are asking the minister to consider the harm that the Conservatives are causing to workers. We are asking the to think about what he is doing to our country.
I have already asked in the House what workers have done to the . What have the workers who have built this country done to the Prime Minister to make him hate them so much?
What have they done? They have contributed to an employment insurance fund that belongs to them.
I remember one of the minister's speeches. She said that she wanted Canadians to work 12 months a year. My goodness, if they want people to work 12 months a year, they should invest in our secondary and tertiary processing plants. The government has to help people work. People where I come from are not slackers, nor are they lazy. The Conservatives need to stop investing their money solely in the west. They need to come east.
When we ask for airport repairs, nothing happens. They are in the process of shutting down the rail line between Moncton and Bathurst. All of Atlantic Canada's economic development infrastructure is being shut down. And the is saying that people do not want to work.
ACOA lost $78 million in investment funding. That money could have helped small businesses. But quite the opposite is happening.
Benoît Bouchard, the former Conservative transport minister under Brian Mulroney, said last week on national television that they tried to change employment insurance but that it did not work. The Liberals tried and cut employment insurance benefits, but it did not work. The Conservatives are trying the same thing. They will soon see that it does not work.
Perhaps people were frustrated yesterday to hear me say in the House that the Acadians will not be deported again. But that is how people are feeling. They feel they have to leave home. It is not right that our people should be forced to leave when we have forestry, fishing and tourism industries.
I will finish on that point. Once again, we are asking the government to listen to the people. It should come see what is happening, scrap this reform and start over.
Mr. Speaker, it does affect families. Nobody can say that it does not.
It is fine and dandy when people want to go elsewhere. But the minister told people that they should go work elsewhere. On television Thursday night, Tasha Kheiriddin said that we are a nation of immigrants and that people should be expected to go anywhere. That is the kind of thing people are saying.
Women who have to go work in Fort McMurray have to leave behind their family, their children. What is happening, what people are saying, is inhuman.
The minister turned around and told people to find work within an hour of home. But in Canada we have a thing called winter. For people travelling from Caraquet to Bathurst or Bathurst to Shippagan, storms are not just about snow. The wind alone is storm enough.
Yet the government wants to force 2,000 to 3,000 women who lose their jobs in fish plants to travel. Other people, 60-year-olds, do not have the education to get another job. People are nervous. The government is disrespecting workers, treating them with contempt. This affects families. Lots of people go west, and then they come back. The number of divorces and separations is incredible. It happens constantly.
People in my region are committing suicide. If the Acadie Nouvelle reports the death at home of a 40-year-old, it is not because of a heart attack. The suicide rate in my region is high. That is why I get so worked up in the House. I know the devastating effects of all of this on our people, on workers all over the Gaspé and the Atlantic provinces.
The government has no respect, and neither did the Liberals when they stole $57 billion from the employment insurance fund.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the great member for .
Today I am here to give some perspective for hon. members opposite on measures that have been introduced by the government to the EI program.
The purpose is to ensure the EI program is working for Canadians. The design of it is to help find work and get people back to work. Our government is committed to supporting workers and ensuring that EI enables a strong and competitive workforce. This is in line with our government's focus on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. Many of the clarifications to the EI program are designed to make it easier and to better connect unemployed Canadians to the jobs in their local labour market.
The government has announced several targeted common sense clarifications to encourage Canadians to stay active in the job market and to remove disincentives for individuals. These changes include better connecting Canadians with available opportunities in their local area, clarifying their responsibilities while collecting EI and establishing a new pan-Canada approach for calculating EI benefits. Those living in regions of comparable labour market conditions should receive similar benefits.
Canadians may not be aware of local jobs within their skill sets and that is why, as a government, we will be providing enhanced job alerts. They are there to inform Canadians of where the local jobs are. Therefore, as of January 2013, recipients can sign-up to receive two emails a day through the enhanced job alert program. This is a vast improvement over the previous program that sent out alerts once or twice a week.
However, the opposition continues to argue that these changes will limit access to EI. Therefore, we need to be very clear about what EI is. An individual who is on EI has a responsibility to undertake an active job search. All these changes do is further clarify what that job search should be like, but this does not affect access to the EI program at all.
The new definition for a “reasonable job search” includes a wage that is significantly better than the benefits paid out by EI. It cannot be said that these changes are pushing Canadians into poverty. In fact, it is quite the opposite. With greater workforce attachment, Canadian families are always better off.
Our government has introduced many other EI measures that are designed to support Canadian families, the fundamental units of society and the backbone of any successful country.
For example, foster parents adopting foster children into their care now have access to parental benefits earlier on. Eligibility to the compassionate care benefit has been extended to include additional family members and others considered as family by the person who is gravely ill. The self-employed, which I have been all my life, will now have the option to opt into EI programs, which has never been offered before, to receive maternal, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits. As for military families, there is now improved access to parental benefits.
Our government also recognizes that it may difficult for people who have full-time jobs to care for family members with serious illnesses or injuries. That is why we want to help families balance their work and family responsibility with the financial difficulties that happen during those times. Specifically, the Helping Families in Need Act, which was passed in the fall, is to help hard-working Canadian families at a time when they need it most. It is an important and fundamental value that truly connects all of us as Canadians.
We understand on this side that raising a child is the most important, responsible thing that we ever have to do. I have three grown children and nine grandchildren, and I can attest to that.
Therefore, when a parent is struggling with an illness while balancing responsibilities, whether at work, at home or both, the whole family becomes affected. Under the Helping Families in Need Act, parents are now able to access sickness benefits if they fall ill while receiving parental benefits. Additionally, as part of the bill, we included changes required to allow for other income supports for families when they needed it the most.
We now offer EI benefits to parents of critically ill or injured children.
These new benefits are there to help reduce some of the financial pressures that parents experience. I think that through our families or a personal experience, all of us can relate to what that means and the toll it takes.
