October 5, 2000

NDP

Michelle Dockrill

New Democratic Party

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

Mr. Speaker, on a number of occasions we have sat here listening to members of the opposition talk about what the government is doing wrong and especially how it has affected those of us in Atlantic Canada.

One of the hardships that has been caused with respect to what the government has done to EI is the government's clear ability to take the money off the backs of Canadian workers and apply it to the debt. This has caused tremendous hardship in my part of the country. There is a little piece of reality in this.

The process of taking money off the backs of Canadian workers and the unemployed and applying it to the debt was started by the Progressive Conservative Party. That is how the Liberal government was able to get away with it. I would like the member to comment on her party's role in what the Liberal government has done to Atlantic Canadians and seasonal workers.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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NDP

Angela Vautour

New Democratic Party

Ms. Angela Vautour

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that the member might have her facts a bit wrong.

I was a seasonal worker at the time the PC Party was in power and I was able to feed my kids. When the PC Party was in power there was a $6 billion deficit in the UI fund. Today there is a $30 billion surplus. We cannot look at the difference. I never had a problem feeding my son when I was on UI. There was enough money available for me to do it.

With the Liberal Party in power, single parents do not have enough income to feed their kids or provide them with shelter.

The member should put her politics aside and look at who the culprits are here. The culprits are the Liberals. The PC government did not have a $30 billion surplus. We had a $6 billion deficit. That was the reality.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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REF

Diane Ablonczy

Reform

Mrs. Diane Ablonczy (Calgary—Nose Hill, Canadian Alliance)

Mr. Speaker, I noticed that the speaker from the PC Party and the speaker who preceded her were somewhat indignant over a remark that I was purported to have made, that all seasonal workers earn comfortable incomes. I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

What I talked about were seasonal workers who earn comfortable incomes being given additional moneys by the government. The comfortable income is the nearly $50,000 that seasonal workers will now be able to earn before any of the EI is clawed back.

This member and the member who spoke before made the ridiculous assumption that I would consider $10,000 to be a reasonable income.

Obviously, that was a clear misinterpretation and distortion of what I said. I would like to set the record straight. I would like to ask the hon. member whether she believes that seasonal workers who earn nearly $50,000 should have no clawback on their EI.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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NDP

Angela Vautour

New Democratic Party

Ms. Angela Vautour

Mr. Speaker, I am just going to quote her words from the French Hansard .

She said “Now that he is about to call an election, the Prime Minister has decided to increase EI payments to seasonal workers who already earn a very comfortable annual income”.

What I am saying is I would rather concentrate on the majority of seasonal workers, like I see in New Brunswick, who are living on less than $10,000 a year. The member would rather look at the small percentage of some seasonal workers somewhere in Canada. I do not know where she is finding them but she is saying there are some. I know that in Hansard she specified a comfortable annual income in Atlantic Canada.

She would rather concentrate on that small percentage—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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?

An hon. member

Regional prejudice.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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NDP

Angela Vautour

New Democratic Party

Ms. Angela Vautour

That is regional prejudice. She is dividing them. She should be concentrating on the majority of seasonal workers who are in trouble today.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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?

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The time provided for questions and comments has expired, but I already indicated to the hon. member for Matapédia—Matane that he could ask a short question.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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BQ

René Canuel

Bloc Québécois

Mr. René Canuel (Matapédia—Matane, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I hope you will show some tolerance because I have a brief comment to make and a brief question to ask.

My comment is that the government opposite is heartless. I said before that the Prime Minister was a son of darkness and I am still saying that.

Here is my question. Does the hon. member think it is reasonable to require 910 hours for young people? Personally, I think it is inhuman and totally unrealistic. I would like my colleague to comment on that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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NDP

Angela Vautour

New Democratic Party

Ms. Angela Vautour

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. It is certainly impossible for our young people to work 910 hours. That is the problem. Our young people end up leaving our communities. Instead of coming back to contribute to the economy of our region after finishing their postsecondary education, they have to leave. It is a problem and I agree with the hon. member on that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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REF

Lee Morrison

Reform

Mr. Lee Morrison (Cypress Hills—Grasslands, Canadian Alliance)

Mr. Speaker, before I begin I would like to indicate that I will be dividing my time.

