March 23, 2000


The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. I have received notice from the hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington that he is unable to move his motion during private members' hour on Friday, March 24.

It has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence. Accordingly, I am directing the table officers to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence.

Private members' hour will thus be cancelled and the House will continue with the business before it prior to private members' hour.

It being 5.38 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Business Of The House

The House resumed from December 15, 1999, consideration of the motion and of the amendment.


The Deputy Speaker

The last time the motion was debated an amendment to the amendment was moved by the member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. The Deputy Speaker had reservations about whether it was in order and took the matter under advisement.

Since then, the Chair was able to look into the matter and is now ready to make a ruling on the amendment to the amendment. First, I wish to remind the members of the House of the wording of the amendment to the amendment.

That the following words be added at the end of the motion:

“and the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development review the situation of these workers at its next sitting.”

Amendments to amendments must flow strictly from the amendment and try to amend it, they must not flow from the original question. They cannot go beyond the amendment, introduce new issues having nothing to do with it, or differ substantially from the amendment.

Since this amendment to the amendment does not meet these criteria, I declare that it is out of order.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance

Michelle Dockrill

New Democratic Party

Mrs. Michelle Dockrill (Bras d'Or—Cape Breton, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to the amendment to the motion proposed by my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst with respect to workers in seasonal industries.

The nature of this amendment, which seeks to substitute the immediate action component of Motion No. 222, helps all of us understand exactly what the government is trying to do. It is trying to delay further and this delay is dangerous. This amendment to review employment insurance benefits for seasonal workers is yet another cheap stalling tactic by the Liberal government.

The motion proposes immediate action. We have been asking for that for a very long time as have seasonal workers. Even the delegates to the Liberal convention know it is right. They introduced a resolution calling on the government to remove intensity provisions which claw back benefits for seasonal workers who repeatedly draw employment insurance.

The board of referees of employment insurance in Sydney also know it, especially when they are forced to deny appeals by workers even though they “feel the claimant and many more like her are being penalized by section 15 of the EI Act and would like the powers that be to have a serious look at the act and some kind of restructuring in the near future”.

It is pretty clear to me and everybody except the government to understand that many seasonal workers are seasonal workers not by choice but because the very nature of their work is seasonal. In other words, the cycle which causes seasonal workers to apply numerous times for EI benefits is not the choice of the workers. It is a part of their working conditions.

Seasonal workers, their families and their children cannot wait for the government to figure out that it is only their work that is seasonal. Their needs for housing, food and clothing is not seasonal. The need to get by, day by day, with dignity is not seasonal. It is a basic right.

In my part of the country, looking at the most recent stats available from Statistics Canada, we can see that seasonal employment causes huge changes in the monthly unemployment rate where it has been as high as 20.6% in January 1999 down to 14.1% in August. By December 1999 the unemployment rate in Cape Breton had climbed back to over 20%. In our region where many workers depend on seasonal industries, even our lowest monthly unemployment rate is still much higher than the national average.

By cutting benefits to seasonal workers, the government is directly reducing the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of people who are employed in seasonal industries in this country.

In my riding of Bras d'Or—Cape Breton, there are many people who depend on seasonal employment. Any Liberal who crosses the Canso tells anybody who will listen that it will be tourism that will save the economy of the island, that it will be tourism that will provide employment for all. Tourism is a seasonal industry.

It is my colleagues and I in the NDP who recognize that although tourism might provide a much needed push to the economy, if EI benefits for seasonal workers are not restored immediately the net gain will not be as big as the Liberals would like Cape Bretoners to believe. On one hand, it pushes for an industry that will provide seasonal work, but with the other it takes away the dignity that those workers deserve. The government should be ashamed of its attempts to sneak out the back door of its responsibility to encourage and promote economic development in Cape Breton.

Seasonal workers are not some marginal part of the workforce. They are an integral part of the workforce and they deserve to be treated with dignity. Most of the seasonal workers who have been affected by the cuts live in rural regions of the country. It is the rural regions that have really been suffering under the Liberal government's slash and burn tactics over the last few years and they are certainly not the beneficiaries of last month's budget tax cuts.

We must stop the marginalization of seasonal workers and we must stop it now. We should not need a lengthy review before benefits are restored to seasonal workers. I know I do not need that. We need to restore those benefits now.

