Mr. Speaker, I thank you personally for recognizing the presence in this chamber today of the great-grandson of Winston Churchill, Randolph Churchill, who I had a chance to meet today. He reminded me of one of Churchill's great sayings to the effect that trying to tax one's way to prosperity is like trying to lift oneself off the ground by standing in a bucket and pulling up on the handle.
That is particularly appropriate for the motion put forward in the House by the NDP, supported I presume by the Liberals, which has the effect of raising payroll taxes on Canadian workers. The opposition NDP view Canadian taxpayers as a bottomless pit from which it can take endless supplies of money to spend on all of the dreams that a left-of-centre politician can conjure up. Today the New Democrats are focusing on payroll taxes. Let me help them understand what payroll taxes are. They are a fixed sum of money that is taken off of the paycheque of every single worker and used to fund the Canada pension plan and employment insurance. Deductions are also matched by the employer so that both employer and employee must make these payments in order to fund these programs.
Our approach has been to keep these payroll taxes as low as humanly possible. In fact, with the soon to arrive surplus in the employment insurance account, we will have the ability to lower payroll taxes in the year 2017, at which time they will go down by 21%, one-fifth, which will save money for both small business people and the hard-working employees who work for them.
The NDP and the Liberals want to do exactly the opposite. They would like to raise payroll taxes. Therefore, let us start with the two things that they had announced they want to do to raise payroll taxes. Both have recently announced support for Premier Kathleen Wynne's proposed pension plan in Ontario. That Liberal pension plan would raise payroll taxes by $1,000 per worker for every person earning $60,000 a year. It is indicated in a schedule to the publicly available Ontario Liberal government plan put out in 2014 how much extra taxes Canadians would have to pay. For example, someone earning about $70,000 would pay an extra $1,200 in payroll taxes and so would the small business that employs him or her. Someone earning only $45,000 would pay an additional $800 and his or her employee would be forced to match it.
When Kathleen Wynne came up with this new tax, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business asked its members, thousands of small businesses right across the country, how they would carry this new burden. The answers that the small businesses gave are the following: a majority said they would have to fire people; a majority said they would have to cut wages; and, many said they would have to do both. In fact, a significant number of small businesses indicated that they would have to close their doors altogether were they to be burdened with this increased tax.
That is precisely why we have rejected higher payroll taxes to fund pension schemes. Our approach for pension security is to cut taxes. We believe that if you leave more money in the hands of those who earn it they can set more money aside to prepare for a brighter future. Therefore, we brought in the tax-free savings account that allow people to put aside money and grow it tax free for the rest of their lives.
The opposition claimed that the people who contribute to these are making too much money, so I checked, and I found that on average, 60% of those who max out their tax-free savings accounts earned less than $60,000 a year. Liberals and New Democrats think that if people earn $60,000 a year, they are too rich and they should pay more to the government. They could not be further from the truth.
Our approach for retirement security is a low-tax plan. Their approach is a high-tax scheme. Whenever Canadians are given a clear choice between low taxes and high taxes, they always choose wisely because they understand that a dollar left in the hands of the person who earns it will always be more productively spent and invested than in the hands of the politician or bureaucrats who tax it. That is the lesson that they will teach the NDP and the Liberals when they vote on this payroll tax in October.
There is one member in the House who gave me applause and I want to thank him for that. The member for is very generous and I know that he agrees that his constituents should be able to keep more of their own money and that is why they have confidence in him.
I know there is no applause on the other side of the House when we speak about lower taxes. They believe in a big usurpatory government that takes as much as humanly possible. We know that any government that has to spend more on the irresponsible schemes of a left-of-centre party ends up emptying the pockets of hard-working Canadians and we will not allow them to do that.
I now move on to the second tax increase that both the NDP and Liberals propose and that, of course, is an increase in employment insurance payroll taxes. We have here in the House of Commons one of the greatest supporters of the 45-day work year. He proposes, and so do both opposition parties, that employment insurance be paid out for an entire year after someone works 45 days. How do we run an economy if people are only working 45 days a year?
The NDP and Liberals have both endorsed this approach that would cost billions of dollars in order to increase eligibility for EI to a year-long period after 45 days of employment. This plan would apply in every single economic region in the country, even places with acute labour shortages where employers struggle to find people to work. The NDP and Liberals would institute this multibillion dollar scheme of a 45-day work year.
The problem is not just that it would harm our workforce, it would raise our taxes because we cannot find billions of dollars to spend on a scheme like that out of thin air. Budgets, unlike the Liberal leader's view, do not balance themselves and neither do expensive schemes like this pay for themselves. They would have to raise payroll taxes on those Canadians who get up every day and work hard and the people who employ them.
We know if it is more expensive to hire, our employers will hire less. On this side of the House, we believe in creating jobs because the best way to lift people up and to create a brighter future for them is through the three pillars of prosperity: jobs, families and communities. The best anti-poverty plan is a good job. The most reliable social safety net is a strong family. For those who have trouble finding a job or whose families struggle, we have a third pillar which is community. Let me briefly talk about all three of them.
Our plan for jobs is the three Ts: training, trade, tax cuts. Training connects Canadians with the opportunities to be employed. Trade gives markets for our businesses to sell to. Tax cuts allow our consumers to spend, our families to save and our businesses to hire. These three Ts create jobs.
As for families, we are putting money into the hands of moms and dads so they can make the best decisions for their children.
As for communities, we are eliminating the tax on charities, which used to punish our non-profits every time they got a donation from a philanthropist, so that 100% of charitable giving will be tax-free from now on.
Families, jobs and communities are the three pillars of a strong Canada. That is our future.
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I wish to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
On behalf of my constituents in LaSalle—Émard, I rise in the House to support my colleague's motion. I will be supporting the official opposition motion moved by my colleague from . The motion states the following:
That, in the opinion of the House, employment insurance premiums paid by employers and workers must be used exclusively to finance benefits, as defined by the Employment Insurance Act, for unemployed workers and their families and that, consequently, the government should: (a) protect workers'...premiums...; (b) improve program accessibility...; and (c) abandon its plan, as set out in Budget 2015, to set rates unilaterally...
When we are elected to the Parliament of Canada and form the government, it is important that we keep our promises. When we collect EI premiums from workers and employers, that money must be used for its intended purpose.
In other words, those premiums must be used to help workers who have had the misfortune of losing their jobs, so that those workers can make ends meet and provide for their families until they can find another job.
When we take office, that is a commitment we make. It is what is written, for example, in the contract of this employment insurance program, which is one of the commitments that Canada has made to Canadian society. These are the programs we have set up over the years to ensure that we have a society that is more just and more equitable.
In addition, for decades, Canada was rightly acknowledged as a fair, equitable and, I would even say, compassionate society. We introduced programs such as employment insurance, health insurance and the Canada Pension Plan. All of these programs are part of the social safety net that Canadians decided to establish and to which they contribute year after year through a variety of contributions and income tax.
It is a government’s responsibility to ensure that the contributions it receives from workers, from Canadian men and women, are used fairly and equitably for government programs.
However, over the past 20 years, we have noted that government after government has not kept the commitments it made or its promises, and this is why Canada is no longer the fair and just society that we used to know.
Over the past two decades, that is, since the major cuts made my Liberal governments and now those made by the Conservative government, the wage disparities between rich and poor as well as between men and women have continued to grow. I am not the one who is saying it, this is in the OECD reports: income inequality between rich and poor and between men and women in Canada is rising, and rising more and more quickly. This worries me.
This is the reason why we have programs such as employment insurance and others that I mentioned before that help reduce these inequalities.