Last year we also announced a new grant to support parents coping with the disappearance or the death of a child as a result of a suspected criminal act. We read and hear of way too much of that every day in the news.
Our government is combining our proven track record of adapting the employment insurance program to foster economic growth along with support for parents who are victims, helping to ease them financially.
We want to improve the EI program to make it more flexible for Canadians by adding benefits for parents who need to take time away from work to focus on a critically ill or injured child, all to help them focus on the issues that really matter as a parent or grandparent.
Our desire is to help families. It is a desire that motivated the government to renew the extra five weeks pilot project through the worst recession since the thirties. We understand that many industries are working less and we want to help Canadians through that very tough and difficult time.
While we still all recognize that these are fragile economic times, particularly around the world, we have seen a significant and strong growth in the Canadian economy and labour market, with over 920,000 new net jobs since July of 2009. We now have more jobs in Canada than at any point in our history.
Many of the regions covered by this pilot project have now seen excellent or significant recovery as well. There were in fact a couple of regions that prematurely pulled away from that pilot project because their unemployment rates had receded so well.
Our government remains committed to jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians. On this side of the House, and I believe across all sides of the House, we are proud of our country, the job creation and the economic standing that we have seen and been recognized for around the world. Therefore, let all of us stay focused on growing jobs and continuing to develop a long-term prosperity for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this afternoon to address the opposition motion.
As many of my colleagues have previously noted, our government cannot support the opposition motion, which uses such hyperbole and fundamentally misunderstands the effects of the changes we are making to the employment insurance system. A key fact for all of these changes is ensuring that Canadians are always better off working than not. This is why we have made much-needed changes to ensure the EI program is working effectively for Canadians.
The NDP are specifically calling for a renewal today of the extra five weeks pilot project in their motion. The pilot project was a temporary measure, aimed at providing five weeks of extra EI benefits to Canadians who were hardest hit during the worst years of the recession. This program was never meant to be permanent. It was introduced nationally by our government in 2008 and renewed in 2010 as part of our economic action plan.
We have seen over 920,000 net new jobs created since July 2009. Canada is in a period of economic recovery. Temporary supports such as the extra five weeks pilot project were allowed to end because of the improvements we have seen in our economy. A few of the regions covered by the pilot project in fact saw so much sustained job growth that they ended the pilot project early. The NDP seems to think that regardless of how many jobs are created or how far we have come in terms of economic recovery, temporary supports such as these must be made permanent.
Our government's top priority is creating jobs and fostering long-term prosperity. A key tool to achieving that goal is an EI system that achieves a balance between providing benefits to those who need them while supporting Canadians as they return to work. Beginning in April we are introducing a new permanent national approach to better align the calculation of EI benefit amounts with regional labour market conditions. This will replace another pilot program called the best 14 weeks pilot.
As of April, the amount a claimant receives per week will be determined using an average of their earnings over their best weeks of employment. In higher unemployment regions, fewer best weeks will be used in this calculation. This will result in a much-higher average if several high-paying weeks are used in the calculation as opposed to all weeks that may include some with little to no income. This change will ensure that workers employed in seasonal industries do not turn down work in the off-season for fear it will decrease the average used to calculate their benefits. In short, this new variable weeks program will make it more beneficial for workers to accept all available work in slower seasons of employment.
This is yet another example of how our government is looking to balance the EI system. We want to ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not. Unlike previous pilots that were available only in some regions, this countrywide approach ensures that people with similar labour market conditions will have their EI benefits determined in the same manner, regardless of where they live.
Our government is focused on improving programs such as EI, while the NDP would seek to only maintain disincentives to work and also impose a $21 billion carbon tax on Canadians.
Another improvement that we announced in budget 2012 was the new working while on claim pilot project. 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 result of this policy was that claimants reduced their labour force attachment by turning down work that exceeded their exemption. This was creating a disincentive to work.
Under the new working while on claim pilot, the clawback is reduced to 50%, starting from the first dollar earned. As claimants search for permanent employment, this new pilot increases the benefit of accepting all available work by allowing them to keep more of what they earn while on EI. For Canadians who feel they were better served under the previous method of calculation, they are able to opt into the old system. Both these measures work toward our government's goal of ensuring that Canadians are always better off working than not. That is how one fosters economic growth, not by imposing new carbon taxes or by maintaining disincentives to work.
Canada's economy is leading the G8 when it comes to job growth. Over 920,000 net new jobs since July 2009 have been created under our watch. We are emerging from the recession far ahead of other developed nations. With new jobs come opportunities. According to Statistics Canada, in the fall there were 268,000 job vacancies across the country. We need to ensure that Canadians are aware of these jobs so that we continue to see sustained economic recovery.
We recognize there are Canadians who are having difficulty finding work, particularly in the off-season, in parts of the country where a significant section of the economy is based on seasonal industries. Our government is working to help these Canadians find jobs in their local areas, which are appropriate to their qualifications. For those who are unable to find employment, employment insurance will be there for them, as it always has been.
Personal circumstances, working conditions and hours of work will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. We are making common sense changes to the employment insurance system to ensure that Canadians have the tools and resources they need to find local jobs in their local labour markets, within their skill sets.
It is worth repeating that the opposition motion before us today completely skews the facts and panders to a politics of fear that the opposition has, unfortunately, adopted. These are the politics of political desperation. For this reason I urge all members of the House to join with our government and vote against the motion.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member from .
I am pleased to rise today on the NDP opposition day to speak to the employment insurance program.
I would like to reread the motion:
That the House call on the government to reverse devastating changes it has made to Employment Insurance which restrict access and benefits, depress wages, push vulnerable Canadians into poverty and download costs to the provinces; and reinstate the Extra Five Weeks pilot project to avoid the impending “black hole” of financial insecurity facing workers in seasonal industries and the regional economies they support.