Do we need to have a debate about the problems that seasonal workers face? Yes. Do we need to examine these problems indepth and create long term plans to reduce the recurring cycle of unemployment that seasonal workers face? Yes. Do we need to delay restoring Employment Insurance benefits by reviewing benefits? No. We need to restore benefits now. We need to commit ourselves to an extended debate here in the House and across the country in communities where people depend on seasonal employment. I would not disagree with the principle that the amendment in Motion No. 222 proposes, that is that we need to review EI benefits to seasonal workers, but first we need to restore benefits.

Seasonal workers will not be fooled by any attempts the government makes to increase its popularity in time for an election. The Liberal government's record shows that it deserted seasonal workers. The Liberals should be more concerned with rectifying an unjust and discriminatory policy than improving their lot at the polls.

It is through support of Motion No. 222 without the amendment, so that benefits to seasonal workers are restored immediately. The Liberals have a chance to improve their record. Who knows what it will do for them in the polls? Frankly, who cares?

The important thing is ensuring year round quality of life for all Canadians. Therefore I move:

That the amendment be amended by adding the following words after the word “review”, “in country wide-public hearings”.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair finds the proposed amendment to the amendment in order. The question is on the amendment to the amendment.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance

Bonnie Brown


Ms. Bonnie Brown (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak on this motion, the amendment and the subamendment which calls on the government to restore employment insurance benefits to seasonal workers.

I should say from the outset that while I do not agree with the motion as it is currently worded, I would support it should it be amended as proposed by the member for Miramichi.

I also cannot support the subamendment just proposed because I can think of nothing that would slow down more the kinds of changes that the mover of the original motion is looking for than the requirement for cross-country hearings. All that testimony would have to be collected, all that testimony would have to be analyzed. It would cost the government a lot of money and the main thing is it would cost parliament a lot of time.

I share the concern of the member for Acadie—Bathurst for the well-being of Canadian seasonal workers. I must disagree with the phrasing of his motion as it now reads. The fact is that seasonal workers in Canada do have access to employment insurance benefits. Why then should we adopt a motion calling on such benefits to be restored?

I would like to take a few minutes to share some ideas and insights on how EI might do an even better job of helping unemployed workers, including seasonal workers, to improve their employability, to return to work and to prepare for the challenges of our new economy. As members know, these have been key priorities for the government since our very first day in office.

For example, we have worked hard to spur economic growth and to promote job creation. Canada's strong economic and job growth statistics suggest that we have made considerable progress in this area. Last year alone 400,000 jobs were created, 85% of which were full time. Moreover, the national unemployment rate has dropped to 6.8%.

During 1998 jobs for young workers increased 5.3%, the strongest showing on record, while jobs for women increased over 3.2%, the biggest rise in a decade. We are also focusing our efforts on helping those workers who are out of work. In some cases this has meant setting up new programs. In other cases it has meant making sure existing programs really help unemployed workers.

When we looked at the old unemployment system, we realized something had to be done since the rising cost was not sustainable over time. It was not keeping pace with the new labour market and its demands. It sometimes discouraged people from working and encouraged them to become dependent on benefits, and it treated some workers unfairly, like part time and seasonal workers.

As a result we introduced the new employment insurance system which is designed to do five things. First, to be sustainable. Second, to be fairer by opening up access to many workers, including seasonal and part time workers who were not previously protected. Third, to encourage work and discourage reliance on benefits. Fourth, to target those most in need and, fifth, to help workers get back to work faster and stay employed longer.

While EI seeks to help all unemployed workers, we also recognize that some groups such as seasonal workers have special circumstances that must be addressed. EI therefore contains features that particularly benefit seasonal workers. For example, the hours based system takes into account the special nature of seasonal work which often involves long hours of work per week. As a result many seasonal workers find it easier to qualify, receive higher benefits, and collect benefits longer.

Our small weeks pilot projects make it possible for many seasonal workers to take all the work that is available and provide them with higher weekly benefits.

Family supplements help low income families with children, many of whom depend on seasonal work or the fishery. By topping up benefits and exempting them from the intensity rule, over 200,000 Canadian families benefited from this supplement last year. Reflecting its importance, our expenditures in this area increased from about $105 million to nearly $150 million. In addition, EI's active employment measures help many seasonal workers upgrade their skills so they can get back to work quickly, or go into another line of work. This was underlined by the recently released third annual EI monitoring and assessment report which found that frequent users, of which seasonal workers form a significant share, have in fact benefited from features introduced since 1996.

