Gerald Stairs Merrithew
Subtopic: POINT OF ORDER
Sub-subtopic: GOVERNMENT EXPENDITURES RESTRAINT ACT. 1993 NO. 2 MEASURE TO ENACT
The hon. member across the way thinks that was a cheap shot. I have to say that the unemployed in this country think that this government's policies are cheap shots at a time when there is double-digit unemployment in this country and it is taking away their benefits. It is inexcusable. There is nothing cheap about that shot except that this government has got to change its ways or be gone.
Mr. Charles A. Langlois (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Defence):
Madam Speaker, I have listened to most of my colleague's comments to the House on Bill C-113. First of all, I should say that I started listening with interest to her anecdote about the young man from New Brunswick, but I thought that the last comments about that young man were quite inappropriate for this kind of debate. It is unfortunate that
comments of that kind are used in the House when trying to make an argument, but we have heard it.
My question to the hon. member is in line with the fact that Bill C-113 will stop paying UI benefits to people who quit their job without just cause or because they are fired for disciplinary measures. Here is my question to her. Is this fair for people working and remaining at their jobs to make a living to sustain their family? I refer here to women manning the cash registers in grocery stores or in drug stores, going to their jobs every day and having to put their children in another home so that they can go to work. These people stay on the job. These women have to work on a daily basis. Is it fair that they have to pay unemployment insurance in order for people who quit their jobs without just cause to be able to draw on unemployment insurance benefits?
Madam Speaker, the question that comes from the hon. member is an indication of the lack of understanding of what this bill does to women in particular in this country.
"Is it fair for women who have to 'man'." The word nowadays is "staff" a cash register in a department store or other work place. Is it fair that she has to work and put her children in child care? That is if she can get child care. If she cannot, she will be cut off unemployment insurance if she has to quit her job unless she can prove in the regulations that were tabled in this House the other day and out of a document that came from the department that she has tried to get her spouse to take care of the child, that she has gone to her employer and asked for a change of shift, that she has asked the employer for the ability to have work sharing or that she has asked her boss for unpaid leave. If she has not done all of those things and asked for unpaid leave, then she is not eligible for unemployment insurance.
No, no. Wrong. Answer my question. You're wrong.
Not wrong. It is right in your own document.
The other point that the hon. member made is that he thought my anecdote was inappropriate in this House. Well, my goodness, it was the truth and I thought that the truth was in fact appropriate in this House. We have had some discussions about that from time to time lately.
March 24, 1993
The other point that the hon. member made is that it is not fair for people who are working-and here we come into the mentality of this government-to pay UI premiums for those who quit without cause.
If we are talking about the .01 per cent who are in fact found to be abusing the system-.01 per cent is the government's own figure-then we could talk about the 2 per cent, this caused the big debate in committee recently, of members of the opposite side of the House who had been found guilty in the courts.
I think that the hon. member probably should get up and apologize to Canadian women for his total lack of understanding for the kinds of difficulties that Canadian women are facing in this country and their need for unemployment insurance.
Ms. Margaret Mitchell (Vancouver East):
I would like to ask my hon. colleague who has spoken so eloquently on this bill and particularly on the lack of justice for women, particularly women who suffer from sexual harassment in the workplace, what she thinks is the reason for having a section in this bill where such women who have suffered from harassment in the workplace could be excluded from their own hearings on this? They could be excluded from giving testimony on their own behalf.
Why is this included in the bill? Does she think that this is just?
Hon. Speaker, I wish I could have the opportunity to ask somebody, one person on the other side of the House, that same question.
I think it is important that this question is raised and I thank the hon. member for her question.
Of course it is not just. Have we any courts in this country? I outlined in my speech some of the analogies between a court of law and the UI system where criminals get fairer treatment in a court of law than if one is somebody in this country who is thrown out of work.
Now we have women in this country who have been sexually harassed who do not have the right to appear on their own behalf in a hearing on their sexual harassment.
It is absolutely bereft of justice. This government does not even pretend to be a just government when it comes to women in this country.
My colleague has said "political fraud'' and I think that probably is a good way of putting it. It is absolutely unjust, unfair and unqualified harassment of the Canadian unemployed.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paproski):
I think at this stage if the hon. member did say something that was unparliamentary I wish she would get up and apologize.
I believe I heard something that was unparliamentary.
I do not think what I said is unparliamentary but certainly if I did say something that was unparliamentary I am terribly sorry.
Mr. Charles A. Langlois (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Defence):
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have the opportunity today to comment on Bill C-113. I hope that my comments will clarify the debate and help some groups and individuals who have concerns and questions, to better understand the objectives and the thrust of Bill C-113 which we are debating in third reading today in the House of Commons.