This debate is timely because the Conference Board of Canada told us this week that rising social and economic inequality in Canada weakens the country's social fabric. It compared the socio-economic data of 17 industrialized countries and ranked Canada 7th for living conditions and the well-being of its population.
Canada under the Conservatives gets a very poor grade when it comes to social inequalities and child poverty. Yet, the employment insurance system, as originally conceived, should act as a tool for the Canadian government to combat inequalities and poverty. However, since the Mulroney government, Conservative and Liberal governments have continued to chip away at employment insurance.
The reforms carried out in the 1990s completely changed the playing field as far as employment insurance is concerned. From that point on, the government no longer participated in the funding of the system. Eligibility rules were changed, benefit levels were reduced, and the number of exclusions rose, which reduced the employment insurance coverage rate to 40%.
As one would expect, the situation is even more precarious for women. Since women often hold part-time, temporary or casual jobs, they quite simply do not accumulate enough hours to qualify for employment insurance. The figures speak for themselves. Only four out of every ten unemployed persons have access to employment insurance, and among women, the figure is three out of every ten.
Since the mid-1990s, the government has dipped into the employment insurance fund to bankroll its everyday spending, robbing workers and businesses that pay premiums of over $55 billion.
Since the Conservatives won a majority, they have begun to implement their ideological agenda and limit the scope of the employment insurance system. On September 15, for example, they abolished the pilot project covering six regions in Quebec, which was being used to test a five-week extension of regular benefits. The demise of this pilot project will mean many jobless people will, once again, find themselves in a black hole.
Moreover, on April 6, the pilot project whereby benefit rates are based on the best 14 weeks will be abolished, which will result in a substantial loss of income for a number of people in seasonal industry, among other sectors.
Furthermore, in April 2013, the board of referees will be replaced by the social security tribunal. The board, a tribunal of first instance that has proven its worth over time, will be replaced by a tribunal on which only a single government-appointed commissioner will sit.
That said, the most deplorable measure is the repeal of section 27 of the Employment Insurance Act dealing with the definition of unsuitable employment, along with a series of unreasonable constraints for workers in seasonal industries. Because of these provisions, so-called “frequent” claimants, who have filed up to three claims and have received over 60 weeks of benefits in the previous five years will, after a certain period, be forced to accept jobs at 70% of their previous compensation level within one hour of their place of residence.
On this side of the House, we believe that this witch hunt against seasonal workers is motivated by persistent prejudice against the unemployed. Members will recall that the minister who spearheaded the reform is known for her disgraceful remarks regarding the unemployed. In January 2009, she stated, for example, that her government did not want it to be lucrative for the jobless to stay at home and do nothing, as if the unemployed were all lazy.
Last Friday, she again declared that “once again, the NDP is supporting the bad guys”. The unemployed are “bad guys”. Those words are not worthy of the minister responsible for employment insurance.
We also learned last week that Service Canada employees had been mandated to hunt down unemployed people and get back $40,000 per month. Instead of training her officials to better assist the unemployed and smooth their return to the workforce, the minister is sending her investigators out after them in the hope that she can deprive them of as much money as possible.
Treating honest, unemployed Canadians like criminals is no way to come to grips with the real criminals. The minister is more and more out of touch with the daily reality of Canadians, proving that this tired government, which is constantly on the defensive and has no regard for ethics, is a tired government that must be replaced.
I have spoken at length about the Conservatives' reforms that target seasonal workers, but it is important to point out that entire communities will be decimated. Unlike the shareholders and directors of large corporations who have received tax breaks so that they will reinvest in the economy, the unemployed do not hoard their benefits. They immediately spend them in their communities on their basic needs.
In 2003, the CLC produced an interesting report on the economic impact of employment insurance. The union calculated the annual loss per constituency after the various reforms in the 1990s. The study showed, for example, that the economy in a constituency such as Rivière-des-Mille-Îles was $44 million per year poorer as a result of the cuts to the benefits paid to the unemployed.
We have to be crystal clear. This regressive reform affects all workers, not just the workers who are the most likely to receive employment insurance benefits. With the economy slowing down and the labour market on its deathbed, all workers may well feel the adverse effects of the reduced benefits.
In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to meet with residents of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles on this matter. In November, the leader of the NDP also came to the suburbs north of Montreal to meet people there and restate the NDP's commitment to improving the employment insurance program.
Specifically, I had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the 1,000 workers who are laid off each summer by the Seigneurie-des-Mille-Îles school board. They shared their concerns with me. I also saw that the 650 school crossing guards in the city of Montreal issued a press release yesterday to denounce the cuts that this Conservative government has made to employment insurance. Let me read you a passage that sums up their situation:
...crossing guards earn very modest salaries for working four hours a day divided into three shifts. They therefore have to travel six times a day for work. Now, the employment insurance reform will decrease their income and require some of them to accept minimum wage jobs. It is extremely unfair for these men and women, who ensure the safety of children, to be penalized like this.
A survey of 1,000 Rivière-des-Mille-Îles residents conducted last year also showed that there is strong support for the NDP's position on improving the employment insurance program. Fifty percent of those surveyed believe that the current program does not meet the needs of unemployed workers and that changes must be made to better support our workers.
Rather than listening only to his party's ideologues, the should listen to Canadians, who are calling for a more humane and more cost-effective approach.
In closing, I would like to present the NDP's plan for employment insurance, which is an important way of showing the difference between us and the government.
First, the NDP has already announced that it would eliminate the new measures related to seasonal workers. Let us also remember that, during the last election campaign, the NDP formally committed to restoring the integrity of the employment insurance program, as finances permit. We said we would eliminate the two-week waiting period and return the qualifying period to a minimum of 360 hours of work for all regions.