Frequent claimants received about 43% of all regular and fishing benefits, up from 41% the year before. Benefits paid to unemployed workers in most seasonal industries increased substantially with the highest increases taking place in fishing and trapping. Those benefits were up 70%, and in mining, oil and gas they were up 52%.

Weekly benefits for frequent claimants, which were already higher than the average, increased again from $303 to $305, in contrast to the declines in weekly benefits seen in the two previous years. While the entitlement of frequent and seasonal claimants declined from 33.4 weeks to 32.8 weeks, this was still three weeks more than in 1995-96, thus indicating the positive impact of the switch to an hours based system. In addition, our eligibility system is reducing the impact of the intensity rule for many workers. They are finding the extra hours of work needed to qualify for EI and are receiving higher benefits than before, 8% higher than the average for regular benefits.

I urge all members to work with us to ensure that EI does the best possible job of helping unemployed workers return to work quickly, including seasonal benefits.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance

Derrek Konrad


Mr. Derrek Konrad (Prince Albert, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, in listening to the parliamentary secretary, one would think that the government did not have any money when it comes down to the high rate that is charged to businesses and workers for these much reduced benefits. The government is pleading poverty where it need not. It could use some of that extra money it is taking to study the thing.

I am glad to have this opportunity to speak on this important issue. Although we may not agree on the solution to ensuring that seasonal workers have incomes adequate to meet their needs and aspirations, I do appreciate the concerns that motivated my colleague for Acadie—Bathurst to make this motion.

The hon. member stated in his speech that his motion was meant to achieve two objectives. The first is to reform employment insurance and the second is to stimulate proposals to diversify Canada's seasonal economy. Both objectives are laudable in and of themselves, but the text of his motion calls for the immediate restoration of employment insurance benefits to seasonal workers. I believe that the effect of his motion, if adopted, would be to stifle any efforts to find solutions to the structural problems currently forcing many workers into the seasonal economy.

Neither workers nor the companies that have benefited from easy access to EI would have the will to make any effort to search for constructive solutions to the problem. There would be neither any pressure nor any incentive to make the changes he wants to see.

The hon. member rightly points out that most seasonal workers are not in favour of the seasonal nature of their jobs. Nevertheless saying it does not address the problem. There are businesses that by their very nature are seasonal. The obvious ones are in forestry, agriculture, tourism, fishing and construction. Some of these sectors pay their workers very well and those who choose to work in them are able to bridge the gaps in their employment. I have personally spoken to some people in that category. Other sectors are not able to pay enough to enable workers to make ends meet when there is a break in their employment and I have also spoken to many people in that category. The problem is not simple, but in fact extremely complex.

There are many factors that contribute to the seasonal economy. An abundance of seasonal jobs could be an indicator of a sector of the economy in decline or it could equally indicate an emerging sector of the economy. Take for instance just two examples.

A local economic development authority may decide it wants to focus on tourism which is actually an emerging sector in my hometown. At first the emphasis was on the things it knew. Sport fishing, for instance, is a summer activity that the community has built on over a number of years and guided hunting is a fall activity in the same way. These were sufficient to maintain a small hospitality sector that was subject to seasonal employment variations. In recent years, through the development of cross-country skiing and snowmobile trails, the sector has expanded its infrastructure and extended the seasons in which work is available. This has had a positive effect on the local economy and of course the employment picture. These innovations, while possible, would not have been driven by business or employment considerations in an environment that failed to reward creative solutions to the problems facing businesses in the region.

Returning employment insurance to its previous function in the seasonal economy would act as a reverse incentive to the search for ways to build and diversify local economies.

There are many factors that are considered by businesses when they decide where to locate or when to expand. Among them are location, transportation, amenities, infrastructure, educational and cultural opportunities, recreation and housing.

The other factors businesses consider are the incentives such as government subsidies and grants. Employment insurance for many years has been a tool of government to subsidize businesses, allowing them to reduce their workforces in times of reduced economic activities and to recall them when prospects improve. This has enabled businesses to avoid making long term commitments to their workers and encouraged workers to stay in depressed areas of Canada and in uneconomic sectors of the economy that are dependent on government for their survival.