I am lucky to represent the riding of Lasalle—Émard. It is a riding that experienced a golden age, at a time when the manufacturing sector was important. Over the years, manufacturing has declined somewhat and major companies that employed a large number of people have unfortunately closed down.
We have come to realize that there is a significant transition happening in the Canadian economy. First, a number of Canadian companies have been bought up by foreign interests. Then they just closed down, because it was decided to move production to somewhere else in the world. Other companies did not invest wisely in their employees or in the business itself to ensure its survival, and they too closed down. What happened to most of these workers? They lost their jobs. It is at this point that workers want to be able to rely on employment insurance.
I find it extremely sad to hear some of my Conservative colleagues talking about people who lose their jobs as if it were their own fault and as if the government were not required to help them. I know that Canadians are supportive and compassionate people. These are people who want to help each other. When I listen to Conservatives on the other side of the House, I do not recognize myself in them. Most Canadians would not recognize themselves in them, either.
As I mentioned, a number of large manufacturing companies in my riding have closed down. There has been a transition and, today, one of the fastest-growing sectors in my riding is the retail trade. What do we have now? We have precarious employment, part-time jobs, minimum-wage jobs and very difficult jobs. It is very hard for a family to make ends meet.
In addition, because of the type of jobs in retail, when the American giant Target closed its doors just a year after coming into Canada with great fanfare, between 60 and 70 jobs were lost in my riding. The same thing then happened with Best Buy. Because these jobs have such piecemeal schedules, it is really difficult to get a certain number of hours. In addition, who occupies most of these jobs? They are women.
We know that, with the cuts made by the Liberals and then by the Conservatives, and the fact that they have made access to employment insurance more and more difficult, these people often find themselves with nothing. It is not just the workers who suffer. Their families suffer, too. What we have noticed in the riding of Lasalle—Émard is that people are poorer because the cost of living is increasing and jobs are precarious. When someone loses a job, it is difficult for him or her to have access to employment insurance. The social safety net that we built generation after generation in this country has been ripped apart.
I think that those currently in government do not understand Canadian society at all or the values held by Canadians. In October 2015, I think it will be their turn to receive a pink slip that says they have been fired.
Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to talk about employment insurance. I want to commend my colleague from on the excellent work that he does. He moved this motion that allows me to speak in the House about the employment insurance program and how important it is.
The motion reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, employment insurance premiums paid by employers and workers must be used exclusively to finance benefits, as defined by the Employment Insurance Act, for unemployed workers and their families...
The motion goes on to explain how that would be accomplished.
What my colleague from presented is very important, and I know that he has been working very hard on this issue for some time now. It is an important issue that we have worked extremely hard on. Of course, we criticized the tens of billions of dollars in cuts that the Liberals and then the Conservatives made. In reality, they dipped into the EI fund in order to lower taxes for multinationals, corporations, instead of using that money for good.
I would like to point out that, in Drummond, I work with local organizations in order to serve the interests of my constituents. One of these organizations is the Regroupement de défense des droits sociaux des sans-emploi, or RDDS. This non-profit organization provides services to everyone, whether employed or unemployed, who wants to really learn all about their rights in terms of financial assistance of last resort, including employment insurance and labour standards. I have been working with this organization since 2011. I know it well and it has informed me about the problems of certain workers. We have worked together to meet the needs of these people and we continue to do so.
RDDS's mission is to improve the living conditions of employed or unemployed people and to help empower them by providing them with information and training on social rights. This organization is very important, and there are similar organizations across Quebec and Canada. They do excellent work and it is crucial to support them and, above all, to listen to them.
The Conservative members need to listen more closely to these organizations. They would understand why the motion moved today is extremely important.
I would like to acknowledge the excellent work done by the president of the Drummondville RDDS, Richard St-Cyr, and all of the other administrators, including Jason Grant, whom I also know very well. I also want to recognize the excellent work of the team: Joan Salvail, Sandra Malenfant and Stéphanie Bombardier. They do an exemplary job.
Recently, I had a meeting with the RDDS and the NDP riding association for Drummond, and we talked about how we could continue to inform people and what we could do to make sure that people are aware of their rights. We had the brilliant idea to invite someone who is a very well-known advocate of workers' rights and the employment insurance program, Hans Marotte, to come and give a speech in Drummondville. As members know, Hans Marotte has been the head of legal services at Mouvement action-chômage de Montréal since 1996. He has therefore been working on this issue for a long time. Mouvement action-chômage de Montréal is a community organization whose mission is to inform and defend workers and the unemployed with regard to employment insurance. Mr. Marotte also practises social and labour law. Mouvement action-chômage de Montréal and the Regroupement de défense des droits sociaux are two organizations that are working toward similar goals.
By way of information, Hans Marotte will also be running in the 2015 election in the riding of Saint-Jean. He is doing excellent work in that regard.
He came and gave a speech, and it was really interesting to learn about the various positions and about how the employment insurance program has changed over the years. First, the Liberals dipped into the EI surplus. Then the Conservatives took billions of dollars from the EI surplus, all at the expense of the people receiving employment insurance, which used to be known as unemployment insurance.
Let us remember one thing. In the past, 80% of people had access to the employment insurance program.
Over the years, Liberal and Conservative governments repeatedly made unfair reforms that did nothing to help our regions and our workers, but that instead made the jobless feel guilty.
There are many seasonal workers in the greater Drummond area, in sectors such as agriculture, forestry and horticulture. These are skilled individuals who have very good values. They have acquired valuable knowledge. The owners of these small businesses do not want to lose these workers. Employment insurance gets them through the off-season, when seasonal work is not available. They need employment insurance.
It is called employment insurance. A worker can apply for employment insurance when an accident or a problem occurs. It is very important. Hans Marotte compares it to car insurance:
I've never heard someone say that they look forward to getting in a car accident so they can file an insurance claim.
This situation is similar.
That goes for jobs too: nobody wants to lose theirs. What I do not understand is how people can get money for their car in three days but have to wait months when it is for their own selves.
See, it is the same thing. It does not make sense. When people have a car accident, they get service right away because they have insurance. They make claims. They get support. They even get temporary use of a car. They get to borrow a car. The insurer covers all of those costs because people pay for that insurance. That is how insurance works.
Employment insurance works differently. People have to fight to get their benefits, and they have to wait. We are talking about human beings and families. These are people with children; they might be the family's sole breadwinner. People are made to feel a bit like criminals when they claim employment insurance. With the new reform, people practically have to beg to get employment insurance even though it is something we should all be entitled to because we, both workers and employers, have paid the premiums for all of the years we have worked. That is why this motion is so important.
Let us take another look at the three specific points, a, b and c, of the motion. Here is what they say:
consequently, the government should: (a) protect workers' and employers' premiums from political interference;
We have watched the Liberals and Conservatives alike dip into the employment insurance fund. As of October 2015, the NDP will be in power. We want to protect us from ourselves and make it impossible for anyone to politically interfere with the EI fund. That is a wise thing to do.
(b) improve program accessibility to ensure that unemployed workers and their families can access it;
We said earlier that eligibility has gone from 80% to just under 40% today. It makes no sense to have an EI system that protects barely 40% of the people. Finally, the motion concludes:
(c) abandon its plan, as set out in Budget 2015, to set rates unilaterally, in order to maintain long-term balance in the fund while improving accessibility.
