I was working long before you were born.
Many of the machines that we use today cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and require people to operate them. They are not just ordinary lathes, drills and shapers. They are very sophisticated, computer-controlled machines that are required in order that we can be productive and profitable in our business operations. Therefore, we cannot afford to lag behind other countries when it comes to improving productivity through
June 7, 1989
high technology product development and enhancing the training of our labour force.
The extent to which technology can be harnessed depends upon the skills of the people who direct, maintain and operate it. In this context, the development of a skilled work force will be a determining factor in our future prosperity.
A recent report of the Economic Council of Canada shows that 85 per cent of all companies surveyed expect to be using computer-based technology by 1990. That is only a year or so away. It also points out that those companies that adopt new technology are generally companies that are growing faster and becoming more efficient than their competitors. The result is clear. We have a responsibility to direct our resources into education and training so that we will have skilled people to make industry competitive. We are talking here about a shared responsibility involving the federal Government and the private sector; in fact, a shared responsibility that involves all Canadians.
The labour force development strategy is designed to put into practice these objectives, to rechannel our resources into improving the amount and quality of skills training. It is also encouraging industry to take a leadership role in training as their counterparts have done in Japan, the United States and other leading economic powers around the world. In addition to increased training for employed Canadians, we will also under this strategy use the unemployment insurance program for more constructive ends. Greater emphasis will be placed on actively developing workers rather than providing passive income support. What we are saying is that instead of giving them a cheque when they become unemployed, we will train them and give them a skill that will allow them to go into the market-place and maintain an active job.
Today in Canada we spend almost $12 billion on unemployment insurance and only $1.8 billion on employment programs designed to get people back to work. It is evident that if we want to prepare people for jobs in the 1990s, we must help them become equipped with the skills that the 1990s will require.
Bill C-21 therefore provides a major expansion of active employment programming within the unemploy-
Unemployment Insurance Act
ment insurance program. It commits the vital resources unemployed workers need to get back to work in productive long-term jobs. The current budget for development uses in the UI program is just over $400 million per year. The measures contained in Bill C-21 will see this grow by over three times to an expected full implementation budget of over $1.4 billion, not the cut-backs that the Members on the other side are talking about.
We are convinced that Canadians want to work. They want to be part of a productive and contributing force in the community. That is why we are proposing that UI claimants who have viable business plans in hand be able to capitalize on those benefits to help defray business start-up costs. We have many people working in a business for a number of years who have a desire to get out on their own. Perhaps the business environment has changed for them. Perhaps they have other interests and we are looking forward to interviewing those people to see if we can help them get into their own businesses.
The beneficiaries of such a plan go beyond the enterprising worker to include the entire community. Instead of workers sitting at home, or-let us admit it-participating in an underground economy, they will now breathe the same air as someone with a legitimate product or service to offer. We are also proposing that claimants be able to receive some portion of their UI payments in a lump sum as may be necessary to help finance their move if they wish to relocate to an area where job prospects are more plentiful.
We are not forgetting the displaced and older worker who is sidelined by a plant closure or a setback in the local economy but whose talents and experience this country cannot afford to lay aside. We propose a substantial increase in funding for educational upgrading, retraining and job-finding resources to help the older workers regain their place in the market-place. This is a fact of life in some of the more industrial areas of Canada where older workers on occasion find themselves taking early retirement. They then find early retirement rather boring and decide they would like to re-enter the labour force but find that their skills should be upgraded so they can take advantage of the new machinery and technologies being used today in industry.
June 7, 1989
Unemployment Insurance Act
Complementary to these training initiatives, we are also changing the UI Act to reflect the realities of today's work place. This means, in effect, respecting both the principle of equity and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is why we have proposed the following major changes: Making 15 weeks of maternity benefits available during the period of a child's birth; making 10 weeks of parental benefits available to natural and adoptive parents to be shared by either mother or father; ensuring that claimants are able to draw a combination of maternity, paternal and sickness benefits up to a maximum of 30 weeks; making UI available to those who delay retirement past the age of 65.
This is another fact of life in this country. We have many people who reach the age of 65, who still have many years of productive life ahead of them, and who do not want to sit around. Many of us know neighbours and friends who reach the age of 65. Their company policy is that they must retire and they find themselves at loose ends with nothing to do. Some of them, of course, become consultants. In fact, I was watching a television program the other night in which a 92-year-old gentleman was being interviewed by a young lady. She said, "What do you at 92?'' He said, "I am a consultant''. She said, "Who would consult a 92-year-old man?" He named a list of companies that are all in the Fortune 500. She said, "What do you charge an hour?" He said he charged $1,500, and she said "You wouldn't have many takers at $1,500 an hour". He said, "My dear, I have enough work ahead of me to last me until I am 108". I stood up and cheered because that is the kind of experience that is out there that can still be productive in our society and we should not let these people go.
We have made these adjustments to the UI program because Canadian society has changed. Canadian men and women now want to be equal partners at home and at work. We have a responsibility, therefore, to make the UI program relevant to that reality. We also have a responsibility to Canadians to ensure that the unemployment insurance program is efficient and economical, and that it does not provide a disincentive to work. In part, we want to be able to finance some of these improvements by raising the qualifying period for unemployment insurance in areas of low unemployment, and we propose to increase penalties for those people who quit
their jobs without just cause or who fraudulently collect benefits. There is a substantial underground economy in this country and, in fact, in all the western countries. We want to see those people go back into the regular taxpaying community.
It should be noted that when New Zealand went to the value added tax, it found 225,000 more people in business than before the tax was put in. In order to get the advantage of the claim back on the tax, they had to be registered. There were 225,000 underground businesses operating in New Zealand that the Government knew nothing about.
I am not saying that there are that many here, but there is a substantial number, which we all know about but do not like to admit. Our goal is to strengthen the unemployment insurance program so that it truly serves as a safety net for those in need, especially in those areas that are not participating in the fast growing economy. To do nothing more in their interest would be an admission of defeat for thousands of unemployed Canadians who desperately want to work.
One of the largest groups in our economy who are disadvantaged are single mothers. They are caught in a welfare trap, living in subsidized housing and relying on that cheque once a month to keep themselves going.
Many single mothers have been to my office, and there is not one of them whom I met who does not want to work. They want a productive job and want to contribute to society but they do not have skills. They do not want to be a net recipient of welfare.
Many single mothers who are asked if they can go to school for a certain course will say they cannot do so because they have no transportation and cannot afford a baby-sitter. Our Government will provide funds for baby-sitting and transportation to see that those skills can be made available to them so they can find productive work in our society and enjoy some of the benefits we have in this country. They do not want to be left in that welfare trap and we have a responsibility to help them as much as we can. We have a responsibility to foster a training culture with the Government acting as a facilitator in encouraging the private sector to contribute to a greater share of the skills development.
June 7, 1989
I was in Washington some 10 days ago at a meeting of the American Iron and Steel Institute, where I learned that the American steel industry, on its own, is putting $200 million on the line to upgrade the present employees of the steel industry. Rather than providing people from the industry with skills to work somewhere else because it is downsizing, it is recognizing that the very useful and productive machinery it will be installing in the plants will require employees who can operate those machines. The industry is investing $200 million of its own money, just as a down payment. If we are going to be competitive we will have to do something similar to that.
The Elon. Member for Eglinton-Lawrence (Mr. Volpe) stated in his comments that businesses provide some two to three hours training per week.
Subtopic: UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE ACT