In my previous life I was a businessman and I have firsthand knowledge of these matters. A part time worker of mine who was, by the way, one of the best workers I ever had, finally left to take full time employment in another part of Canada and in a different sector of the economy. He is happy with the change even though it meant major changes in his life. He is one of those people who wanted full time work but could not get it where he was geographically located, nor in a sector in which he wanted to work.

One of the reasons this loyal employee and friend left was due to changes in the EI program. One of these changes relates to the rule that differentiates between frequent and infrequent recipients of benefits under the EI program. Sometimes this works, but frequently it fails to produce the intended results.

As HRDC's 1998 EI Monitoring and Assessment Report stated:

Communities with high levels of seasonal employment were more likely to have industries that showed declining benefits levels.

This report was published three years after implementation of the changes. The data used in its production would have been collected well before that. Before considering any other changes to the program it would be wise for the government to initiate further studies to see if there have been significant shifts in behaviour and attitude since then. It is a well known fact that there is always considerable resistance to change and that consistent monitoring and explanation of programs is vital to the success of any initiative.

However, with respect to what I have just said, a 1999 assessment of the program tabled in the House yesterday has confirmed that EI clients in Atlantic Canada and other parts of Canada are continuing to use EI benefits to supplement their incomes on a regular basis.

Other than what I just stated, there are other good reasons for not making the changes proposed by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst. The most dramatic, and I would argue the most unwarranted, change would be to make EI into a wage subsidy program again rather than maintaining it as an insurance program.

Employment insurance should have as its primary goal protection against involuntary temporary job loss. Any other purpose militates against the program acting in accordance with insurance principles.

My colleague, the hon. member from Wanuskewin, has identified many of the problems and has suggested some solutions to the problems facing workers and government in implementing changes to the system. I want to restate and emphasize one of them.

Some industries have a pattern of laying off workers at the same time each year. This takes advantage of EI as surely as a worker who manages his work time in order to take maximum advantage of the program. He suggests that differential premiums imposed on such companies would be one method of motivating companies to change their work patterns.

To lay the entire burden of the changes solely on the workforce is to address only half of the problem. I do not know whether such a scheme would be advisable or if it would work, but it certainly deserves a look.

One other change the government could and should make is to reduce the unconscionably high rates of employment insurance premiums charged that really bear no relation to the benefits to either workers or businesses. This tax on business chokes off the entrepreneurial spirit that creates the good jobs which will withstand seasonal variations and have a strong demand throughout the year.

I believe that the evidence points to the need to do a thorough review of aspects of employment insurance, with particular emphasis on the intensity rule.

I will be supporting the motion as amended, although it would have been far preferable to have the matter referred to the appropriate standing committee for study and recommendation.

I would rather have seen included in the NDP amendment a call for immediate action so that it would not depend on the leisure time that the minister might decide to devote to it at some point in the future.

It needs to be dealt with, and I thank the House for the opportunity to address this very important issue.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance

Yvan Bernier

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Yvan Bernier (Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the motion brought forward by my friend, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

It is a very serious and very important issue, particularly for maritime communities, such as the Gaspé Peninsula, where I come from. The Gaspé Peninsula is a resource region where forestry and fishing are important sectors. These two resources alone indicate that we very much have to follow the seasons. It is not our fault. We are trying to diversify our economy.

I would like to have what it takes to diversify our economy, but even if 5,000 or 10,000 jobs were created tomorrow in the Gaspé Peninsula—and I am talking about manna from heaven that would give us 10,000 permanent jobs, 52 weeks a year—that would not change the fact that it is not easy to fish for lobster when the ice is three feet thick on the bay in front of my home. There are differences that people must understand.

I read the speeches of those who spoke previously. They talked about dignity. When we are reduced to asking the members opposite to recognize there is dignity in doing what the people we represent do as an occupation, something is very wrong.

Every normal person should understand that fishing and logging have their place. Fishing is about feeding people. Logging is about providing people with building materials. So, by definition, these are noble trades.

I do not understand why it is these seasonal trades that have suffered the most from this reform. I can understand that it is frustrating for certain people who have the opportunity of working all year round and who, on top of that, live in a province that is a little richer, Ontario, not to mention any names.

I will try to illustrate my point briefly because time flies. Let us take the same technique used for fishermen, for example, and apply it to the members of the House. Let us say that the government decides, in Cabinet, to pay us weekly wages instead of monthly or annual salaries as it does now.