That is what we want. We want an employment insurance system that is there for Canadians. We want to listen to people on the ground who know what they are talking about. I mentioned the Regroupement de défense des droits sociaux, the RDDS, which is doing a great job. I also talked about Mouvement action-chômage and Hans Marotte, who are also doing a great job. We need to listen to them in order to reform the employment insurance system properly and take the politics out of the EI program. That is what we will do in October 2015 when we come to power.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to respond to the hon. member's motion. Before I begin my remarks, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I would like to thank the opposition for this opportunity to once again highlight our government's outstanding record on economic performance and achievement. Canadians are paying close attention. What the opposition does not understand is that Canadians know when they are being sold a false bill of goods like the one on offer in the hon. member's motion here today.
Canadians know the facts, and the facts are quite clear. The opposition speaks in today's motion of encouraging small business creation as though this is something it has experience in accomplishing. The fact is that it does not, and our government does. Ours is a record of success in the face of global adversity, and it is one that I and hard-working Canadians take great pride in.
Let me take this opportunity to help the opposition out a bit. It is important that it pays close attention so it does not continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Here are the facts. Since the depths of the economic downturn, 1.2 million net new jobs have been created, the majority of which are full-time and high-paying jobs in the private sector. As a result of our government's actions, we have not only recovered all of the jobs lost during the recession, but more Canadians are working today than at any other time in our history.
Canadians understand these facts. They may not be convenient to the hon. member's agenda, but they are the facts.
The reality is that today, and for some time now, Canada has experienced one of the strongest job creation records among advanced economies. Our government does not need to be told that lower payroll deductions and lower payroll taxes create jobs. We know that. We have always known that, and that is exactly what we have been doing.
What is more, it is the very same opposition that is proposing to ask Canadians to accept a mandatory tax hike, one that affects employers and employees. This is the same as over $1,000 less in take home pay for every worker. As if this were not bad enough, it gets worse. Businesses have spoken, and job creators would need to pay billions of extra dollars in payroll taxes. What would this all lead to? It would lead to frozen salaries or salary cuts, and even terminated jobs.
With the opposition firmly supporting this reckless program, it is baffling to be having this debate with the opposition, which does not have a credible plan to get Canadians to work.
Our Conservative government has been clear. We have consistently refused to introduce tax hikes on employers and employees. Ours is the only government that can be trusted to keep taxes low for all Canadians.
We have also recently introduced the small business job credit, which is the latest in a range of measures that will cut costs and support small businesses in creating jobs and growth. The small business job credit will effectively lower small businesses' employment insurance premiums, from the current rate of $1.88, to $1.60 per $100 of insurable earnings in 2015-16. Since employers pay 1.4 times the legislated rate, this 28% reduction is equivalent to a reduction of $0.39 per $100 of insurable earnings in EI premiums paid by small businesses. Some 90% of EI premium paying business, about $780,000 in both 2015 and 2016, will directly benefit from this credit.
Overall, our small business job credit will cut EI payroll taxes by nearly 15%. We expect that it will save small businesses more than $550 million over the next two years. These are savings that will create jobs and growth.
Hon. members do not need to take my word for it. They should listen to the people who know best, which are small businesses themselves.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, has said:
...the credit will make it a bit easier for small business employers to hire that one extra worker, increase employee wages or help pay for workplace training.
Across Canada, we estimate that the $550-million left in the hands of small businesses will lead to 25,000 person years of employment in the next few years.
Clearly, small business owners and their representatives know that our efforts to reduce their costs are making a real difference in creating jobs. Our efforts are not just helping small businesses, but the entire Canadian economy. Small businesses employ half of the working men and women in Canada's private sector. They account for a third of our country's GDP. Small businesses drive our prosperity and give back to our communities.
Let us face it. Canada today is an economic success because small business is successful. It is our government's actions that are helping them to succeed each and every day. We have cut red tape. We have implemented the one-for-one rule. For every new regulation imposed by government, a regulation must be removed. By the end of 2013, that rule had reduced the administrative burden by $20 million, money that will be used to create more jobs. We cut their taxes. We cut the small business tax rate to 11% and increased the amount of income eligible for this lower rate. Together, these changes are providing small business with an estimated $2.2 billion in tax relief in 2014 alone.
Under our government, the amount of income tax paid by a small business with half a million of taxable income has declined by over 34%, a tax savings of $20,600 that can be reinvested in business to create jobs. However, once again, we are not stopping here. We are building on our success. Economic action plan 2015 is lowering the small business tax rate even further, to 9%.
Small businesses are saving even more on payroll taxes as a result of our actions. Last year, we froze EI premiums for three years, providing employers and employees with savings of $660 million in 2014. Going forward, we have instituted the seven-year break even rate starting in 2017, to ensure that any surplus in the EI account will be used for EI expenses.
We are not just supporting small business in job creation, but all businesses. We have delivered tax reductions totalling more than $60 billion in job creating businesses from 2008-09 through 2013-14. This includes the reduction of the federal general corporate income tax rate to 15% in 2012, from over 22% in 2007, and an extension of the temporary accelerated capital cost allowance for manufacturing and processing machinery and equipment through 2015. They would not be alone in acknowledging that we have created a superb environment for business.
Here is another fact that the opposition should listen to closely and take great pride in. As a result of our efforts, in 2013, Canada leaped from sixth to second place in Bloomberg's ranking of the most attractive locations for business. According to KPMG, Canada's total business tax rate is the lowest in the G7, 46% lower than that of the United States.
Our government created this environment on the understanding that lower taxes and payroll costs support jobs and growth. We have proven with our actions that they empower Canadian entrepreneurs, leaving more of their hard-earned money for them to invest and grow their businesses, supporting families and communities that depend on them. Where the hon. members opposite are big on talk, we are big on action.
Today's motion for debate calls for three tax cuts. Our government has provided tax relief over 180 times since taking office. I would encourage the hon. members to reject this motion and its empty rhetoric in favour of the real results that our government will continue to deliver in supporting small business and job creation.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to address the points raised by the hon. member opposite with respect to the motion on employment insurance, and more generally, what our government has done to create more and better jobs for Canadians.
Let us start with the obvious one. Canada has had a remarkable job creation record in recent years. Our prudent management of the nation's finances and careful targeting of incentives to spur our economy's job creators, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, are in large part the drivers behind this success.
The fundamental strength of the Canadian labour market has been particularly evident after the recent global recession. Despite the weak global economic environment, the Canadian economy has experienced one of the best performances among the G7 economies in terms of both output growth and job creation, with over 1.2 million jobs created since June 2009. That is not all. Nearly 90% of the jobs created since June 2009 are full-time positions; almost 85% are in the private sector, and nearly 60% are in high-wage industries.
Canada has weathered the economic storm well and the world has noticed. For example, the World Economic Forum rated Canada's banking system as the soundest in the world for the seventh year in a row in its annual “Global Competitiveness Report”.
This economic resilience also reflects the actions our government took before the global crisis, actions such as lowering taxes, paying down debt, reducing red tape, and promoting free trade and innovation. Unfortunately, Canada is not immune to external developments. Recently we have seen a struggling global economy which has had its effects here. To a large degree this was reflected in the sharp drop in global oil prices and its impact on investment activity in the oil sector. Economic growth in the United States was also very weak during the first quarter. As our main trading partner, weaker U.S. growth has also had a negative impact on Canada.
In this context, I am happy to report to the House that the government has a clear plan for achieving even better performance. This is crucial, given that there are still too many Canadians either out of work or unable to find a job that they are trained for at a time when skills and labour shortages are re-emerging in certain sectors.
This need for more and better jobs is why the government published its “Jobs Report: The State of the Canadian Labour Market”, last year. While the Department of Finance continuously monitors and analyzes the labour market situation, the jobs report provided a snapshot of Canada's labour market in 2014.