Bill C-44, commonly known as the Liberal vote enhancement bill, has been touted as an initiative to make life easier for low income workers or needy EI recipients. However its promise, like most Liberal promises, is fraudulent. On the eve of an election, the government, with a lot of huffing and puffing, proposes to tinker with a system which desperately needs a complete overhaul.

A few decades ago we had a UI system that worked. It was based on true insurance principles. Over the years its original function as an employer-employee funded program to provide temporary income in the event of unexpected job loss has been perverted, complicated and made grossly unfair by mostly Liberal governments. The result is a mishmash of ill-conceived social programs, excessively high premiums and a massive surplus which is largely inaccessible to those most in need of benefits.

It long ago ceased to be an insurance program by any definition. Instead, it has become a political cash cow for the government. The government is now collecting about $10 billion per year more in premiums than it pays out in benefits. The piddling changes proposed in the bill will decrease that overcharge by about 12% but most of the rip-off will continue. I would dare say that if a legitimate insurance company tried to operate in that fashion charges would be laid.

The surplus is not even protected in a separate fund for high unemployment emergencies. Excess collections are bled into general revenue and may be used to pay for any goofy scheme that the government comes up with.

To refer to the money collected as insurance premiums is, as I said, fraudulent. It is a payroll tax, nothing more, nothing less. Think how much more economically beneficial it would be if the government desisted from ripping off workers and employers and left that $10 billion a year in their pockets. Employers would be able to have money to hire more people on their actual payroll—job creation—and workers would have more money to spend on goods and services, thus creating even more jobs. It would be a win-win situation even for the government.

There is no consistency in the system, nor will there be with the proposed changes. On one hand, even well paid seasonal workers, fallers, heavy equipment operators and people like that will be able to draw EI benefits with the clawback threshold now raised to $48,750.

A few yappers on both sides of the House have attacked the member for Calgary—Nose Hill for describing some part time workers as earning a comfortable living. I would say that anybody earning $48,000 a year is earning a comfortable living, and there are millions of Canadian workers, most of them employed full time, who would dearly love to have incomes of more than $48,750.

On the other hand, we MPs regularly receive complaints from low income people who have been denied benefits, in spite of having contributed to the system for many years but who are unable to surmount the obstacles placed in front of them by an inflexible and obdurate bureaucracy. To qualify for EI people need more hours of work if they have never made a claim than if they have been in and out of the workforce like a fiddler's elbow.

I have documented cases of workers who worked 500 to 600 hours in the previous year, who had premiums extorted from them under false pretences for many, many years and who found themselves ineligible for benefits or training because they had never previously touched the system. They needed a minimum of 910 hours before they could take their first bite of pogey. They are penalized for their own self-sufficiency. That is perverse and it is cruel.

In a sane system operating under the same principles as other types of insurance, individuals with clean claims records would be given favourable treatment, but under Liberal EI they are penalized.

Letters which I received from successive HRD ministers regarding this anomaly have been mostly regurgitations of EI regulations which I and my staff are quite capable of extracting from departmental bumph. We get the stock bureaucratic slop such as, “please be assured that I will continue to closely monitor the situation” or “multiple job holders and part time workers have all of their hours of work insured”. Like hell they do.

When I informed the previous minister of a worker who after 20 years in the labour force was unable to access an upgrading program, his reply said in part:

The rationale behind this entry requirement for new entrants and re-entrants was to discourage a cycle of reliance on Employment Insurance by ensuring that workers, especially young people, establish a significant attachment to the labour force before collecting Employment Insurance benefits. The intent was also to strengthen the relationship between work effort and entitlement to benefits by requesting claimants to have a reasonable labour force attachment before collecting benefits.

That was his rationale for denying benefits to a middle-aged man who had worked and paid his premiums for 20 years. What an insult, not only to my constituent, but to me.

One of the problems is that very few people in the cabinet over there have ever had any real world work experience. They think sweat is something that they get in the racketball court. They have never had to worry about when to make a rental payment. They have certainly never had to worry about accessing UI. It is the elite rule and we are paying a price for that. Canadian workers pay a price for that.

Another constituent was laid off after working full time for 10 years. She innocently accepted part time work for more than a year rather than apply for EI. When she lost the part time job as well, her efforts to remain independent had cost her any chance of benefits because of the 910 hour rule.

This mess that has been created in EI, largely through the efforts of the people sitting on the other side of the aisle, has to be addressed as a whole, not with this little bit of piecemeal “tinker here, fix there and fiddle there”. This will not repair the system.

