Mr. Speaker, as we know, forestry is part of our history and identity as Canadians, and I would like to thank the member for Jonquière—Alma for introducing the bill. It provides me with an opportunity to discuss our country's vital forest sector.
While the bill is problematic, and I will touch on some of my concerns later on in my remarks, I can appreciate the desire to support our forestry industry. Our government shares this appreciation, and is in fact already acting upon this in significant ways.
Further to the points previously raised by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, allow me to describe in greater detail some of the ways that our government has demonstrated consistent support for the forestry sector.
Economic action plan 2014 continues to make unprecedented investments to innovate Canada's forestry sector and to protect it from the threat of pests. Today this sector provides direct employment for over 235,000 workers in every part of our country, and it is a particularly important employer in rural and remote communities. In fact, in 200 communities, it accounts for at least half of the economic base.
However, the forestry sector has faced some challenges over the last decade. These challenges have come about due to a variety of factors, including the worldwide economic downturn, the stronger Canadian dollar, a structural decline in North American newsprint demand, and increased competition from other forest products.
Yet, the tide is turning. I am pleased to report that forestry sector markets are rebounding and market expansion efforts are proving successful. Jobs and the economy are the top priorities of this government, and since 2006 our government has provided over $1.8 billion in various initiatives to support the economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability of Canada's forestry sector. This includes investments in developing new markets, supporting innovation, and reducing the industry's environmental footprint. Thanks in part to this support, Canada's forestry industry is reinventing itself, by becoming more innovative, more environmentally friendly, and more global in reach. It is adopting innovation as part of its new business model.
How is all of this happening? A main hub of the forest sector innovation system in Canada is the not-for-profit organization FPInnovations, which our government helped to create in 2007. Today, FPInnovations is the world's largest public-private forest products research institute. Comprised of Canada's three national research institutes and Natural Resources Canada's Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, FPInnovations focuses on the development of emerging and breakthrough technologies, such as biomass harvesting and conversion, and nanotechnology. It conducts forest products research under NRCan's forest innovation program and is a partner in deploying promising new technologies into the forest products industry.
The investments in the forest industry transformation program, or IFIT, go another step forward. Through this program, our government is helping to see that new first-of-their-kind products, technologies, and processes with demonstrated value are brought to market. Our government has already supported 14 world-class or Canada-first projects, and economic action plan 2014 has committed more than $90 million to the program over the next four years.
A great example of a project that has benefited from IFIT is the one at Lauzon, in Papineauville, Quebec, a collaboration with the Centre de recherche industrielle du Québec and FPInnovations. In a global first, Lauzon is piloting Canadian-developed scanning technology that allows it to classify and sort logs in order to increase the amount of wood fibre recovered to 70%, compared to the current industry standard of 40%.
The capacity to convert low-quality wood fibre into customized unfinished flooring planks greatly increases the value that Lauzon obtains from each log. This technology could potentially be replicated in other hardwood flooring mills, thus benefiting the wider industry.
In another great project, Kruger Biomaterials Inc. is building a demonstration plant in Trois-Rivières for the commercialization of cellulose filaments, which are used in papermaking to soften, strengthen, and brighten paper. This Canadian innovation is another exciting world first, and as such will provide Canada with an immediate competitive advantage.
Strong, light, recyclable, and made without effluents, cellulose filaments have such a wide array of non-traditional uses that they have the potential to radically transform Canada's forestry sector.
Last December, Natural Resources Canada announced a $15 million investment in the commercialization facility, complementing earlier investments in R and D undertaken by FPinnovations. It is investments like these that are helping to shape the forestry sector of tomorrow.
Other investments have helped develop and expand markets.
In economic action plan 2012, $105 million over two years was announced to support forestry sector innovation and market development.
In economic action plan 2013, our government committed to an additional $92 million over two years, starting in 2014-15, to develop innovative new products and to diversify our markets. This market diversification strategy has helped Canada's wood products sector increase its exports in some rapidly growing Asian economies over the last decade.
For example, our government's focus on expanding export markets has resulted in a 1,000% increase of Canadian softwood lumber exports to China. Further, the value of Canadian wood products exports to China increased almost 24-fold between 2002 and 2012 to $1.4 billion.
In other trade-related activities, in 2012 our government announced the extension of the Canada-U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement until October 2015, providing stable access to the U.S. market, and under the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement announced last fall, our world-class wood products would enjoy preferential access to, and increased demand from, the EU's member states.
It is no secret that expanding markets mean more jobs for Canadians, and that is good news for the economy and good news for Canadian families.
There are many other initiatives I could mention. However, with my limited time remaining, let me just mention the $18 million over four years announced in economic action plan 2014 for an action plan to assist eastern Canada in combatting the spruce budworm outbreak. Along with our government's other strategic investments, this investment is intended to help the industry and communities maintain their recovery momentum
I would now like to turn my attention to the reasons that I cannot support the bill.
While I certainly appreciate the desire to assist the forestry industry, this legislation has fundamental flaws that make it very problematic. If passed, Bill C-574 would contravene Canada's obligations under its international and domestic trade agreements, such as NAFTA, WTO, and the Agreement on Internal Trade.
Furthermore, by advocating an amendment to the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act to mandate the use of wood in the construction, maintenance, or repair of public works real property, the bill is in effect introducing an untenable bias into the procurement process.