The results are clear. Despite significant labour mobility in Canada, Canadian firms are having more difficulty in hiring than the unemployment situation would normally warrant, with imbalances between unemployment and job vacancies persisting in certain regions and occupation groups. There is evidence of a misalignment between the skills of the unemployed and those required by employers, with higher job vacancy rates in the skilled trades and science-based occupations.
A number of groups are not reaching their full potential in the labour market, including less-skilled individuals, recent immigrants, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and older Canadians.
From 2000 to 2011, the number of apprentices completing training and obtaining certification doubled, but apprenticeship completion rates averaged only 50% over this period.
Our government believes that the solution requires a more mobile, flexible and highly skilled labour force to keep up with rapidly advancing technology and increased worldwide competition. The good news is that Canada is off to a strong start. Among our OECD peers, we have the largest share of population with at least a post-secondary education.
Canadians are fairly mobile. They respond well to labour market signals and move to regions and occupations with better employment opportunities. However, significant disparities in regional unemployment rates persist. Evidence suggests that there remain institutional and non-economic barriers to mobility in Canada. The evidence shows stubborn imbalances between labour supply and demand in certain occupation groups and regions. These imbalances are larger than the unemployment rate would normally warrant.
Our government will continue to be there for Canadians. As long as Canadians are looking for work, our government will be committed to creating jobs for them to find.
Under the fiscal leadership of our , our government has created an environment that fosters new investments, sustainable growth and job creation. To this end, since 2006, the government has implemented a plan to achieve a higher performing economy now and into the future. The plan has substantially improved Canada's business tax competitiveness, expanded trade and opened up new markets, contributed to modernizing Canada's infrastructure, supported research, innovation and creation of large-scale venture capital funds, streamlined the review process of major economic projects, improved incentives to save and work, and strengthened Canada's retirement income system.
However, we are faced with some irony here with this motion. Both opposition parties have a reckless view that when it comes to job creation in Canada, the Liberals and the NDP have both promised to attack job creators with massive tax hikes. In fact, the Liberal leader was quoted as saying that he wanted to introduce a mandatory tax hike on employers and employees. Let me be clear. That is a $1,000 mandatory tax hike for both the employer and the employee.
That is not how to create jobs in Canada, but members should not just take my word for it. Canadian businesses have been clear that the last thing they need are tax hikes and the mandatory CPP expansion as it would not only mean freezing or cutting salaries, but it could also result in having to fire workers. This is on top of the Liberals and the NDP both wanting a 45-day work year that would drastically increase EI premiums by 35%.
I could go on longer, but we have two examples of how the opposition does not have a credible plan to create jobs here in Canada.
Our government has acted on employment insurance, which is why we are moving toward a seven year break-even rate that would result in a substantial reduction to the EI premium rate. The savings from this action alone would benefit over 16 million Canadians by 2017.
The recent great recession was an unprecedented global challenge. As we have seen throughout history, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. I am proud to say that our government acted decisively and precisely when strong action was needed most.
Canada's labour market has generally succeeded in meeting challenges and performs well compared to most nations in a number of areas, including job creation and post-secondary attainment. The last thing we need is increases to taxes. However, as the hon. member opposite will no doubt agree, we can do better, and indeed, we must do better for Canada and Canadians.
Our Conservative government will remain focused on the policies we put in place to create an environment conducive to new investment, economic growth and job creation. Most of all, we will continue to keep taxes low for employees and employers. If the opposition NDP and the Liberals had their way, Canadians would have to brace themselves for massive tax hikes, which would do extreme harm to the job market in Canada and to families.
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for
I rise in the House today to speak in support of the motion moved by my colleague from , the NDP employment insurance critic.
A number of my colleagues from different regions in Quebec and Canada will speak to this motion today. I am joining them today to draw attention to the mess that our employment insurance system is in and urge the government to implement measures that will restore the original purpose of employment insurance.
It is important to say up front that, one after the other, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party siphoned off no less than $57 billion from the employment insurance fund and cut services to workers with reform after reform. The current situation is such that it is increasingly difficult for Canadians to receive employment insurance benefits and wait times have reached a less than enviable high.
Since the 1990s, radical reforms have had a significant impact on the lives of thousands of workers. These reforms include a significantly larger number of eligibility requirements, shorter benefit periods, lower benefit rates, the abolition of the right to benefits in cases of misconduct and voluntary leaving without just cause, and stricter punitive measures. From seasonal workers in the Gaspé, employees in New Brunswick's tourism industry, construction workers in British Columbia and farmers in the Prairies to employers in specialized seasonal fields, thousands of people are outraged at a government that is attacking their way of life and preventing them from putting food on the table for their families.
How many times will we have to state loud and clear that employment insurance is not a government benefit? Employers and employees contribute to the fund. Canadians make their employment insurance contributions in good faith because they believe that this social safety net will be there for them when they need it. This ludicrous intrusion, which dates back to when the Liberals shamelessly stole $54 billion from the fund, must stop immediately.
When the Conservatives took office, they misappropriated $3 billion. In budget 2015, the Conservatives used the EI surplus to give tax breaks to the wealthiest members of society rather than improving access to benefits. This government does not have the right to interfere in a matter that concerns employers and workers. It is high time that the government stopped playing political games with the employment insurance fund.
Employment insurance is a social safety net that provides some support to Canadians when they go through more difficult times. Unfortunately, fewer than four out of every 10 unemployed workers today have access to employment insurance.
The government is not doing anything to improve accessibility, which is at an all-time low. Instead, it insists on claiming that unemployment is the individual's responsibility. It implies that it is the individual's fault if he loses his job. Under the Conservatives, social problems like unemployment are seen less and less as a collective responsibility and more and more as an individual responsibility. Unemployment is no longer seen as a social or public issue, as though the risk of losing one's job is an individual problem and not a social one. Can a worker be blamed for losing his job because the company replaced him with a machine?
The Conservatives are trying to claim that they have created countless new jobs, but the facts speak for themselves: today, we have more than 1.3 million unemployed Canadians for about 270,000 available jobs. This means that there are five unemployed workers for every job.
Moreover, 15.1% of Canadians aged 15 to 25 are unemployed. There are still 200,000 more Canadians out of work than there were before the recession. Right now, it seems as though the Conservatives are squeezing workers and forcing them to accept undesirable low-paying jobs instead of helping to make these jobs more desirable and focusing on effective ways to stimulate the economy. That is shameful.
Furthermore, instead of improving people's standard of living, they are actually setting the bar even lower, lower than it has ever been. The EI 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, substitute 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.
In closing, since 1995, Liberal and Conservative governments have taken over $57 billion from the employment insurance fund. The purpose of the Employment Insurance Act—it was called unemployment insurance until 1997—has always been to compensate workers if they lose their job. That is no longer the case today.
One thing is clear: based on what we have seen over the last few decades, the NDP is the only party that can be trusted when it comes to employment insurance. We are the only party to propose policies to improve access to employment insurance benefits, not further limit access.
Mr. Speaker, after the speeches I have heard today on the motion before us, the least we can do for workers who work hard year-round would be to support this motion.
I am proud of the work done by the NDP on employment insurance and workers’ rights. It is important that we be able to speak about our concerns and the concerns of the constituents I represent when it comes to the looting of the employment insurance fund.
Unfortunately, the government would rather lower the premium rate for campaign purposes and divert money that belongs to workers, and thus deprive 130,000 jobless people of the benefits for which they have paid their premiums.