We have to go back to December 1992 and read once again the statement that the Minister of Finance, made in this House concerning Canada's fiscal situation. We must examine in particular the measures which that economic statement would put in place in order to correct the situation. The minister's economic statement had essentially two objectives: first, to put in place measures which would help reduce and control government spending, and second, to introduce incentives for economic renewal and job creation.
The incentives put in place by the economic and fiscal statement of the Minister of Finance were designed specifically to aid and support small and medium-sized businesses in Canada and to allow them to create additional jobs, to diversify their activities and to have access to new markets in order to confirm the already existing jobs and to hire new employees.
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We all know veiy well that for many years now the small business sector has been the one creating the most jobs in Canada. Therefore, in December the Minister of Finance announced that by exempting small businesses and new employees from paying UI premiums for a certain period of time, he would facilitate the creation of new jobs and that is what we are witnessing now.
As I said earlier today, the second part of the economic and fiscal statement was aimed at the reduction and the control of government expenditures since it was realized that federal revenues had been much less than what was expected at the time of the 1992 spring budget.
The finance minister then announced a series of measures including a salary freeze for public servants, a two-year extension of the existing collective agreements and a salary freeze for everyone working here in this House, elected and non-elected, ministers, senators and even the Supreme Court judges.
In his economic statement the minister mentioned also that transportation subsidies, both in the Maritimes and in western Canada, would be reviewed and eventually cut, that tax transfers would be reviewed and that workers who quit their job without just cause or who are dismissed for misconduct would lose their UI benefits.
The second important measure regarding unemployment insurance is the cut in UI benefits whereby the percentage of insurable earnings is brought back to 57 per cent from 60 per cent. It is without a doubt the element of the minister's economic statement which drew the most comments and questions.
In December 1992 the minister introduced Bill C-105 to enact the measures he had announced in his economic statement. It immediately triggered concerns and comments regarding in particular those two measures concerning the unemployment insurance scheme.
I can tell you that after looking at the proposed changes to the unemployment insurance system contained in Bill C-105, members on this side of the House-the group of parliamentarians I belong to-realized that indeed the implementation of the legislation as drafted could have caused problems and led to
potentially unfair and unjust situations and could have been a problem for groups in need of UI but who were not targeted by the economic measure.
So, with a group of Conservative MPs who are members of the Quebec caucus, we started working in late January and we reviewed Bill C-105. We held several meetings with officials of the department and with the Minister of Employment and Immigration. Finally, we submitted to the government a series of recommendations for safeguards to protect those who must rely on the unemployment insurance program but for whom Bill C-105 did not provide full protection.
The government listened to our representations and on February 17, 1993 Bill C-113 was tabled in this House while Bill C-105 died on the Order Paper.
The objective of Bill C-113 is essentially the one stated in the economic statement made by the Minister of Finance. However with respect to the UI changes, this legislation provides safeguards for those who rely on unemployment insurance, as I just said.
Therefore the main proposals included in Bill C-113 concern the Unemployment Insurance Act, and I will list a few of those. An important change is that people who quit their job without justification or are dismissed for misconduct will no longer be eligible for UI benefits. This is the basic objective of Bill C-113.
Second, the rate of the unemployment insurance benefits will go from 60 per cent down to 57 per cent of the average insurable earnings for the two years following the coming into force of the legislation.
The Unemployment Insurance Act includes a list of reasons which justify and support quitting one's job. Bill C-113 specifies in more detail these valid reasons, which have gone from five to thirteen, and which may justify a decision to leave a job. These reasons are now listed in the act. They are visible and include some 40 frequent circumstances which will be used by unemployment insurance officers to decide when quitting is justified and when the person who leaves a job and claims UI benefits is indeed entitled to them.
March 24, 1993
This was one of the concerns we heard when Bill C-105 was introduced so we corrected the situation with Bill C-113. This bill now offers more protection and safeguards to those who will claim UI benefits.
Earlier I was listening to the comments made by the hon. member for Mission-Coquitlam, who referred to the case of a person forced to leave her job to look after her child. This is a just cause. The act clearly states that a person, man or woman, who must leave an employment to look after his or her child is automatically eligible for UI benefits. It is spelled out in the legislation. If you do not see that you just do not want to see reality. This person has a valid reason, and so does a person who is forced to leave a job to look after a family member who is sick and requires care at home.
A person who leaves a job because he or she has to accompany a spouse who takes a job in another city also has a valid reason.
There are a whole series of valid reasons now covering 40 different scenarios and giving added protection to those who must rely on the UI program in these circumstances.