For weeks, we have been seeing major protests throughout Quebec and Canada. I hope that the government paid attention to these heartfelt appeals and that it will cancel the devastating changes to the EI program.
Mr. Speaker, the government has made it clear that Canadians cannot expect the employment insurance program that they have paid into during and throughout their working lives to be there when they need it.
Cuts to Service Canada have resulted in drastic cuts to EI processing times, meaning that people are not receiving their payments when they are desperately needing them.
If members do not believe me, they should take a look at the statistics of what has happened to EI processing under the Conservatives. Service Canada's own benchmarks state that 80% of all EI applications should receive either a payment or notice of non-payment within 28 days.
Over the past two years, more than one in four applicants have received no response. In western Canada that number rises to one in three. In February 2012, more than half of all respondents still had not heard back from Service Canada within the normal time frame.
What about the EI call centres? In 2007, Service Canada's standard was that 95% of all calls would be answered in 180 seconds. The Conservatives cut this back to 80% in 2008. Yet in 2011-2012, less than a quarter of all calls were answered in 180 seconds.
The Conservatives also significantly weakened the service standards for call-backs from two to five days. Yet only half of call-backs happen within five days. Unfortunately, the cuts in service are not unexpected.
Let us not forget that this is the government in which the is more interested in vilifying EI recipients than working out the problems in the system. It is led by a who told the American Council for National Policy that “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”.
The government's message is essentially that unemployed people are at fault for being unemployed.
Let me give an example from my own community as to why this view is shortsighted. In my community of , even a relatively modest change in the price of nickel on the international markets can have a dramatic effect on the job market. If the price rises, companies of course look to expand and the demand for jobs outstrips supply. However, if the price drops, expansion, research and development can be put on hold, and suddenly very qualified individuals find themselves out of work due to no fault of their own.
It is precisely because of these types of swings and changes in the employment patterns that EI is important not only for the individuals who receive it but for the communities as a whole.
Most important, EI is an insurance program. It is a separate fund from other government revenues, and it is designed to provide temporary financial assistance to Canadians in specific circumstances: unemployed Canadians who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, as well as those who are sick or pregnant, as well as those who must care for a family member who is seriously ill with a significant risk of death.
The very nature of these situations means that delays in receiving funds, which Canadians are legitimately authorized to access, can cause significant hardship.
I talked with some of my colleagues earlier about how an individual in the riding of one of them had to wait over a year and a half, losing his home and then having to sleep on a couch with his family in another home. I could give examples from my own riding of .
I talked earlier about a young man in his late twenties standing outside my office door at 7 o'clock in the morning to make sure that he would find one of my staff or myself, because he had been waiting since November, and this was in January, to find out whether or not he qualified for EI. All he wanted was the phone call. He is worried about how he will put food on the table this week for his family.
This is atrocious. We need to ensure that Canadians who have relied on this system can access these funds to ensure they are keeping their homes and feeding their families. Unfortunately, the changes being made by the Conservative government are in complete disregard of any of this.
I have also talked with CP rail workers in my community. They work hard all summer and fall and rely on the EI system to get them through the winter. All of this is changing.
One of the workers mentioned to me that every year at this time he shuts off his Internet service to make sure he can make ends meet. However, because he is shutting off his Internet service, he is now concerned that he will not qualify, with all of the new rules and regulations that the Conservatives are putting forward, because he needs to be able to accept two emails a day on these job postings. He said: “If I can't afford Internet, what am I supposed to do? EI is being cut back and now they're punishing me for trying to save money to put food on the table.”
The whole system that the Conservatives have brought forward has become ridiculous. None of it is supporting Canadian workers who have lost their job through no fault of their own, but is just coming forward on an ideology.
What explicitly are New Democrats asking for with this motion? We are asking for five simple changes that will make life much fairer for Canadians. First, reinstate the extra five weeks pilot project. Second, remove the new definitions of reasonable search and suitable employment for EI claimants. Third, reverse the changes to the working while on claim pilot project. Fourth, reinstate the EI appeal tribunal process. Fifth, reverse the cuts to Service Canada, which are leading to increased processing times.
I will talk a little about each of these statements.
The extra five weeks program granted an extended EI benefit for up to five additional weeks to Canadians living in regions with high unemployment, which unfortunately would include my area of Sudbury. This extra five weeks meant that eligible workers could receive up to 50 weeks of employment insurance benefits.
I do not know if members know anybody who gets an EI cheque, but it is not a lucrative living, as the minister has said. When they are taking these extra five weeks, it is to make sure there is food on the table and the bills are paid. They are not living the high life. By scrapping this, the Conservatives are again punishing Canadians in regions that have high unemployment.
As I mentioned, the extra five weeks for eligible workers who could receive 50 weeks is a program that has helped 313,000 workers in 2010-11 by preventing a gap in income for seasonal workers between the end of EI benefits and the start of their employment season. The program replaced another pilot project started in 2004, and its cancellation means that 2013 will be the first year since then that there will be no extra weeks to benefit available workers in high unemployment regions. This change will push many families into financial crisis, and businesses are worried that the cancellation of the program will force seasonal workers to move, depriving areas of highly skilled workers and exacerbating regional divides in Canada.
This is something that is so true in northern Ontario and in Sudbury. I know my colleague from could speak to this as well. We are in constant need of skilled workers up in Sudbury. We bring them in and then we create programs like this that send them off to other areas. We really need a stable EI program, and those are the things we are talking about in the five recommendations that we have brought forward.
The definition of reasonable search and suitable employment means that unemployed Canadians will be forced to accept jobs paying up to 30% less than their previous position, driving down wages for all Canadians. Let us not even talk about income equality. We need a whole other debate to talk about that, but this continues to drive that whole piece down.