As long as parliament is sitting, there is no problem, we would get paid. But if, after passing such legislation—because there are many stages in amending the Employment Insurance Act—the government decided to reduce the number of months during which we are now working—10 months at present—by two months the first year, and by two other months every year thereafter, until we ended up working no more than two months a year—I know this is an exaggeration, but it is exactly what happened to the fishermen; their pay was cut—what would the members opposite say if their salary was taken from them in that way?

They would say that it is unfair. They would say “We have been elected as members of parliament. We cannot accept another job. It is illegal. All we have left is the two months the government lets us sit”. When I left the House of Commons, I would not be allowed to sell my services to help the fishers or the other persons in my community; it would be illegal because I am a member of parliament. So I have an occupational impediment.

Can people understand that when one is, let us say, a lobster fisher, one must follow the rules set by the government according to biological data. It is said that the lobster fishing cycle cannot exceed 10 weeks and that is a verifiable fact. But the government sets the rules.

I hear members saying “let them go catch something else”. That is impossible, because the same government imposed a moratorium on groundfish. “Well, then, let them catch something else, herring”. Fine, but for that, one has to have the right license. So, the government that creates impediments is the one telling us to go do something else. Unfortunately, that is impossible.

Are we prepared to outlaw eating lobster in Canada and to say that from now on there will be no more lobster fishery? Are Canadians prepared to do that?

Some will say that I am exaggerating, but I am not, really. When we look at the fishing industry, of course, it takes a fisher and his helper in a boat. That is one thing. People will say “They are going to work for 10 weeks”. But the fisher who leaves at 3 a.m. and comes back in the afternoon is looking forward to taking his boots off, as we say back home. He needs a rest. So, somebody else handles and unloads his lobster. Somebody else will process the lobsters in the plant before it ends up on your plate, in your favourite restaurant or in your nice comfortable home.

If these people move to the city in search of work, who will process the lobsters for your consumption?

There is a chance workers might not get the number of hours needed to qualify for employment insurance.

What I just showed is that the ten week rule is too restrictive. In some fisheries, people manage to get by. I will name another fishery, the crab fishery, which is even more dicey in terms of the moulting cycle of the species.

Some years, the fishing season does not even last six weeks. When the fishermen go out to sea in the spring, how are they do know whether mother nature will cause the waters to warm up fast and the great white to moult sooner. Therefore, in areas with an unemployment rate over 13%, plant workers need 420 hours if they have already qualified. It can be difficult to work 420 hours in six weeks. If one works 40 hours a week, that is a total of 240 hours. That is not enough to meet the 420 hour requirement.

When she gave an explanation a few moments ago, the parliamentary secretary said that the number of hours can be a good thing. Let us not forget that it always depends on the unemployment rate in a particular region. If the unemployment rate in my region exceeds 13%, I will have to work 420 hours; if it is 12%, I will have to work 455 hours, and so on.

Let us take the example of someone working as a crab fisher near an urban centre like Rimouski. Members will say that that person has an occupation and should get the same thing as the others. But no. If the unemployment rate in the Rimouski area is around 10%, it may take 680 hours for that person to become eligible.

That means that we could see certain categories of occupations disappear in certain regions. That is why I made that proposal, to give people food for thought. If we no longer want this to be covered by the employment insurance program, why not define what a seasonal occupation is and then try to find an appropriate program? Otherwise, we will have to say that we are willing to see those occupations disappear.

I will make another proposal. While we determine which jobs are seasonal ones, we should consider which tools we can offer to these fishers who will have to learn to live on six weeks of work with no employment insurance if they no longer qualify.

Would the government consider prohibiting any imports of crustaceans or of goods now produced in Canada? No one would be allowed to import these products and Canadians would have to pay big money to get these products from our fishers, because we have not supported them. This is conceivable. Is the government prepared to do that? But it says “No, this is free trade, this is globalization”.

Is the Canadian government saying that, because of globalization, fishers in the Gaspe Peninsula will be paid the same as Filipino fishermen, who live in a warm, sunny country and who can get by on little food because they do not have to contend with a northern climate? They are paid $15 a week. Do members know how much it costs to shop for groceries now? A litre of milk costs the same in Hull as it does in Gaspé. In that sense, why would people in the Gaspe not be entitled to the same amount?