A lot has been said about sexual harassment. From the time that Bill C-113 is passed by this House and receives royal assent, after consideration by the Senate, anyone who goes to an unemployment insurance office and says that they had to quit because of sexual harassment will automatically be eligible for UI benefits. The person who fills this statement and claims UI benefits gets the benefit of the doubt. That is how the law works. That is how Bill C-113 protects workers who are forced to quit their job because of sexual or any other harassment, whether it has to do with the colour of their skin, their religion or whatever. Much better protection is afforded to claimants under Bill C-113 than the present program.
Now regarding those who have to claim UI because they have been fired, where the ground for dismissal given by the employer is "disciplinary action"-it can cover a whole range of reasons, but let us stick to "disciplinary action" for the sake of argument-again, the person who reports to an unemployment insurance officer to claim UI benefits after his or her employment was terminated by disciplinary action gets the benefit of the doubt. With Bill C-113 the unemployment insurance officer is now required to ask the employer to prove that the grounds for dismissal are valid, justified and that there was just cause for dismissal. Where the employer fails to provide such evidence, the claimant is indeed
entitled to UI benefits. This is an additional protection provided in Bill C-113 to prevent the kind of abuse we talked about when I met with groups of construction workers.
Several days ip a row, unemployed construction workers from Sept-iles showed up at my office. I had the pleasure to meet with them, chat with them and listen to their concerns and apprehensions. I was told it was common practice in the construction business to terminate construction workers' employment on the grounds of "lack of productivity".
At present there is very little construction workers can do because a 7 to 12 week penalty applies under the present program. Workers tend to take the 7 to 12 week penalty, after which time they receive benefits at a 50 per cent rate, that is to say half of what they would get under other circumstances. With Bill C-113 however, the same worker can go to the unemployment office, state the reason why he or she was dismissed and when it happened, and the Unemployment Insurance Commission officer then has to ask the employer to prove they did so for cause. Otherwise, the claimant immediately gets UI benefits at the rate of 57 per cent. This is one way the program was improved by Bill C-113.
Construction workers told me that employers in the construction business were regularly making that type of lay-off. They said they were worried that after the employee had taken his case to the board of referees and had had to wait for three or four months, finally the employer would not appear before the board to testify about the lay-off. The claimant would be eligible, retroactively, of course, to his unemployment benefits, but he had to go three to four months without an income.
Construction workers asked me if the legislation could not provide some form of penalty to prevent and stop that and also to force employers to appear and testify and to think carefully before issuing a lay-off notice for lack of productivity or whatever.
We looked into that concern and even if that change is not included in Bill C-113, which is a fiscal measure that does not deal exclusively with changes to the unemployment insurance system, I can tell you that representations have been made to the minister himself and people who work with him and people from the department. We are examining the possibility of including in the Unemployment Insurance Act a provision or a change which would force the employer to prove that the lay-off was justified and to penalize him if he does not appear. We are looking at that and we are certainly going to pursue that issue very diligently.
March 24, 1993
The other alternative the government had, instead of bringing those changes to the unemployment insurance program in order to disqualify from receiving benefits people who voluntarily leave their job or are fired because of disciplinary measures and to reduce benefits from 60 to 57 percent, was to raise UI premiums paid by employers and workers.
Credible studies have shown that every time UI premiums are increased by 1 percent or 20 cents, Canada looses 20,000 jobs the next morning. Consequently, that alternative was immediately rejected because UI premiums had been considerably raised not so long ago, last year if I remember correctly. It would have been unreasonable and disastrous for the economy to raise UI premiums paid by employers and workers to enable those who voluntarily leave their employment without just cause and who are constantly fired to receive UI benefits, to take advantage of a system which is truly an insurance program, a program which will help people who are looking for a job or are temporarily laid off for different reasons. It was more equitable, in my opinion, to proceed this way instead of raising premiums one more time.
Another point which was raised, and it is important to mention it, has to do with the case where a firm is forced to streamline its operations and offers early retirement to its employees. If we apply today's UI rules, it would be difficult for these employees to receive UI benefits. Bill C-113 corrects this situation because it now provides that if a firm has to streamline operations, to take downsizing action, to lay off its workers because of a work shortage, the employees affected are automatically entitled to UI benefits. It was recognized and agreed that when older workers accepted the pre-retirement package offered by the employer the benefits attached to it were agreed upon at the lime of their employment. When the benefits run out these people can say they are available for work and claim UI benefits. They will be eligible for benefits.
This is another major provision that was included in Bill C-113. Again it is providing better protection for the workers who must avail themselves of the unemployment insurance program, these people who through no fault of their own have to rely on this insurance plan.
These were the comments I wanted to make on Bill C-113. While Bill C-113 puts financial constraints on many citizens of this country, it is nevertheless necessary. This important bill is also fair to those it applies to.
Mr. Francis G. LeBlanc (Cape Breton Highlands - Canso):
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to what was said by the hon. member for Manicouagan. I would like to ask him a question about the unemployment insurance system.