Service Canada would also force claimants to drive an hour outside of their own community to find work. In northern Ontario, between Sudbury and Espanola or Sudbury and Sturgeon Falls, there is absolutely no public transportation, but that is within the one-hour time frame. Therefore, if there is a job in either of these communities, or vice versa, from Espanola to Sturgeon Falls back into Sudbury, how are workers expected to get there, especially in winter? We only have two-lane highways in Sudbury and they get dangerous. We want to ensure the safety of all Canadians, not put more people on the road to try to take a job that pays them less and that does not even help their family.
The changes that the Conservatives are proposing are actually detrimental to Canadians, and I am proud to stand up and talk to this motion today.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the . I am pleased to rise and speak to this opposition motion on employment insurance. Most importantly, I am also pleased to address some of the misguided, misinformed and politically motivated messages that have been put forward by members of the opposition and big unions in an attempt to mislead Canadians about what the EI changes will do.
As the member of Parliament for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, I know how sensitive the topic of EI changes is. It is unfortunate that some opposition parties have intended to exaggerate what these changes mean, and are trying to do with fear what they could not do with reason during the last election, that is, getting more votes.
The changes our government has made to EI aim to ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not working. Quite simply, by accepting a reasonable job under the new definition, Canadians will actually increase their income from what they would collect on EI.
The extra five weeks pilot project that the NDP members refer to in their opposition motion today was a temporary measure aimed at providing extra EI benefits to those Canadians who were hardest hit during the darkest days of the recession. The pilot project was always intended to be temporary.
Since the dark days of the recession, we have seen over 920,000 net new jobs created in Canada. Canada is on a road to sustained economic recovery. Ninety per cent of those jobs are full time; 75% are in the private sector. These are good, well-paying jobs for Canadians. Indeed, there are more jobs coming. Statistics Canada reports that in the fall there were 268,000 job vacancies across this country. As we know, in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada, with our new shipbuilding contract, there are economic opportunities ahead of us for all areas of the Maritimes and Atlantic Canada, not just Halifax.
Employers across Canada have made it clear that there is a significant skills and labour shortage, and that is why it is so important that we help Canadians connect with those employers. That is why our government is investing in connecting Canadians with jobs in their local labour markets. We want to ensure that Canadians always have the first crack at Canadian jobs by helping them connect to those available jobs before foreign workers can be brought in from other lands.
This will help us address the growing skills and labour shortage in Canada by helping Canadians who want to work get back to work. At the same time, we recognize that there are Canadians who are having difficulty finding work, particularly in parts of the country where the economy is still based on seasonal industries. This is also why we have invested heavily in skills and training to ensure that Canadians have the skills and training they need to gain employment in the marketplace.
For those who live in areas of high unemployment and are unable to find jobs, the employment insurance system will be there for them. It always has been.
These improvements are only the most recent in a series of economic action plan measures introduced by our government to support jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. One of the programs that helped us achieve this economic success is the work-sharing program. It has helped both employees and employers alike to endure the rockier parts of our economic recovery.
Through the economic action plan, our Conservative government has made the work-sharing program more accessible, and extended it to help minimize the effects of the economic downturn on Canadian companies and their employees, companies like Stanfield's in my home town of Truro that used the work-sharing program to keep many employees at work and its factory open in the darkest days of the recession.
This program works by helping businesses avoid temporary layoffs when elements beyond their control force a reduction in the regular level of activity at the business. If workers agree to a reduced work while their employer recovers, they may receive EI benefits, effectively allowing two or three workers to share one job. This allows employers to retain their skilled and experienced employees and avoid the costly process of recruiting and training new employees when business levels return to normal.
This program is a win-win proposition both for the employers, who rely on the experienced hands of their long-term workers, and the employees who are able to keep their jobs and maintain their skills and training.
We also want to better align the calculation of weekly EI benefits with local labour market conditions. As of April, the amount a claimant receives per week will be determined using an average of their earnings over their best weeks of employment. In higher unemployment regions, fewer best weeks will be used in this calculation. This will result in much-higher average earnings if several high-paying weeks are used in the calculation, as opposed to all the weeks, which may include some weeks with little or no income.
This change will ensure that workers employed in seasonal industries do not turn down work in the off-season for fear it will decrease the average used to calculate their benefits. No more will this system be a detriment to someone taking a job.
In short, this new variable weeks program will make it more beneficial for workers to accept all available work in slower employment seasons. It is another example of how our government is looking to balance the EI system. We want to ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not working. Unlike the divisive policies of the NDP that try to pit one region of Canada against another, our government believes in programs like work sharing that are equally available across Canada.
We know that Canadians are eager and willing to put their skills to work in the over 920,000 net new jobs that have been created since July 2009 and we know that Canadians do not want the $21 billion carbon tax imposed on them by the NDP. That would be on top of a $3.8 billion in proposed new annual spending on the EI program, spending that would be paid out of the pockets of hard-working Canadians and small businesses, who would have to pay up to 15% more a year in premiums, a cost they could little afford in these fragile economic times.
Our economic action plan is showing results. The measures we have introduced to support job growth and long-term prosperity have given us the strongest growth numbers in the G7. This is why our government is removing the disincentives to work that existed within the former EI system to ensure that we can match Canadians with available jobs in their local labour markets appropriate to their skill sets. It bears repeating that should jobs not be available in someone's local area, the employment insurance system will continue to be available. It always has been.
As a member of Parliament from Atlantic Canada, I want to assure my constituents that the personal circumstances of any EI claimant will be taken into account when determining suitable employment for them. As a member from Nova Scotia, I urge my fellow Atlantic MPs to stop the fearmongering and support the economic action plan that is delivering results for Canadians in all corners of our country, including Atlantic Canada, and to please vote against today's opposition motion.
Mr. Speaker, I would like first to congratulate my colleague from Nova Scotia, the member for , on having generated wealth and employment in Nova Scotia and in the Atlantic provinces.