I would note that according to the last EI monitoring and assessment report, barely 39% of unemployed workers have access to their benefits. That is fewer than 40%. Recently, the Conservatives presented us with an eighth deficit budget, were it not for the $4.2 billion pilfered from the employment insurance fund. They have the nerve to claim that they are good managers, on top of that. That is too much for me. It is time for things to change. After diverting the money, the government then announced that it would reduce the premium rate, the effect of which will be to reduce access to the employment insurance program.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, if the premium rate is reduced as the Conservatives propose, 130,000 workers will be denied access to employment insurance that they have paid for. One hundred thirty thousand workers is virtually the entire population of a riding. Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, the constituency I proudly represent, deserves better. More specifically, it represents the people from the Beauport area of Quebec City to Colombier in Haute-Côte-Nord, including the Île d'Orléans, Côte-de-Beaupré and the greater Charlevoix area. We would be mistaken to think that only the workers are affected. When we say 130,000 fewer workers, we have to read between the lines: that is 130,000 families, women and children.
The objective is to improve access to the employment insurance program, in order to offer Canadians a better quality of life. That is what the NDP is proposing to the House in this motion, and also in a number of other proposals to help middle-class families.
At present, in a region like Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, there is a black hole, a period without income that ranges from one month to four months. That is 15 weeks without income for families of workers in seasonal industries, when, in fact, the employment insurance fund has all the money needed to help those families; excuse me, it had all the money needed, before the government used it for other purposes.
An image just came to mind: The employment insurance fund has become the financial cushion of bad managers among the Conservatives, and the Liberals before them. They broke and raided the piggy bank with all the hard-earned money that workers and employers saved up. We must do something about this questionable approach to making extra money. The money needs to go back to whom it belongs.
I do not think I need to remind the House how important it is for a company to keep the same workers from one season to the next, in order to maintain a quality workforce.
Instead of using the money from the EI fund, which was put there by workers and employers, the current government would benefit from allowing workers to have an income during the hard times. We must support workers and stop stealing their insurance money.
Fortunately, the NDP is proposing concrete measures to help middle class families.
Again, our motion states:
That, in the opinion of the House, employment insurance premiums paid by employers and workers must be used exclusively to finance benefits, as defined by the Employment Insurance Act, for unemployed workers and their families and that, consequently, the government should: (a) protect workers' and employers' premiums from political interference; (b) improve program accessibility to ensure that unemployed workers and their families can access it; and (c) abandon its plan, as set out in Budget 2015, to set rates unilaterally, in order to maintain long-term balance in the fund while improving accessibility.
That is the least it could do.
The Conservatives will not be able to pat themselves on the back for much longer with a biased unemployment rate. The people of Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord are not easily fooled, contrary to what the Conservative government seems to think. We know that access to the employment insurance program has been limited since it has been managed by the Conservative crew and that the present government has passed the buck to the provinces by forcing honest working people to apply for social assistance. They no longer qualify for employment insurance benefits, which have become inaccessible. When the time comes to find all the tricks for keeping the money to which Canadians are rightfully entitled, our government demonstrates considerable creativity. Unfortunately, it lacks the imagination to find effective solutions for creating jobs.
Seasonal work is a reality in a number of regions of Quebec, but this government is unfortunately not interested in protecting those regions, and instead it is abandoning them.
We have to find solutions, as my colleague did when he moved this motion, and as my other colleagues did when they introduced bills like Bill in the House. That bill offered genuine solutions to help honest Canadian businesses and their employees. The money that working people pay in premiums belongs to working people.
Conservative management means billions of dollars misappropriated from the employment insurance fund in hidden taxes and more than $100 billion added to the national debt in less than 10 years; it means a reduction in federal transfers to the provinces and tax cuts for the wealthiest, but nothing for the middle class; it means offering billions of dollars in tax relief, only to have that money lie dormant in the coffers of big corporations; and as the says, it means shifting its responsibilities onto our grandchildren.
Yes, Canadians have had enough, and on October 19, we will finally have a responsible New Democratic government that will stimulate the economy and put an end to the Conservatives’ and Liberals’ misappropriation of these funds.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in this debate. The motion talks about employment insurance, but it also gives us an opportunity to talk in greater detail on the state of the Canadian economy, some of the things this government has done over the last number of years to improve Canada's economy and ultimately put people back to work.
The fact that we are debating this topic today really highlights one of the very big weaknesses in the NDP. One of the problems that the New Democrats have today, and have always had, is that they have never have, and probably will never have if we are this close to an election, a plan to create jobs and economic opportunity for people. The New Democrats always want to focus on how they would take care of people who are unemployed. I guess it is because in the past, in the provinces they have governed, they have done a really good job of putting people out of work. Therefore, they have perfected the art of putting people out of work as opposed to getting people into real jobs so they can contribute to the Canadian economy.
We are a few weeks away from the end of this session. We brought forward a continuation of the economic action plan with a whole host of very important initiatives for the people of Canada, in regions and communities across the country, and the NDP's focus is on how it would respond to the people who are out of work.
I think any member of Parliament on either side of the House would want to ensure that if people lose their jobs through no fault of their own, because of the economy or whatever the rationale, the system or state is there to give them a helping hand. That is the whole point of employment insurance. One of the things this government has focused on is to ensure the resources are in place to take care of Canadians if they need to access the employment insurance fund.
As we have seen in the past, when the economy runs into difficulty, we have to then worry about how we will make those short-term payments until the economy comes back into a more stable climate. Therefore, the government tries to have a balance when it comes to the employment insurance system, so that in good times we accumulate the necessary resources to pay when the economy takes a downward turn, as it has on occasion.
It is important to recap a bit about where we have come from and where we are going. When we came to office in 2006, we knew Canada had to do a number of things. The previous Liberal government had been focused on other areas, but not on how to create an economy that was strong and stable for the vast majority of Canadians moving forward.
Therefore, we looked at where Canada was and said that we had to do a better job of opening up Canada's market, giving manufacturers the opportunity to sell into other markets. We said that Canada was open for business, that we would get out there to provide new opportunities for manufacturers and small, medium and large job creators, so they would have larger and more markets to sell to. We started off with opening up free trade negotiations.
It has always been Conservative governments that have looked at how to expand trade opportunities and open up new markets for Canadians. We have the free trade agreement with the United States and the North American Free Trade Agreement, both very important trade agreements which opened Canada up and created millions and millions of jobs. Both of those agreements were rejected by the NDP and the Liberals.
However, we went further and said that we had to do more. This is why today we can say that we have concluded agreements with some 44 different markets and nations, and we want to go even further. We know that when Canadians are given the opportunity to compete, they can be successful. Why is that important? It is really important for a community like mine. I represent Oak Ridges—Markham, the communities of Markham, Whitchurch-Stouffville, King and part of Richmond Hill. Markham is an important centre for high-tech manufacturing. King and Stouffville are important centres for agriculture and exporting. Opening up opportunities for them has created thousands of jobs and enormous opportunity. However, we know there are challenges.
There are always challenges, and those challenges are always compounded when there is an opposition that is so completely opposed to finding and creating the opportunities for Canadian businesses.
However, we have been very successful at opening up these opportunities for Canadian manufacturers, and we will continue to do that because it helps create jobs. We do not want to focus on putting people out of work. We want to focus on putting people into jobs so our Canadian economy can grow and so we have the resources we need to provide for Canadians who, when they find themselves in difficult situations, the government or state is there for them.
I am very proud of the fact that we have been able to do that. However, there are challenges. As an Ontario member of Parliament, there are a number of hurdles that we are seeing put before us. By and large, these hurdles have been put in place by a provincial Liberal government, which has somehow been unable to understand the concept of when it is more costly to do business or when opportunities are closed down, businesses and job creators will find other areas in which to invest.
This has become a very big problem in the province of Ontario, whether it is the high energy prices that have resulted from the policies of the Kathleen Wynne/Dalton McGuinty Liberal Governments of Ontario or the recently announced Ontario pension plan, which Ontarians will not see, apparently, for some 30 years, but which will cost employees and employers thousands of dollars every year.