In short, I urge the House to take a serious look at the hon. member's proposal, and I invite members opposite, particularly those from Ontario, to accept to share the wealth with those who helped build this country, at least as long as we are still part of it.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance

Jean Dubé

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Jean Dubé (Madawaska—Restigouche, PC)

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to take part in the debate on a motion by a colleague from New Brunswick who represents a riding with a very high rate of unemployment. We all know which former MP and former minister used to represent that riding. I think that everyone remembers him when the subject of employment insurance reform comes up. He is none other than Doug Young.

During the last election campaign, Doug Young found out what people in the very high unemployment areas thought about his reform. We have seen the impact of that reform on individuals and families in those areas. I would like to congratulate my colleague for Acadie—Bathurst for his motion.

When I first came to this House in 1997, as one of the MPs from my party on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, I presented a motion at its first meeting. I asked the committee to carry out an immediate assessment of employment insurance reform. My colleague over the way, the parliamentary secretary, was also on that committee. She surely remembers that motion by a newly arrived young MP.

Unfortunately, the motion was defeated. Today, here we are still at the study and assessment stage, when we could have made real changes.

Years have gone by since this reform, and I have to say that people have lost their homes. People have seen their families divided. In many cases it was because of the stresses that were brought on them. Monetary stress and lack of employment certainly were contributors. In these regions the government is responsible for this because the reform has hurt Canadians and has hurt seasonal workers.

There are regions of Canada that have economies that are different from the others. My region of New Brunswick has many seasonal workers. There are people who work in the forest industry. We have difficult winters. These are realities. There are not all types of industries popping up every day. When the government brought in the reform it did not pay attention to these very seasonal workers.

My colleague from South Shore, Nova Scotia is here. He has brought to my attention many, many files of people who are looking for work, people who are running out of employment insurance, people who have nowhere else to go and have no choice but to go on income assistance and wait until that industry re-opens.

It is pretty sad when the surplus in employment insurance is pegged at about $25 billion. Last year and recently too, the Minister of Finance bragged in the House about the balanced budget. That budget without the $25 billion employment insurance account would not be balanced at all. Certainly there is an imbalance.

I read the report that was tabled in the House yesterday by the minister. It is frustrating to read these things. One of the civil servants who worked on the reform to employment insurance was in my office at the very beginning. He told me that people from Atlantic Canada should get a job like he did, just to give hon. members the idea.

There is a minister over there from P.E.I. We all know who he is. He has in his own riding people who are suffering from this reform and he has the gall to stand here and laugh at what we are saying. It is unbelievable. He should be standing and defending those very people.

I read a report which said that many people may be faking illness when they quit their jobs. Imagine. It is typical though. I am not surprised. They are faking their illness. Nurses across the country have been cut back, slashed and have to do the work that two nurses used to do. They are burnt out and yes, some must call in sick. However the report says people are faking.

In the employment insurance assessment report, the statement is made that “overall, we can say that there are indications that some elements of the reform are working relatively well”.

I must tell you that, when I see people in my riding office, people who have lost their homes, families that have been split up, and when I look at the comments in the evaluation, I wonder if these are the government's indications that the reform is working well. It is absolutely incredible.

The report also says “That is why the Government of Canada made a legislative commitment to monitor and assess the impacts of the reform for five years”. It says “monitor and assess”. What the member for Acadie—Bathurst is asking for is this:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take immediate action to restore Employment Insurance benefits to seasonal workers.

The motion says immediate. Here is a typical amendment by a member of the government that introduced the reform. Note the difference. It goes like this:

That the government the issue of employment insurance benefits for seasonal workers.

Here, we have the word review.

With people suffering since the reform, the government still wants to “review” what happened. I can tell the House that we have been hearing what the Liberal government wants to do with an election in the offing; it wants to review the matter.

I can also tell the House that Canadians have not forgotten what happened. The government thinks that the Atlantic provinces have forgotten as well, but it is mistaken. The people of these provinces have not forgotten Doug Young; they have not forgotten EI reform.

As a member, I will make it my business to see that they remember what the government did to them. That is my intention. We must protect Canadians throughout this country. There must be a balance.

Balance seems to be lacking in this reform. We have a great country. We are trying to build a strong country. We are trying to keep the country together. There are many differences, various cultures, and different regions with differing resources.