I would like in turn to comment on the motion respecting employment insurance changes introduced in the House by the member for , and to express clearly my disagreement with the NDP's position on the issue.
The employment insurance plan is the most important Canadian program devoted to the labour market, and Canadians rely on it to assist them financially when they are temporarily out of work and are looking for a job. I have myself received employment insurance benefits. It is a useful and necessary program for all working people.
We know that those who remain active in the labour market are more likely to find permanent work more quickly. Permanent jobs are what provides stability and makes it possible to improve living conditions for Canadian families and Canadian regions. There is no doubt that most Canadians want to work, and are actively looking for employment while receiving employment insurance benefits. That is one of the principles of the system.
The changes we are making to the employment insurance plan are necessary to ensure that it remains fair and efficient. One of the goals is to help workers find jobs more quickly, preserve jobs and ensure that Canadian workers have more money in their pockets.
The measures we announced in the 2012 economic action plan are ensuring that the employment insurance plan is now better suited to Canadians’ needs, more flexible and more equitable. They also ensure that the plan helps Canadians stay active in the labour market, and find employment more quickly. How? Members will agree with me that it is does not make sense for employment insurance claimants to be looking for work, on the one hand, for jobs to be available, and for those concerned not to speak to each other. That is what the new measures introduced by our minister are bringing about, in every part of the country.
We are proposing and putting in place a better way of connecting Canadians with job opportunities in their local area. We have also clarified the responsibilities of claimants while they are receiving regular employment insurance benefits. For example, we realized that some people have difficulty in finding a job, or in seeing what jobs are available in their region. Sometimes they are unaware that their skills, particularly those of seasonal workers, which are remarkable, could meet the needs of other industries during the off-season.
That is why we undertook to enable Canadians receiving regular employment insurance benefits to receive daily notification of job offers from various sources in their region, in order to assist their job search.
We have also provided clear definitions in the regulations for “suitable employment” and “reasonable job search.” We believe these clarifications reinforce the responsibilities of claimants receiving regular benefits and will help them in their active job search, in order to accept suitable employment.
Contrary to what the opposition claims, we have no thought whatever of compelling people to accept jobs for which they do not have the skills—we are dealing here with the kind of urban myths perpetuated by the opposition—or asking them move to another part of the country, or accept underpaid work, as some people have wrongly claimed.
This is about clarifying claimants' responsibility when receiving EI benefits and sticking to clear parameters. The new and enhanced job alert system has been introduced to provide Canadians with better, more relevant information on employment.
The employment insurance system to which workers and employers contribute is designed to provide temporary income support. It is not designed to provide an income supplement when people choose not to work. That goes without saying and everyone knows that.
It is important to note that those who do not manage to find work will still be able to rely on the employment insurance program. Again, those who are not able to find work can still count on the EI system.
In our desire to better connect Canadians with available jobs, we have also improved coordination between the EI system and the temporary foreign worker program.
It is very simple, and the objective is clear. We just want employers to consider hiring Canadians before foreign workers, and we want foreign workers to be hired where we need them most. Let us first meet our needs with Canadian workers, and then let us get additional help abroad, if necessary. This is just common sense. It is a sensible and reasonable measure. Let us first offer Canadian jobs to our own workers. Then, if necessary, we can turn to foreign workers.
We have also adopted a new Canada-wide method to calculate EI benefits, so that people living in regions with similar labour market conditions can be eligible for the same benefits. We are talking about fairness for all regions of the country and a flexible system that takes into consideration the employment insurance rate.
That is why we are convinced that these new initiatives, which are being implemented, will help more Canadians find work, and will put more money in workers' pockets. These measures will provide greater support to people looking for work. A daily report will inform them of available jobs in their region. In addition, as I mentioned, thanks to these measures people will have more money if they work than if they merely collect EI benefits.
Our government is committed to making targeted and sensible changes to the EI system, for the benefit of Canadians and the whole country. I hope opposition members will support our efforts to connect available jobs with workers who are looking for work. This will create wealth and prosperity in all our regions, particularly in areas that are so dear to us, like Lévis—Bellechasse and Les Etchemins.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
The reform we are looking at starts out very badly. It starts by denying the geographic, demographic and social facts of life in Canada. If we had a uniform country, like a kind of great plain with the same resources distributed uniformly across it, this reform might work very well, but Canada is made up of more variety than that.
There is also the historical aspect. When Canada was created, the Canadian west was a vast empty space with a pile of buffalo bones and subsistence farming. What financed the construction of the transcontinental railway and the development of the west were the economy and the banks of Halifax and Montreal. They monopolized whatever savings and capital there were for 50 years, so that the rest of Canada, Ontario and the west, could be developed.
Now that the shoe is on the other foot, it no longer works. It seemed to me that there was an agreement, that the wealth would be shared from one end of the country to the other and there would be some degree of mutual support. It would appear that phase has come to an end.
In addition, this reform does not have the unanimous support of Canadians, at least if I go by what I hear from my constituents. In fact, I cannot really repeat what they said here, because I would have to set parliamentary language aside. No one is happy with this reform, because it does not stand up for a second. It is absurd and inconsistent.
The best comparison I can make when I look at the minister to whom this reform has been assigned is that it is as if someone wanted to send a milk wagon horse out wearing blinkers to run the barrel race at the Calgary Stampede. It does not make any sense. The government has to start realizing how big a mistake it has made.
For months now, absolutely no one has come to me and said that the government was right in proposing this reform and that the system needed to be put in order because some people were abusing it. I have never heard anyone say that. People are starting to organize seriously. I have received letters and resolutions from municipalities in my riding asking me to speak up and protest against this reform. It is not just unemployed people who will be directly affected; employers, municipalities and entire regions will be as well. This will result in a loss of expertise.