Our ridings both have a very high unemployment rate, and I am sure he shares my concerns in this respect. He is of course aware that the present system penalizes workers who quit without just cause. He is aware that with Bill C-21 the penalty was increased from seven to twelve weeks. He is also aware that with Bill C-113, in a region with a very high unemployment rate, there is a choice to be made by the employer faced with the decision to terminate an employee and by the member of the board of referees. He either has to agree there is just cause after a lengthy appeal process or uphold the decision of the unemployment insurance officer.
I want to ask the hon. member to try and explain or justify his government's policy which aims to change the unemployment insurance system and already provides very severe penalties for persons who quit their jobs without a valid reason.
In this case I am not referring to any of the circumstances listed in the bill, which were put there thanks to pressure from his colleagues, the unions and other people across this country. However, considering that we already have fairly severe penalties, could he explain the government's decision to give these officers a choice, as indicated in the legislation, of a range of options that reflect far more specifically all the circumstances that may influence a person's decision to either keep a job or quit, and in many cases are a necessary evil since a mobile labour force may be desirable to keep the economy and the labour market running smoothly? Often jobs and people are mismatched. Some people are really not suited to certain jobs. However, in the legislation it is all or nothing for the employer who is faced with the decision he has to make and all or nothing as well for the person who may be unemployed and does not want to accept a job because-
March 24, 1993
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paproski):
Will the hon. member now put the question.
Mr. LeBlanc (Cape Breton Highlands -Canso):
asking the question, Mr. Speaker. I think the hon. member knows the question. I am asking him to explain the change his government has put in that provision on voluntary quits.
Mr. Speaker, the present Unemployment Insurance Act provides five cases-and it is right in the law-which are considered valid reasons for quitting one's job. As I just said, they are: being required to move somewhere else; going to live in another place with one's spouse; looking after a child or someone in need; and sexual, racial or other kinds of harassment.
In our discussions we learned that unemployment insurance managers referred to 40 other cases available to them which arose from arbitration or court decisions. Managers used them at will to honestly say that so-and-so was justified in leaving his or her job.
Bill C-113 includes these 40 cases under 13 reasons. The law gives additional protection which is visible and requires managers to refer to it when the time comes to decide whether someone quit or left a job for a valid reason. In all honesty, to respond to the apprehensions of the member for Restigouche-Chaleur, I must say that Bill C-113 improves the system from what exists now. It requires UI managers and people who study claims to consider these points because they are now in the act.
The thirteenth point reads "any other cause to be determined" or something like that. Of course this makes it possible to add other reasons which come from the decisions of tribunals or arbitration boards.
I find Bill C-113 a tremendous improvement. If someone cannot show that he left his job for a valid reason, using one of those 40 points, then he had no valid reason for quitting. The penalty provided in Bill C-113 will a apply and that person will not collect benefits.
Remember one thing. That person is not banned for life from UI. If he finds another job and works 20 weeks he can be eligible for unemployment insurance after completing 20 weeks in another job. In that way, I think that the system is flexible and gives people access to unemployment insurance in case they need it because their job ends. In that case, the reasons for applying for UI are clear, especially if the job ended.
Therefore, to answer the question of my hon. friend from Restigouche-Chaleur, Bill C-113 gives additional protection, especially in regions like ours, to people who have seasonal jobs. Knowing how industry works in our regions, I think that Bill C-113 adds more protection for people who must use unemployment insurance.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paproski):
I have two minutes left.
Ms. Joy Langan (Mission -Coquitlam):
Mr. Speaker, I have two very brief questions to ask the hon. member. First of all, I would like to ask if he believes that it is right or fair that a woman who has been sexually harassed be excluded from her hearings. The hon. member for Terrebonne said that there was precedent. The precedent happens to be the military, which has the worst record with the Human Rights Commission. I ask the hon. member, is that the kind of precedent we want to use and is it fair to exclude women from their hearings?
He has outlined the cost savings in his view to the government. Could he outline the staggering social costs to all taxpayers excluding people who are legitimately unemployed from the unemployment rolls? What will this cost?
Mr. Speaker, the first question put by the member for Mission-Coquitlam refers to a woman who has been harassed, sexually or otherwise, being excluded from the hearing. I have to tell her very honestly that as far as unemployment insurance is concerned, I do not think that is the case. I may be completely wrong.
March 24, 1993
If a person goes to the unemployment insurance office to apply for unemployment insurance and she gives sexual harassment as the reason for quitting her previous job, she simply fills out the form and she is referred. She is even able to have her case heard by a person of her choice in the unemployment insurance office. She fills out the form and then automatically has the benefit of the doubt.
It is up to the employer and the employer may be called, but in the case of sexual harassment it is quite clear that the person has the benefit of the doubt.