If we want to succeed as a country, we must focus on balance. What the government has done is unacceptable, and I once again congratulate the member for Acadie—Bathurst on his motion.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance

Pat Martin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, the 1996 Liberal government changes to UIC did three things. They made it harder to qualify for benefits, they reduced benefits so there was less money per week, and they shortened the period of time that benefits could be collected. The predictable result of all this is now the EI fund shows a surplus of $600 million a month, not per year, per month. Some $7.2 billion per year is being taken out of the employment insurance fund and being denied as benefits to the people who need it most, the most vulnerable, to be used for whatever the Liberal government likes.

What does that mean in my riding of Winnipeg Centre, the third poorest riding in the country? It takes $20.8 million a year out of my riding. It is sucked right out of there down to Ottawa. Money that used to be transferred to Winnipeg for the use of income maintenance for desperately unemployed and poor people no longer comes to my riding. Imagine the impact that has on a relatively small community like my riding. Imagine what we would do if we could attract a business that had a payroll of $20.8 million. We could pave the streets with gold to attract them to our riding. The inverse is also true. The impact is the same in reverse when it gets pulled out. And that is just Winnipeg Centre.

In St. John's, Newfoundland, $75 million a year is pulled out just by the 1996 changes. I wish my colleague from Montreal were still here. There is $512 million a year less in income maintenance for the unemployed in the city of Montreal alone. This was by design of the Liberal government so that it could use the employment insurance fund as a cash cow, as a revenue generator, so that it could use the money for whatever it wanted to and certainly for anything but income maintenance for unemployed people.

These changes have left some staggering statistics. Less than 40% of unemployed workers now qualify for any EI benefits. What kind of insurance fund is that if people have a less than 40% chance of ever collecting? Less than 25% of women, as verified in a recent report, qualify for any benefits. Less than 11% of young women qualify for any benefits. What kind of a program could possibly survive such a failure to achieve its mandate for what it was set out to do? Less than 15% of youth qualify for any benefits.

The point I am trying to make is this system is broken. It is busted. The wheels have fallen off it and Canadians know that. Therefore the motion of the member for Acadie—Bathurst is absolutely appropriate, timely, practical and necessary. Every member in the House should enthusiastically support it so we can all take a look at the employment insurance system and see what is wrong with it and hopefully put it back on track.

As I have said in the past, if money is taken off a person's paycheque for a specific purpose and then is used for something completely different, at best it is a breach of trust. In the worst case scenario it is out and out fraud to tell workers that money will be deducted from their cheques so that if they happen to become unemployed they will qualify for a benefit and when that worst case scenario happens and they find themselves unemployed, we say “Sorry, the rules have changed. There is no money, no income maintenance. Your family does without”. I believe it is a breach of trust.

To add insult to injury, to take that money off workers' paycheques, deny the benefits to the unemployed and then use the money out of general revenues to give the wealthy a tax cut is some perverted form of Robin Hood that robs from the poor and gives to the rich. It is fundamentally wrong and Canadians will not tolerate it.

Here are the changes we would like to see when the review comes forward. At least 70% of all unemployed workers should be receiving EI, at least 70%. Then we would know the program works somewhat. Weekly benefits should be maintained at 60% of a claimant's weekly pay. That is a basic. The divisor rule, the intensity rule and the benefit clawbacks all have to be eliminated. Those are the changes that were made which suck the level of benefits down to such a ridiculously low level. The EI fund must be separated from general revenues. It should be its own independent, stand alone fund that is there for a specific and dedicated purpose, which is to provide income maintenance and possibly training for unemployed workers to help get them back into the workforce.

EI must not be used as a federal debt reduction instrument. It must not be used for tax cuts. It must not be used for spending on government programs. It is a dedicated insurance fund, nothing more, nothing less. To use it for anything else is fraudulent and a breach of trust.

The employment insurance system is in an emergency situation right now. It does not work. It is broken and the wheels have fallen off. Canadian workers know this. This is the second and third year now that seasonal workers have had to deal with this inadequate system. This is the second or third year in a row that they have had to deal with reduced benefits.

I used to run the carpenters union and I know the people in that union very well. There are examples of guys who entered the system this year who are getting $120 a week as their benefit, whereas two or three years ago they were receiving $425 a week. That is the difference the intensity rule, the divisor rule and the clawback rule make to seasonal construction workers who pay into the fund.