I hope that people on the other side, maybe from self-interest, would try to fix it because if what is going on now goes to its culmination, and we have an election soon, there may be a lot of folks over there who would like to be able to access the EI system. They would not be able to because of the 910 rule. They are stuck.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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REF

Keith Martin

Reform

Mr. Keith Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, Canadian Alliance)

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague for his eloquent and pointed comments on this bill. For many years we have been trying to reform the EI system which has been a cash cow system for the government and in effect a tax on the people.

My hon. colleague has fought for many years to improve the situation for many of his people, particularly those who are most impoverished. What does he suggest be done to make the EI system more effective to enable those people who cannot help themselves to get back into the workforce for a longer period of time?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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REF

Lee Morrison

Reform

Mr. Lee Morrison

Mr. Speaker, there are two things. First, bring the premiums into line with the need so that they are not building up this huge surplus which as I said, if it was out there in the general economy would help to create jobs in some small way and therefore decrease the need for EI.

Second, do away with the convoluted rules which now exist and which are becoming more convoluted by the day, certainly with the new amendments to the act. We need to simplify regulations so that people who have religiously paid into the system for years will be eligible to tap into the funds if they do have sudden and expected unemployment.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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BQ

Paul Crête

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Paul Crête (Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to use the few minutes available to me under questions and comments to ask the previous speaker why his party has such a narrow-minded attitude towards seasonal workers who are in particular economic situations.

These people work in industries where full time jobs are not necessarily available. I think these kinds of jobs exist across Canada.

We are talking about people who work in the forestry, tourism, agricultural and fishing industries. The members opposite seem to believe that many of these workers are already earning a lot of money and would get even richer with the elimination of the intensity rule and the changes to the clawback provisions. But this is not the case. Seasonal workers, at least most of them in my region, often earn $20,000, $25,000 or $30,000 a year when they have the opportunity to work for several months in a row. Quite often, they have to make do with the minimum wage.

Would it not be possible for the member to urge the other members of his party to reconsider their position on this issue? We are not asking them to approve the government; that is something we have not done ourselves. We believe that the current bill does not go nearly far enough to reinstate a fair EI program.

Would it not be possible for members of the Canadian Alliance to reconsider their position in order to treat these workers more fairly? A good way for them to do so would be to go into the field and see how these people really live so that we can put a stop to all the misconceptions that the government has been circulating for so many years.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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REF

Lee Morrison

Reform

Mr. Lee Morrison

Mr. Speaker, I was a seasonal worker in mineral exploration for many years so I do know a little about the subject. It was by choice. I could have taken a nine to five job year round, but I made good money like a lot of seasonal workers do. I simply did not have to work the full year. Not every seasonal worker earns minimum wage.

If the hon. member had been listening to my reply to the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, he would have heard me say that one of the solutions which we as a party would propose for the problems with EI would be to do away with all the convoluted rules which have developed over the years for tapping into it. He was not listening.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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REF

Keith Martin

Reform

Mr. Keith Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, Canadian Alliance)

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-44. I hope to dispel some of the myths around the issue.

For a long time the EI system has been in disarray. Rather than helping or improving the situation of those who are unemployed, it has actually retarded their ability to get a job. That might seem on first blush to be counterintuitive but we will go through it and describe how the government's support of the current EI system has prevented Canadians from gaining long term employment.

The government had an enormous opportunity with Bill C-44 to truly reform the EI system to help those who cannot find a job and to help with income support during periods when people are unemployed through no fault of their own. Unfortunately it is actually damaging their ability to gain long term employment.

The bill increases the minimum amount which a person can earn before receiving a clawback of the EI money from $39,000 to over $48,000. Prior to earning $48,000 a person can receive EI payments and there would be no clawback whatsoever. A clawback would be a maximum of 30% of moneys over that.

Why would someone making $60,000 or $70,000 a year be receiving EI payments from the government? There are enough poor people in Canada today. In fact over four million people in Canada are labelled as having some degree of poverty. Why is it that with the limited amount of money we have, people who make a fairly high amount of money have access to EI?

We would like to make EI a true insurance. The limited amount of moneys should actually go not only to help people who are unemployed through no fault of their own but also to give them the skills and training they need to be employed for a long period of time. That is what should be done rather than catering to the lowest common denominator of people who go through the cycle of working a minimum number of hours and then receiving EI payments.