To put this into context, the leader of the Liberal Party has come out and said that he wants to implement a mandatory Canada pension plan contribution increase along the lines of what Kathleen Wynne has introduced for the people of Ontario. He wants to emulate that.
I know a lot of members here are not from Ontario, so they might not be focused on what it is considering. What they are talking about is this. On somebody who is making $60,000 a year, the cost to that person, to that family, would be $1,000 from their paycheque. That is a lot of money, and we understand and know this would cost jobs in the province of Ontario.
If the same thing were done nationally, it would cost jobs across the country. We know that small, medium and large job creators in Ontario have been openly critical of the Ontario Liberal plan. They have written to the Ontario premier and suggested that she rethink this. When that is combined with the extraordinary increase in hydro in the province of Ontario, there are challenges.
At the federal level, we are going in a different direction. We are finding ways to put more money in the pockets of Canadian families. We introduced, through our recent economic action plan, tax savings and tax cuts. We are providing additional incentives for our manufacturers so they can upgrade their machinery and equipment, and can compete not based on a low dollar but on productivity.
We are seeing the benefits of that. The recent job numbers have showed us that our manufacturers, particularly in Ontario, despite the challenges that are put in place by the provincial Liberal government, are starting to succeed because of the policies that this government has put in place to allow them to increase productivity. We are going to continue down that path.
Additionally, we need to support families. By supporting families, we are giving them greater opportunities. Our universal child care benefit, for example, puts more money back in the pockets of families. We have increased the tax-free savings accounts so people can invest up $10,000. These are all important initiatives that put more money back in the pockets of hard-working Canadian families.
We have the tax credits for families when it comes to fitness and arts. It is about putting more money back in the pockets of hard-working Canadian families. That has been one of the hallmarks of this government since we were elected.
Back in 2006-07, because of the hard work of members of Parliament, the cabinet, and the government at the time, we had surpluses, and there was a debate at that point as to what should happen with respect to the surplus. It was this who suggested at the time that we always had to be ready for what would happen in the future and that we should repay debt with that surplus. Members will recall that the opposition, the NDP and the Liberals, suggested that we go on a spending spree. The said that we had to be prepared, that there were signals in the global economy that were troubling, and that we should pay down debt.
In 2008, when the global economy went into a very drastic recession, Canada was prepared to meet the challenge of a global economic recession. When people were put out of work, the Government of Canada had the resources to ensure that they had what they needed to get through the slowdown.
We did a number of things. We provided increased benefits directly to Canadians by reducing their taxes. We reduced the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%. Of course, the opposition was against that entirely.
We then provided a stimulus program, because we understood that what the economy needed and what Canadians wanted were jobs. They did not necessarily want enhanced programs. They wanted to go to work so they could provide for their families and so they could pay to help other Canadians. That is what they wanted, so we brought in an important stimulus program, which saw the creation of thousands of jobs across this country, which invested in our infrastructure, and which allowed us to work with our municipal and provincial partners to address very important infrastructure challenges so that as we came out of the global economic downturn, our small, medium, and large job creators could seize on the opportunities that were created by investing in the infrastructure. Again, the opposition was opposed to these investments.
The opposition at the time, and currently, particularly the official opposition, supported by the Liberal Party, has advocated what is called the 45-day work year. To put that into context, at the same time they bring a motion forward about ensuring that we have the resources available to protect families and workers when they are left, through no fault of their own, without work, the NDP and the Liberals are seeking to institute a 45-day work year.
I am not sure we could truly calculate what it would cost Canadian workers and Canadian businesses to implement something like this. It is completely irresponsible, and it is really, in essence, the foundation of what we are talking about today. It is part of the opposition's secret agenda, by and large.
We are now seeing the Liberal Party coming forward with a plan that would basically attack Canadians' pensions. The Liberals have not even introduced the full scope of their platform yet and already they are billions of dollars in the hole. Scrambling, as Liberals usually do, to try to find out how they will fill the holes of the massive deficits, they have decided that the best way to do that would be to raid the Canada pension plan and private pension plans and hope that nobody notices.
New Democrats truly have no shame when it comes to spending Canadian taxpayers' money. They do not actually care that they would increase debt and deficits for Canadians. They would be honest about it in some circumstances, because that is just what they do. Fortunately, Canadians have looked at the NDP over a number of elections and have rejected that type of economics for Canada.
We in Ontario understand how disastrous NDP economics can be, and that is why we have consistently rejected the NDP because of that really unfortunate experience in Ontario. I was just out of university at the time, and the increase in unemployment in Ontario was staggering.
The deficit at that time, in the 1990s, in the province of Ontario, was $11 billion. The NDP government in Ontario was spending $11 million more an hour than it was taking in. It was an absolute disaster, and it was not until 1995, under the leadership of a Conservative government, which included a number of members serving in our caucus here today, such as the President of the Treasury Board, that Ontario's economy was brought back into balance. We created jobs, we opened up the Ontario market, and we unleashed the potential of the Ontario small, medium, and large job creators to create jobs. We put more money back into the pockets of Canadian families, very much like what we are doing here and what the NDP is threatening to take away from Canadian families.
I come from the community of Markham, which is the most diverse community in all of Canada. Under previous Liberal administrations, and the Liberals will know this to be true, we would go around the world and tell people who wanted to come to this country to come to Canada, because it was a great place to start a family and they would be able to get work. What we did not tell them was that although Canada was a great place and a great place to raise a family, their credentials would not be recognized when they got here.
We have heard time and time again about people with incredible résumés and incredible educations who are working as cab drivers but should be working in other areas. They should be contributing more to the Canadian experience. Under previous Liberal governments, they were sold a bill of goods. They were brought here and they were told that they could not actually participate in the Canadian economy to the fullest extent, because their credentials would not be recognized.
This government set out to change that. It is one of the reforms we brought in. We set out to change it. We worked with our provincial counterparts to have credential recognition in a number of areas. We provide grants to new immigrants so they can upgrade their credentials and fully participate in the Canadian economy.
These are some of the things we have brought forward. These are some of the things the people of Canada are financing through their taxes so that we can create jobs.
I know that the opposition is consistently focused on what it will do when people lose their jobs. On this side of the House, we think the best thing we can do if people lose their jobs through no fault of their own is provide them with the opportunity to get new jobs. That is why we have invested in training, through the hard work of the former minister of Employment and Social Development. That is why we have provided resources for our provincial partners so that they can partner with us.
A little over a year ago, we heard from the opposition, when we brought forward the Canada job grant, that it would never happen, because it would be too difficult to bring our provincial partners along with us. We said we could make it happen, because we had to keep Canadians working. The former minister of Employment and Social Development, who is currently the , went across Canada and struck a deal so that we would have appropriate job training programs in each of the provinces and territories, programs that would make sense for the local economy.
We worked with our provincial and territorial partners to find out what skills they needed. These are the people we then bring to this country so that they can contribute immediately.
I look in my community of Markham, which as I said is the most diverse community in all of Canada, and I see the results of the things we have done. Our manufacturers are prosperous. I look in Stouffville and see my farmers competing and exporting to different parts of the world and preparing to export to the world's largest economy, Europe. I am proud of that.
I look at the IMF report that recently said that other countries in the world should emulate Canada's low debt-to-GDP. Despite the fact that the global challenges still exist, Canada is doing better and has done better than almost any other country.