For example, a person who works maintaining the trails at Mont Tremblant has to stop when the snow starts to melt. I have another example: a young father wrote to me. He is a technician who works on boats and personal watercraft. When the season ends, he works for a few weeks doing maintenance and storing boats for the winter. In the spring, it starts up again. He works on preparations for the upcoming season. In between, he would have to take a chainsaw to the lake to open it up. Reality is sometimes tedious, but we have to face it.
Members on the other side of the House need to get used to doing this.
The minister spoke earlier of information about employment being available online. That is all well and good, but in certain areas in my riding, there is no high-speed Internet. The limited Internet service only works very early in the morning and around dinnertime. Outside these periods, it is impossible to receive or send e-mail. Before overhauling the system and automating the services, the Conservatives should at least ensure that people have access to the Internet.
There is also the question of an acceptable distance between a person's home and place of employment. If a person lives 80 km from the nearest major road, has to travel on dangerous roads and share the road with convoys of forestry trucks, it is not easy. When it is -30 or -35 °C, it is important to have a reliable vehicle with good tires. Generally speaking, that is not the kind of vehicle that unemployed persons drive.
The money in the employment insurance fund does not belong to the government. It belongs to workers and employers. It is a fund to which businesses and employees contribute. It is intended to help people get through the toughest periods of their lives. The government is now making these periods even tougher by imposing an increasing number of constraints.
In the long term, when an individual reaches the end of the road, so to speak, he will be forced to accept a job that pays 30% less, and if he changes jobs a second time, his income would drop a further 30%; where will it end? Do the Conservatives intend to do away with the minimum wage?
Earlier, the minister spoke of the availability of workers for agricultural jobs. It is certainly true that these jobs should be offered to Canadians ahead of foreign workers, but what will happen if, every year, an employer brings in workers from Central America to pick strawberries and there is unemployment in his region? Will he still be able to have them come? There is much ambiguity around this. This kind of ambiguity only leads to more questions. It results in insecurity and uncertainty.
Will the Conservatives reveal their intentions and tell Canadians whether or not they have a plan?
Mr. Speaker, do the words ”Notre région au pouvoir” ring a bell with you? That was the Conservative Party's slogan in Quebec during the 2011 election. When we look at the employment insurance reform that is being imposed on the regions of Quebec, we see that they—particularly the one that I have the honour and privilege of representing—are being directly attacked and are going to pay a high price.
In my region, a major movement is currently underway. People are aware of the consequences of employment insurance reform and they can see its negative effects. We have seen demonstrations on the Magdalen Islands, in the Gaspé, in the Lower St. Lawrence, along the upper north shore and the lower north shore, in Charlevoix and in the Maritimes. People are rising up because they know what this reform will mean for their communities, for their economy and for the future of their regions.
Despite all the noise that the government is trying to make and all the confusion it is trying to spread about the reform, there are two main reasons why the Conservatives have imposed this employment insurance reform.
First, it is true that there is a labour shortage in some regions of the country, in some communities and in some sectors, especially in Alberta. We recognize that. But reforming employment insurance in an attempt to better connect those looking for jobs and employers through policies will apply from coast to coast to coast is about the worst way imaginable of attaining that goal. In my opinion, it is the least effective, the least efficient way of going about it.
The second goal that the Conservatives had in mind—and it is clearly spelled out in the article I mentioned just now—is to shorten the list of those who can claim employment insurance benefits. People may have paid into the program for years, but the government is trying to make them ineligible for employment insurance. The government even came right out and said that it was hoping to save $35 million per year. Would it actually be saving money? No, that is money contributed by employers and employees, money that will be taken away from the claimants who need it when they are unemployed.
This idea of restricting EI eligibility is the crux of the issue, and it was once again exposed last Friday in Le Devoir. The article referred to the quotas imposed on Service Canada employees. They are being asked to find annual “savings” of $40,000. Of course, the main purpose was to eliminate fraudsters in our society. That is absolutely right.
However, when the government imposes quotas, when it asks every employee to find savings of $40,000, and when it imposes new EI eligibility rules, it is no longer fighting fraudsters who should not be collecting EI benefits. Rather, it is trying to find a way to exclude perfectly eligible and legitimate claimants, based on purely technical criteria or even mistakes.
The government might argue that these people have access to an appeal process if they are erroneously denied EI benefits. Let us talk about this appeal process. Until now, we had boards of referees made up of some 800 employees, many working part-time. Each board was familiar with the realities of its regional economy. However, as of next April, these boards of referees will no longer exist. The government is replacing them with a social security tribunal that will deal not only with employment insurance, but also with pensions and other federal benefits.
Under the board of referees system—which worked relatively well—one could file an appeal and a decision would be issued within a month. Therefore, a legitimate claimant could receive his benefits one month after appealing.
In the case of the social security tribunal, which will employ only 70 people across the country, a legitimate claimant may have to wait up to eight months before getting his due. Can an EI claimant afford to wait eight months before receiving his benefits? This shows how the Conservative approach to the EI issue is totally out of touch with reality, particularly the reality of our regions, because this is very much about them.
Despite the efforts that have been made, some of them in eastern Quebec, which I am honoured to represent and where the economy has been greatly diversified compared to conditions there 10 or 15 years ago, a large part of the economy still relies on seasonal work. I am choosing my words carefully. We are not talking about seasonal workers, but seasonal work. Since we are in a resource-based region, this work is mostly in the tourism, agriculture, fishery and forestry sectors. That is the reality in our regions.
At the moment, the Conservative government—for its own purposes—is completely disrupting and overturning the way our economy operates. It is doing that through its EI reforms. If the government wants to debate diversification of regional economies, we are ready. We should hold that debate here in the House, and the Quebec National Assembly could hold one, too. Still, the government never mentions regional economic diversification; it prefers to operate within the employment insurance system, which should be providing insurance benefits to claimants and taking our regional reality into account.