It is a form of institutionalized welfare that we are pandering to with the current system. We should not allow that to happen. It is not fair for the employers who pay into the EI fund. It is not fair for the unemployed people who need the money.

Interestingly enough the high level of premiums that the government supports and which employers have to pay is retarding the individual's ability to work. The artificially high premiums which provide over $10 billion a year for the government purse are actually a tax. It is money that has been taken away from the private sector and put into the government's hands to redistribute as it sees fit.

In effect those moneys are pulled away. That money is taken out of the private sector from employers who could have used it for skills training, to enhance their business, to become more competitive and to have lower taxes so that they could expand their business and hire more people.

The high EI premiums are a tax on the private sector. They have impeded the ability of the private sector to employ people, which has caused an artificially high level of unemployment and unfortunately has contributed to our lack of competitiveness.

As my colleague from Cypress Hills—Grasslands mentioned, we have asked to put the EI system on true insurance principles. Let us bring down substantially the payments the private sector makes so that companies have more money in their pockets to hire people. People would not be taken off the rolls serially. People would not be working as seasonal workers and would not work only 910 hours a year or 470 hours a year depending on who they are.

We do not have to cater to the lowest common denominator. We provided an excellent solution. By reducing the amount of money companies would say thank you because they could hire a number of people, put them back to work and those people would not be on the EI rolls.

It is not rocket science but it needs to be done. It is common sense. It should have been done a long time ago because, yes, it is hurting employers, but it is also hurting the employees that we profess to wish to help. The government should listen to what we are saying on this side. It would go a long way to improving the EI system.

Looking at this issue in the larger context, it goes back to the mid-1960s and the government's war on poverty. The idea was to engage in a process of handouts and a process of what it called economic redistribution. Is that really the best way to go about it?

We on this side strongly support efforts to help those who cannot help themselves. We certainly want to give people a handout while they are in need. What most people want is a hand up, not a handout. Most people on the welfare and EI rolls want to go back to work. Why not invest some of that money in skills training? Why not give people the skills so they are not seasonal workers for chunks of their lives? I am sure they would want to work most of the year, not part of it. By doing that we would have a vigorous and competitive economy.

Unfortunately the bill is indicative of the over-arching Liberal philosophy that has poisoned the economy of our country for decades. It is an example of a move toward mediocrity. It is a move toward catering to a lower common denominator. It does not empower the individual. It empowers the government to take money from companies to redistribute as it sees fit. Why? A cynic may think that it was to buy votes. Historically that is what has happened. The government is taking money out of the pockets of individuals and doling it out in other parts of the country.

We have seen reports just in the last 24 hours where moneys have gone into the maritimes at the rate of 10 times what they were one year ago. People in the maritimes see through this. They are saying “Do not take us for fools. We know what you are doing. You are trying to buy us off”. The people in the maritimes do not want this. They want the maritimes to be a competitive, vigorous centre, an economic tiger.

They are looking at models such as Ireland. They wish the government would show the leadership that the Irish government has demonstrated to its people. Ireland was an economic backwater for many years and the people of that country finally said they would not take it any more. What did the Irish government do? It lowered taxes. It relaxed its labour laws. It invested in education. It removed the egregious rules and regulations that were choking the private sector. Ireland is now receiving 50% of all investment that goes into the European Union. It is an economic tiger.

People in the maritimes like that vision. They are looking at leadership from the Canadian Alliance to see how they can do it. They know they are not getting leadership from the government. The government doles out money, but the people in the maritimes do not want handouts. They want an environment in which they can thrive.

The proof is in the pudding. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Labour Congress do not approve of the bill. They are against it. The Canadian Labour Congress is against the bill because it crushes people's ability to work.

We want people to work. We want to take care of those people who cannot take care of themselves and who are unemployed through no fault of their own. It is that balance that we are championing. It is that balance that the government would be wise to listen to.

The proof of the pudding will be in the next election. We are confident our side will win.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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BQ

Odina Desrochers

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Odina Desrochers (Lotbinière—L'Érable, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech. As members know, the Bloc Quebecois is calling for more substantial changes in the bill introduced by the Liberals.

We all know that this whole issue concerns seasonal workers. I am a little bit surprised to see that my colleague from the Canadian Alliance is not aware of the problems that all the seasonal workers from western Canada face.