Around the world, people want to emulate what Canada has done. That is why I am extraordinarily proud to be in this caucus, with these members of Parliament, under the leadership of this , who has given this to Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to thank my colleague, the member for , for putting this motion together. This is a very important debate that we are having today, although it sounds like we are debating with the folks from never-never land over on the other side. However, I want to try bring this debate about employment insurance back to what it means for people in their everyday lives. I want to talk a bit about my grandparents.
My grandparents lived during the Great Depression in Canada. They went through that horrible period that affected so many Canadians right across this country, when people were ready for work and wanted to work, but they could not find jobs. I remember my mom telling me that even though my mother's family, my mom and her parents and her sisters, lived in Toronto, my grandfather would go out with a slingshot and try to find rabbits in the ravine. He would kill rabbits with his slingshot and bring them home to my grandmother, who would clean them. My mother would go door to door with the rabbits on a little tray and she would try to sell them to the neighbours. They did that so they could get money because they could not find work. Eventually, both my grandmothers worked as cleaning ladies in other people's homes and did whatever bits of work they could possibly get to make ends meet. They were poor. They lived in a time of genuine hardship.
The difference between that time and today for people who do not have jobs to go to is that we have social programs which were brought in by that generation and the subsequent generation in order to protect people from the absolute worst elements of unemployment and poverty. We have New Democrats to thank, for example, for our universal health care system. It was because of the pioneering New Democrat leader Tommy Douglas in the province of Saskatchewan, in spite of stiff opposition from the kinds of folks like my colleagues opposite, that they were able to bring in medicare in the province of Saskatchewan and subsequently across the country.
These social programs matter, because what they do is they buffer inequality in our country. They help remove the most extreme elements of poverty and help people get by in their everyday lives.
However, what we have seen with one of our most important social programs, what former prime minister Brian Mulroney called our best economic adjustment program in the country, which is employment insurance, is a steady erosion of that very important protection for working people. Nothing is more disastrous for a person, whether it is a member of Parliament or someone working in a factory or in a retail store, than losing one's job.
With all due respect, the people in this House have better protection because we have good severance and we make a good salary. However, for the average person, when unemployment strikes, it is a disaster for them. They need employment insurance there to help them when they face the calamity of unemployment.
What we are finding increasingly today is that far too many people cannot get employment insurance benefits. It used to be, back in the time of Brian Mulroney, that about 80% of unemployed Canadians got insurance when they lost their job, but that has been eroded significantly.
I want to quote from an article in today's The Globe and Mail, which quotes two people from Statistics Canada. They said, from their study at Statistics Canada:
It was during the period of 1994 through 2000, when [pre-tax] inequality remained high but total redistribution through taxes and transfers fell, that after-tax inequality rose....
That was during the Chrétien years when we had dramatic cuts to employment insurance. Far too few people were able to get access to it. In fact, the government dove into the EI fund with both hands and used that money, the money paid by workers and employers, to balance the books so that the government would look better in the eyes of Canadians.
The Liberals were not the only ones to do that. Under the Liberals, as I said, it went from 80% coverage of unemployed workers down to less than 50% of the unemployed who got coverage. However, the Conservatives thought this was such a good idea that they continued the trend.
If we combine the EI premiums taken out by the Liberals and Conservatives, they have taken over $57 billion out of the EI fund. Some people have called that theft. Some people have said that is stealing money from working people and employers. We are talking about $57 billion.
In the city of Toronto, I think it is down around 30% of unemployed workers who can actually get access to EI benefits. Why would that be? A Toronto-Dominion Bank study recently reported a dramatic decline in the quality of work in Canada. We have seen in Toronto that barely 50% of the workers have any kind of job security, and precarious labour, these insecure, temporary, often part-time jobs, have increased by 10% under the Conservative government since 2001. Almost one in five workers in the greater Toronto area is in the most insecure employment. TD Bank estimated that for people in one of these insecure jobs, the gap between that kind of a job and permanent employment is as high as $18,000 a year.
We are finding that these people in a precarious situation are the least likely to get access to EI. Imagine if we had access to that $57 billion that was taken from the EI fund. Imagine if we had that money. It would be there to give benefits to working people when they lose their job and need that money. Would that not be a big advantage over what we are facing today with so many workers getting no support? It is taking Canadian workers back to the time of the Great Depression, where if people lost their job, they were on their own and good luck to them.
What have governments been doing with this money?
The Conservatives, of course, have used EI funds to help balance the books federally. Now they have turned around and given a great big tax cut to the wealthiest 15% of Canadians through their income-splitting scheme. Basically, this has been a transfer from the people who can least afford to pay this money. Unemployed workers and their families are having food taken off their tables and given to the wealthiest people in this country. I say that is shocking. It is wrong, and the government needs to be held accountable.
I see my time is almost up, which is unfortunate, because I could go on at length about the importance of employment insurance and the scourge of both the current Conservative and previous Liberal governments in gutting this most important social program. However, I will wrap it up, because I am looking forward to what I am sure will be very cogent and important questions from my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague who did some duty work, even on the standing committee, allowing me to be near my wife as she was giving birth to our second child. However, now I am back.
To hear the comments that some of my colleagues opposite have made since I returned early this afternoon, one would think that they do not often get out into the community to see the people on employment insurance and the social fabric that the governments have tried to put in place in the past 50 years, since World War II, in order to help people at specific times in their lives, especially when they lose their jobs.
We are not going to talk about social housing or old age security, but about employment insurance, because this vital program to help people in an industrialized and modern country has also been abused.
Employment insurance was created after the Second World War, on the eve of the 30 glorious years, to give employees and employers a tool that would guarantee employees a stable income during the transition period between two jobs, but also, and more importantly, during temporary layoffs, since that is always happening in the manufacturing industry.
The employment insurance program allowed employers to keep a skilled workforce that was available as soon as business picked up. In other words, it provided an income to employees who were temporarily laid off so that they could pay their rent, feed their families and purchase essentials, such as clothing and school materials. When employees went back to work, they would pick up their daily tasks where they left off, as though nothing had happened, and no training was needed. Of course, they sometimes needed to upgrade their skills, but the workers came back and carried out their duties properly.
Over the past few decades, industries that rely on seasonal and temporary jobs have developed. Although they sometimes involve non-standard employment, these industries contribute to the regional economy. Take for example tourism, agriculture and the fishery.
What happens when employment insurance is not there to fulfill its basic mandate, which is to meet the needs of Canadians, allow the regions to continue to survive and stabilize their economy? Employers lose their workers and have to train new ones, which costs them time and money.
That is an important part of the equation, since seasonal workers are not slackers. They are skilled men and women and single-parent families that often live in the regions. This sector of economic activity is often found in the regions.
When the government eliminates social housing programs, makes it harder to access old age pensions, cuts services for people with disabilities and does not provide employment insurance when needed, communities are destroyed and people can become disengaged. People no longer believe in the economy and no longer trust these governments. Some will even become disengaged, and it leads to domestic violence, suicide attempts, and so on.
The local economy includes the restaurants in the little village or the municipality, the credit union, the post office. When all of that disappears, the social fabric is torn. That is what we are currently seeing in Canada's regions.
I will be speaking on behalf of the regions because that is where it hurts the most. There are a number of urban sectors in which things are going well, but in which there are still high unemployment rates, especially among young people and women. These are people who are often looking for work and who are left behind. If they are also denied access to employment insurance, it is catastrophic in many regions of Canada.
I will talk about the Eastern Townships. Back home, we rely on agriculture, forestry, tourism and culture. These are all of the industries that bring in billions of dollars and provide tens of thousands of jobs. These are people who still believe that they deserve their job. When the time comes they are prepared to go back to those jobs. Perhaps we should make employment insurance more accessible to self-employed workers. There are some needs there as well. People do not have access to employment insurance even though the employer and the employee paid their premiums.