I remember when I was a carpenter we would be paying $45 or $50 from every paycheque into the fund which was matched by our employer so we would receive benefits when we happened to find ourselves seasonally unemployed. That does not happen anymore.

Perhaps the most cynical thing the government did when it came to the building trades was to no longer fund the apprenticeship programs through EI. The government used to buy blocks of seats at the community college so the apprentices could go to school without having to pay tuition because they and their employers were already paying every hour that they worked in the industry. The government stopped that.

Today a first year carpenter's apprentice has to pay a $600 to $800 tuition fee. He does not get his first two week waiting period paid for anymore. There are no allowances for travel or child care. All those have been eliminated. The government now says that we need a national training strategy. Well it just gutted a damn good national apprenticeship training strategy by pulling the rug out from under it when it made these changes to UIC in 1996.

All of these things combined add up to gross failure and all the more reason why this motion is entirely appropriate, timely and necessary.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance

Judy Sgro


Ms. Judy Sgro (York West, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying that I am confident that members of all parties will support the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Miramichi which asks that the government take immediate action to review the employment insurance benefits for seasonal workers.

Canada's economy is such that we have always had and always will have seasonal industries. These industries are vital to our economic well-being. However, these industries by definition employ people for only part of the year. We must always remain watchful to ensure that our economic and social programs do not exclude those workers from the rewards and benefits of living and working in Canada.

Let me remind the House that the Government of Canada introduced employment insurance after long consultation and much deliberation. Even then, we built in a monitoring and review process that would report back each year for five years.

The new employment insurance package was aimed precisely at ensuring fair and equitable treatment of all Canadian workers, whether their work was seasonal, year round, part time or full time.

Let us not forget the very good reasons why an extensive redesign of the EI program was carried out. The old unemployment insurance system was questioned for its sustainability. It was not responsive to the new labour market that prevails in Canada. It tended to discourage attachment to the labour force.

What is most pertinent to Motion No. 222 is the fact that the system was unfair in its treatment of some workers, most notably part time and seasonal workers.

The resulting employment insurance system is designed specifically to be sustainable and fair, while encouraging work and ensuring benefits are provided for those in the greatest need. Of course the ultimate goal is to help workers get back to work faster and stay employed longer.

EI also recognizes the reality of Canada's labour market where seasonal workers are prevalent in certain industries. Seasonal workers have particular needs and the program does indeed have special features built in to assist seasonal workers. Is it enough? Possibly not.

The hours based system takes into account the fact that seasonal work often involves long hours of work per week. As a result, many seasonal workers therefore find it easier to qualify and receive higher benefits for longer periods.

Another example is the introduction of small weeks pilot projects. These would allow seasonal workers to take all work that is available, even a few hours a week, without it resulting in a lower benefit rate at their next claim.

Also, the family supplement targets low income families with children by topping up their benefits each year. Those families are also exempt from the application of the intensity rule which normally reduces benefits for claimants who make repeated use of employment insurance.

Then there are the active employment measures under the EI program which are helping many seasonal workers upgrade their skills, enabling them to get back into the workforce more quickly.

The effects of the EI program are being monitored continuously. There is a requirement for monitoring and assessment reports for the five years following its introduction. Yesterday the Minister of Human Resources Development tabled in the House the third annual report, which showed that EI has affected frequent claimants less than claimants overall and that benefits paid to unemployed workers in most seasonal industries have increased substantially. While the entitlement of frequent and seasonal claimants declined from 33 weeks to 32 weeks, this was still three weeks more than in 1995 when the EI regime was introduced.

In short, frequent and seasonal claimants appear to benefit from the switch to an hours based eligibility system, even though frequent and seasonal claimants often have fewer insured hours during the year than other claimants.

I believe that the EI regime provides better coverage for seasonal workers compared to the system it replaced. Is it perfect? No, it is not. Is there room for improvement and change? I hope so. As for providing for the well-being of all Canadians, without doubt the government can stand on its record. More than 427,000 were created last year alone and 85% of them were full time jobs.

We need to make changes in the employment program, especially for seasonal workers and those men and women in Atlantic Canada who work in the fisheries. We need to find some improvements. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that happens.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

When the bill next comes to the House, the hon. member will have, if she desires, about six minutes remaining in debate.

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 6.38 p.m., this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.38 p.m.)

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance

March 23, 2000