It is not just rural regions that are affected. Urban areas also should be alert to the effects of this reform. While the resource-based regions may depend on tourism, agriculture, fisheries and forestry, other sectors are also deeply affected by this reform. For example, construction workers often work on three- to eight-month contracts. At the end of a contract, because of a weak real estate market or slow housing starts, they may find themselves without work for several months as they wait for their next contract.
During the two to four months they are unemployed, they must search for work, perhaps outside the construction sector, depending on their qualifications, even though they are looking for jobs in construction. If they live in an urban area, they will have to do five job searches per week to qualify for benefits. Even though they are actively searching for employment in construction, no such jobs exist.
We can think of other fields, such as teaching, where substitute teachers may have contracts for three to five months, then have to wait a month or two before getting their next contract. They are asked to apply for three to five jobs a week in fields that may not be their own. They may be offered a job for which they may be qualified but that offers 70% of the salary of their previous job, and that may well be a job in sales, fast food or retail. They may be offered a job that does not interest them, and for which they have no particular training, but that they would be suited for because it is a job requiring lesser skills than a bachelor's or master's degree in education. These people are still looking for a job in education, but there are none. They may have to accept a job in a completely different field or risk losing their benefits.
I can name some other fields that affect urban areas, such as the arts and film sectors, where people often work on contract and can wind up unemployed for weeks or months, and not for lack of looking for a new contract. They may be forced to take a job outside their field, but one that they may be qualified for and will have to accept.
This reform makes no sense. What I have also seen, and what people realize when I say this reform makes no sense, is the make-up of the demonstrations and movements we are seeing in eastern Quebec. Claimants, the workers, are not the only ones rising up; there are also employers, whose workforce, often trained at high cost, may leave the region because of economic insecurity.
Employers also suffer productivity losses. If claimants are required to conduct three to five job searches a week, imagine the number of unsolicited employment applications employers receive and nevertheless have to go through. Those resources would be put to much better use helping expand those businesses.
In my view, the minister clearly has no idea of the actual situation in our regions. She has no idea of the disruptions this reform will cause in regions such eastern Quebec, and she has no idea of the negative impact this will have on regional economies.
With that, I will be pleased to answer any questions.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
As several government members indicated previously, we cannot support the motion, because it simply misrepresents the facts.
The changes we have made to employment insurance are ensuring that Canadians are always better off working than not. That is why it is important to invest in connecting Canadians with available jobs in their local labour markets. The extra-five-weeks pilot project was a temporary measure brought in in 2008 and reintroduced in 2010 through Canada's economic action plan to help EI recipients during the recession. While the opposition continues to fearmonger, the facts simply do not lie. Thanks to our efforts included in Canada's economic action plan, we have seen over 920,000 net new jobs since July 2009.
We are in a period of economic recovery, and we need to help Canadians who want to work connect with those jobs that are available in their areas. Our investments in connecting Canadians with available jobs is about making sure that Canadian workers are better aware of the opportunities available in their local areas and that Canadians always have first crack at jobs in their local communities, before temporary foreign workers do.
Our government is focused on getting Canadians working. We are focused on creating jobs. We are making progress, despite these fragile economic times.
Yet while our government makes improvement after improvement and we continue to see thousands of net new jobs created every month, what do we get from the opposition? We get fearmongering, misrepresentation of the facts and proposals to impose massive new taxes on Canadians. Our government does not accept that as a way to go about fostering continued economic recovery.
To date we have seen the NDP propose over $3.8 billion in annual EI spending. This means that $3.8 billion would be taken from the pockets of hard-working Canadians and small businesses, which would be forced to pay higher premiums. This does not make any sense given the economic times we live in.
Our economic prosperity depends on our ability to meet emerging and growing labour market challenges. It depends on our competitiveness. It depends on our resolve. Foremost among these challenges are skills and labour shortages. According to Statistics Canada, in the fall there were 268,000 job vacancies across the country. Our government is rising to meet this challenge. We have invested heavily in skills and training to ensure that Canadians have the skills and training they need to gain employment in the workplace.
We know that Canadians want to work, but they often face challenges finding work. What are we doing to help unemployed workers find jobs? As announced in economic action plan 2012, our government has been investing to connect unemployed Canadians with available jobs in their local areas that match their skill sets. As part of this initiative, Service Canada is sending job alerts twice a day to Canadians who are receiving employment insurance. These job alerts come from many different sources, including the job bank and private sector providers. As always, employers are required to provide evidence that they have exhausted efforts to hire Canadians before they turn to temporary foreign workers.
The improvements we have made are aimed at ensuring that Canadians receiving EI benefits will always benefit financially from accepting available work. These are common sense changes that also work toward clarifying, not changing, the responsibilities of Canadians who are collecting EI. 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 get back to work. We are ensuring that all of these changes are grounded in common sense and fairness. It bears repeating that should Canadians who have been making legitimate efforts to find work be unsuccessful, EI will continue to be there for them, as it has always been. We fully 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.
One of the myths the opposition has been spreading is the reference that our EI improvements will result in downloading of costs to the provinces. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we invest in connecting Canadians with jobs, we will actually be helping the provinces, because employed people pay taxes, which in turn helps fund provincial programs.
We will also deliver significant funding to the provinces to invest in the skills training of EI and non-EI recipients to help Canadians get into more stable, higher-paying jobs.
As several members have commented, the changes with respect to a reasonable job search only clarify an existing obligation under the Employment Insurance Act to be actively looking for work.
Personal circumstances will always be taken into consideration. Such circumstances include physical ability, family commitments, transportation options and whether someone would be better off working than not.
EI is an important program in Canada and will continue to be. These improvements have introduced a needed new common sense effort to help Canadians get back to work faster. That is good for Canadians, good for their communities, and most important, good for their families. For these reasons, I urge all members of the House to vote against the motion and to support our efforts to create jobs and get Canadians working.