Why should we penalize the seasonal workers from eastern and western parts of Canada by adopting a policy that does not seem to meet their needs, wherever they are in Canada? I would like some explanations on this.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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REF

Keith Martin

Reform

Mr. Keith Martin

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question, but I think the larger question at hand here is why we would want to cater to enforcing seasonal work. Why do we not look to full employment with people working all year long?

Seasonal workers do not want to work part of the year. The people in my neck of the woods do not want to work part of the year. They want to work all year long. They want to make a lot more money. They do not want to be on employment insurance.

The government has taken money away from the private sector and it is inhibiting the private sector's ability to employ people all year long. That is what is going on.

We should take out the regional differences, which is what we have been saying for a long time. For political reasons this bill and its predecessor, the rules governing EI, have allowed the government to gerrymander situations and to ensure that there are regional differences. Why should there be regional differences? People should be treated equally across the country. An unemployed person on the west coast, an unemployed person in Quebec and an unemployed person in the maritimes are unemployed people and they should be treated equally.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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LIB

Paddy Torsney

Liberal

Ms. Paddy Torsney (Burlington, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, as some people will know, of course, my parents emigrated from Ireland, so I have a great number of aunts and uncles who live there.

Earlier this year I had occasion to talk to one of my uncles. He had had occasion to watch the House of Commons, since he was interested in his young niece, and he asked me to convey to members of the party opposite at the earliest possible opportunity their complete misrepresentation of what drove the economy of Ireland.

He is quite concerned, as I am sure most people in Ireland would be concerned, that it was not about lowering tax levels alone. It was about investing in people, about investing in post-secondary education, about the very programs that the hon. member and his party condemn every day in the House. If he had studied the full aspect of what in fact was the success in Ireland I wonder what he would say to his colleagues who get up and condemn the minister of HRDC for her initiatives to ensure that people do get a chance to get a hand up and a chance to get full employment. The reality is that he is comparing a very tiny country with a country that has great regional differences.

He is misrepresenting the fact that my province of Ontario and my workers who work in the construction industry have asked for this change. It is this caucus that has asked for changes to the current EI system.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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REF

Keith Martin

Reform

Mr. Keith Martin

Mr. Speaker, I hope the hon. member was not speaking disparagingly about the NDP, the Bloc or the Conservative Party. That would be a shame.

Having said that, what I said before is that in the Irish situation they did reduce taxes. They did make investments. They did relax labour laws. They did remove the rules and regulations that choked the private sector.

They did not make an investment in handouts to the private sector. The large numbers of international companies that have gone into Ireland, high tech companies such as IBM, Xerox and many others, have gone there to set up shop because the tax structure, the labour laws and the educational standards are excellent.

We have been asking for a long time that we look at those pillars of an economy that make it strong, like the lower taxes, the removal of egregious rules and regulations and the strong educational system, and ensure that the country has them.

Handouts from HRDC that go to friends of the government in power are not what they do in Ireland. That would crush the private sector and prevent people from getting employed. The hon. member just needs to look to the auditor general to know what is really going on at HRDC.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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BQ

Christiane Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Ms. Christiane Gagnon (Québec, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be able to talk to Bill C-44, which changes some of the rules of the employment insurance program.

As far as I am concerned, Bill C-44 on employment insurance makes very minor adjustments and can be considered an electoral goody. The Liberal government had no choice but to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

It is but a short-sighted revision and not a comprehensive reform of the Employment Insurance Act.

It is a bill without substance and clearly inadequate for the large numbers of workers without jobs. It is a cosmetic bill, which will cost the government a mere $500 million when all is said and done. That is not much, compared to the $32 billion accumulated in the government's coffers. We know that this year alone $7 billion went directly to paying down the debt.

Many of those excluded will not qualify for EI benefits. That means that two people out of three will continue to be excluded, in spite of the fact that a few major changes were made.

Before I begin my short speech on the Employment Insurance Act, I wish to inform the Chair that I would like to share my time with my colleague from Charlevoix.

Bill C-44 consists of three meagre measures. Some might find them interesting since much needed to be done with respect to the employment insurance program. Let us begin with the intensity rule.

That rule will not apply any more. That is good for those who were penalized because they were considered frequent claimants. They will no longer have to lose 1% on their salary. There will no longer be any penalty. The unemployed will no longer have benefits reduced to 50% or 55% of their salary. It is a step in the right direction, but it is too little.