The system works. It can work. Someone is whispering that it could be a lot more effective. It is not effective. In the past, eight or nine people out of 10 who had paid into the employment insurance fund had access to it; now it is four people. Sometimes it is less than four. Why? Because there are so many hassles and refusals. No one will talk to these people. The administrative tribunals are stretched to the limit. People give up. We cannot even include them in the workforce statistics. They are not even unemployed. They are no longer workers. Where are they? Are they working under the table? I do not know where they are, but these people have paid into the employment insurance system and they are entitled to employment insurance.
Canada is one of the industrialized countries where the system is the most callous toward the unemployed.
I am going to tell the story of a company in the Eastern Townships where the workers had 20 or 30 years’ experience. The company closed down overnight. There were no layoffs; the whole company closed down. There were so many hassles that half of the people who were entitled to employment insurance ultimately never had access to it. These people found themselves unemployed, with three or four years of mortgage payments still to make. They had worked and contributed their whole lives, and then they were refused access to employment insurance. The employer and the employees had paid their premiums. The money is not there. What is happening with this system?
I must correct what I said earlier. I said that the system worked, but it does not.
In the early days of the scandal involving the $50 billion that was misappropriated by the Liberals, who did a really fine job that was continued by the Conservatives, one of my former economics professors, Jean Lacharité, told me that the workers had worked their whole lives and contributed to a system that was supposed to be there to serve a purpose: to fill a temporary need and help people move from one stage to the next.
A rich, modern, industrialized country like ours needs an effective employment insurance system. With a motion like the one put forward by my colleague from and especially with the NDP in power in the fall, in a few months, we will put things right. There will be no more hoops for the unemployed to jump through. Workers will be working in a prosperous economy.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to this motion on behalf of all of those who, through no fault of their own, find that they have to avail themselves of the employment insurance system from time to time; especially, those in my constituency of who both pay into and end up having to rely on employment insurance.
Mr. Speaker, let me say I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am told that until one actually has to avail oneself of the employment insurance system, it is really hard for one to understand or appreciate just what is involved. I heard that from time to time from my constituents, the people I represent, who would really much rather be working and earning a living than having to depend upon a system of any sort to help them provide for their families.
Recently released employment data, for instance, for the province I represent, Newfoundland and Labrador, shows that unemployment levels are steadily rising. The general unemployment rate for February 2015 was 12.6%, up nearly a full percentage point from February 2014. For the same period, the unemployment rate for young people aged 15 to 24 was 16.4%.
That tells us how difficult it is for some people in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, let alone throughout the country, to make ends meet when they are having difficulty acquiring a job. We have adult children moving back in with their parents because they cannot get that first job. If they are lucky enough to secure work, if the jobs are available, they are part time, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to make ends meet by their own means. That is the impact that such a weak economy is having upon parents and their children.
Young adults trying to find that first job are unable to contribute EI premiums and, thus, despite being unemployed, are unable to access benefits. They are forever caught between a rock, which is a weak job market, and a hard place, which is their inability to receive EI because they have not worked enough hours to qualify. This creates a vicious cycle, particularly with respect to EI training benefits.
EI training benefits are intended to help unemployed workers gain the skills they need to find a new job. However, there is a catch. First, they must be EI beneficiaries to access them. This is particularly problematic when we consider the fact that, according to the Mowat EI task force report, those who do not have enough hours to qualify for EI may benefit most from access to training programs. These young workers stand to benefit the most from these training programs and yet are unable to access them. It is indeed a vicious circle, one that we must put a stop to.
The best way to combat youth unemployment and to help create a secure financial future is through job creation and job training. At a time when youth unemployment is high and many students and recent graduates struggle to find jobs or co-op placements, the current government is continuing to compound the problem by its actions. Instead of supporting young workers, the current Conservative government cut funding to the Canada summer jobs program, which provided income and valuable job experience for young Canadians.
Young workers and the self-employed are not the only people struggling to obtain benefits. In addition to keeping premiums artificially high, the current Conservative government has also made major changes to the EI system that have had disproportionately negative effects on workers in seasonal industries.
The current government has required people to accept jobs further and further from where they are living, increasing commuting costs, often dramatically, and decreasing quality of life. A one-hour commute in my riding can impose a significant financial burden upon already vulnerable workers because of lack of public transportation and high fuel costs. Also, in a lot of cases, the conditions of the roads over which they have to travel are not the most helpful and, again, this increases costs because of the wear and tear on the vehicles that they drive.
The Conservative government has also moved to broaden the definition of suitable employment to force people to accept jobs that are less comparable to their previous employment. Frequent users of EI, such as those in seasonal industries, must now accept virtually any available job. These changes mean workers may be forced to constantly jump between industries and towns more than ever before, again, just to make ends meet.
What does the government offer them? Callous indifference. The same sort of indifference we have seen in my office and offices across the country, as people call in desperation as they are forced to wait well beyond the 28 days for their claims to be processed. All because cuts at Service Canada left them understaffed and unable to process claims in a timely manner.
We have had instances in Random—Burin—St. George's where people had to wait as long as 70 days. If they make one little mistake, they do not get a call asking about that mistake, their claim is denied and they have to reapply. Not just 70 days, but we have had them wait 45 days. It is unreasonable and it is indeed callous. These are people who are having to go without an income while they are waiting to have their claims processed.
They would much rather be working. They do not want to have to depend on a government system, although remember, it is their system, their money and they paid into this insurance program. They would much rather work and it is unfair for them to have to wait such a long period of time to access their own money through the insurance program.
This jeopardizes not just the economic security of those hard-working Canadians forced to travel in search of work, it also jeopardizes the economic security of their communities, many of which are reliant on seasonal industries for their continued survival.
The government should be working to make it easier for Canadians to not just make ends meet, but to thrive. Instead, the Conservative government seems intent on making it more difficult. This is an issue of fairness. Canadians need and deserve an employment insurance system that provides fair benefits at a fair cost. While this motion will not reverse all the damaging changes we have seen in the EI system over the past almost decade of Conservative government, it is indeed a step in the right direction.
Liberals have been calling for the Conservatives to allow the EI account to balance itself over the business cycle. However, since the government agreed to that in 2012, it has never actually allowed the rate to be set where it should be to achieve a seven-year balance. After several EI rate setting mechanism changes over the past few years, the government finally settled on a plan that aims to have the EI account balanced over the course of seven years, a time frame which in theory should prevent very large premium hikes in periods of economic downturn.
Unfortunately, despite this new system, the government opted not to follow its own actuarial advice on where to set the EI premium rate in 2015. Instead, it chose to set the rate above the level needed to achieve the seven-year balance. The Parliamentary Budget Officer in his recent report said the setting of the EI premium rate in 2015-16 continues to be a concern and that this acted against the government's objective of ensuring EI premiums are set transparently and used only for EI benefits and administration purposes.
The Conservative government froze EI premiums artificially high in 2015, forcing workers and their employers to pay $2.7 billion more in premiums this year than the government expects to pay in benefits. That is $2.7 billion that could be reinvested in Canadian business to create more jobs and put money in the pockets of hard-working Canadians. That decision by the government was unfair. Perhaps even more unfair, many unemployed Canadians are unable to collect EI benefits despite paying into the program.
In 2014, only 38% of unemployed workers in Canada were eligible to collect EI. Contract workers are often unable to access benefits between contracts. Part-time workers often do not accumulate enough hours to be eligible and the self-employed still have access to fewer benefits than other workers. It is time for us to take this seriously and to do what needs to be done to set the employment insurance benefit system right.