The maximum insurable earning threshold will be raised from $39,000 to $48,000 for the purpose of the clawback on EI benefits. The government is giving a little break to those who earn up to $48,000.

For a new parent who leaves the work force, it will be possible to go back four years, instead of one year, to calculate the number of eligible hours for employment insurance.

I repeat that this is a step in the right direction, but Bill C-44 does not respond to many inequities facing several workers. First, young people will still have to work 910 hours to qualify. We know very well that it is difficult for a young person to accumulate 910 hours. The work force no longer provides stable jobs. Instead, it provides insecure and part time jobs. Consequently, it is too much to require 910 hours for a young person to qualify.

The whole issue of independent workers has not been dealt with. We know that, in Quebec, they represent 16% of the population. In this bill, the issue of independent workers is not being dealt with.

The Bloc Quebecois had made several proposals for refunding premiums for people who earn up to $5,000. We know that, today, a person who earns $2,000 pays premiums, but that above that amount, premiums are never refunded. We would have liked that cap set at $5,000. Students work in the summer, pay employment insurance premiums and do not get a refund of premiums paid on income over $2,000.

There are special benefits that include maternal benefits. Again, there will be some irritants for pregnant women. They will have to work 600 hours, contrary to workers in some regions who will receive benefits after working for 420 hours. This is a double standard. If we want to encourage women to have children, they will not find adequate measures to deal with their situation.

We are well aware that the government's proposal to double the maternity leave is clearly inadequate. We know that many women do not use the maternity leave—I think the ratio is about 52%—because they cannot afford to stay home for any length of time with benefits that represent only 55% of their salary.

Very often, women who do stay home with their children do not use the whole maternity leave. It does not make sense to give a one year maternity leave to women who cannot afford it, who cannot afford to stay away from work for a year.

The government did not seriously address the Employment Insurance Act and all its ramifications. It did not address the status of seasonal workers either. In Baie-Comeau, Trois-Pistoles or Rouyn-Noranda, there are inequities in the treatment of seasonal workers. The government has not dealt with their problem. Discrimination will continue. The proposed measures are meagre compared to the huge surplus piling up in the EI fund.

The Prime Minister is quite pleased with the accumulated surplus. As he said so clearly in the House “Let me enjoy this, if it is the only problem I have”. He thinks this is a minor problem. When workers are excluded from the EI benefits, or have their meagre benefits reduced under the intensity rule, the Prime Minister is not, as we know, the one who is faced with the problem of being jobless.

Also, the government has not really dealt with reduced benefits for seasonal workers. This category of workers is only entitled to reduced benefits. For instance, the government refused to increase the benefits to 60% of the wages of the workers to take the increase in the cost of living into account. It could have indexed EI benefits.

The EI program has been and continues to be totally out of touch with reality, even if the government wants us to believe that the program is in sync with the labour market. It is not; it is totally out of whack.

The figures speak for themselves. When the reform was implemented in 1997, there was a decrease of 16.4% in the number of EI claimants, compared to a 4% drop in the unemployment rate. It was the same for several years. But those figures only apply for 1997. Between 1993 and 1999, the number of regular claimants decreased by 52.4% and the unemployment rate was at 28%. As members can see, the number of claimants dropped twice as much as the number of the unemployed. In percentage, the number of unemployed workers is decreasing more slowly than the number of claimants.

That is why we believe that this reform is far from suited to the realities of the labour market. We can say it is a small victory, a half-victory for the Bloc Quebecois, as the numerous demands made by my party for a comprehensive reform of the new employment insurance legislation have led to three small measures taken by the government in Bill C-44. This will bring some comfort to certain workers who have lost their jobs. However, a lot of people have been forgotten, including women, young people and seasonal workers. The government should have made other changes to allow more people to qualify.

The premium rate was reduced; it is all fine and well to lower it to $2.25, but if the majority of unemployed people are not covered, I think we are missing what the main purpose of such legislation should be, that is, helping those who find themselves without a job.

In closing, I would like to repeat a word used by the person who was responsible for this issue before, who said he was “shocked” when I was putting questions to him and telling him that this reform would be devastating for thousands and thousands of unemployed people. We certainly cannot give the government high marks for these three very small measures.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Employment Insurance Act
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October 5, 2000