Government contracting and procurement processes are in place to ensure openness, fairness, and transparency. Mandating the drafting of tender requirements to include a preference for wood products would grant an unfair advantage to suppliers proposing wood solutions at the expense of other important sectors of our economy, such as the steel industry and the concrete industry, for example.
In closing, our government's top priority is to create jobs, economic growth, and long-term prosperity for all sectors of our economy, including the forestry industry. That is why we are making significant investments in forest industry innovation and expanding markets for Canada's wood products sector, and it is why we are committed to continuing to support the forest sector and to achieve real results for Canadians, something the bill fails to do.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to support this bill by my friend, the member for Jonquière—Alma.
This bill seeks to require preference be given to the concept that promotes the use of wood while taking into account the factors of cost and greenhouse gas emissions. The forestry sector has been in a huge decline for the last half a decade and Canada has shed over 130,000 jobs in that time.
I commend the hon. member on his excellent bill, and I will give him the opportunity to respond further, if he so chooses.
Order, please. The hon. member for Jonquière—Alma.
Mr. Speaker, I really appreciated the member for Jonquière—Alma's speech. He is very passionate and ardently defends the interests of people from the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, a region I know and love. He is truly an outstanding and passionate MP.
He talked about the impact of the Conservatives' raft of changes. What does this mean for people? We now have 300,000 more unemployed workers than we did when the recession began. Everyone knows that. This government's cuts have caused thousands of families to lose their employment insurance benefits.
What impact might this have on small businesses in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, businesses that depend on those consumers?
Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague, the hon. member for Jonquière—Alma, a question.
One of the least discussed items in the budget is the weaker foreign ownership regulations, especially those concerning telecommunications. I would like the member for Alma, a community that has its own challenges as a result of the weaker regulations, to talk to us about what the government needs to do to support our communities.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for Jonquière—Alma.
I will begin by saying that this is déjà vu. This is the same old same old. We have seen this before.
It is not surprising that the Conservative government is introducing a bill to force people back to work because this is what it has done since winning a majority. During the lockout ordered by Canada Post, no doubt with the Conservative government’s encouragement, I remember making the following comment in the House: what have the working men and women of Canada done to this Conservative Prime Minister—we cannot name him, but I believe everybody knows who the Prime Minister of Canada is—to make him hate them so much?
Legislation has been passed to send people back to work or to force them into arbitration, but this Conservative government holds the record for saying in advance that, if a collective agreement is not ratified, it will pass back-to-work legislation in the event of a strike or lockout.
My colleagues have put it well: what employer will want to negotiate a collective agreement in good faith when it knows the government has a sledgehammer that it is ready to bring down on workers? The government has never brought the hammer down on employers, only on workers. And it is doing this on behalf of Canadians. What an insult! In Canada, the workers are Canadians.
The only argument we hear from the other side of the House is that we, the NDP, want to deal with the union officials. There is no shame in belonging to a union. It is a fundamental right under Canadian law. The Charter of Rights gives workers the right to belong to a union, but this government has never shown any respect for unions or for workers.
Shame, shame, shame. This government continues to abuse workers' rights, especially by announcing in advance that it will never permit national strikes or lockouts. And yet that is a fundamental right under the Charter of Rights. It is a fundamental right that has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The government is the worst law-breaker in Canada. This is unprecedented in the history of Canada. The Conservative government we have before us today is the worst in this regard. It did it with Air Canada, it did it with Canada Post, and now it is doing it with Canadian Pacific. It says there are no other ways to do things.
The member from Manitoba said the train went through her region and people would no longer be able to ship things by rail. I have taken the train from Vancouver to Halifax. It is funny, because I was with CN and I went through Winnipeg. So there are other avenues.
If they are trying to make us believe it is the same in Medicine Hat, I am not sure of that. I will not question it because I would have to check. But I think CN goes through there. It apparently still goes through Winnipeg. And there are also other modes of transportation.
When the government says in advance that it is going to get involved in the negotiations and take the side of the companies and the big corporations, it is to be expected that the companies will not give their employees anything. They are even going to take things away from them.
The Conservative government says that it is doing this for the economy of our country. On the contrary, it is crucifying our country’s economy in the long term. If working people lose their pension funds, and their wages are driven down, who is going to pay the price? The Canadian economy will pay the price.
This is not something that affects just the employers. The government is even attacking the programs working people have, like employment insurance.
They are talking now about 70% of earnings. So let us talk about that 70%. If someone cannot find a job after six weeks and is a frequent employment insurance claimant, they have to accept a job that pays 70% of their previous earnings. If they lose their job again, they will again have to reduce their earnings to 70%. And that will go on until they get down to the minimum wage. If they are thinking about imposing that on fish plant employees, they are mistaken: the 70% formula does not work, because fish plant workers are paid only minimum wage to start with. They are not going to be able to hurt them that way.
When it comes to employment insurance, the Conservative government is telling seasonal workers that if they are not able to find a job, it will find them one, it will grind them down and it will take away their employment insurance. I say that because this is an attack on working people, just like at Canadian Pacific, at Air Canada and at Canada Post.
The Conservatives say that they are doing this because they cannot accept the fact that foreign workers are able to work in Canada, while Canadians are being forced to look for work. They do not understand that when there is work in the fishery, for example, nobody is looking for work, because everyone is working. It is when the fishing is over that these people are out of a job.
The government says that Canadians should go west. The member for Madawaska—Restigouche, who is the Minister of State responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, says that people from our part of the country prefer to go hunting and receive employment insurance benefits than work. Residents of Madawaska—Restigouche who have spoken to me recently say that they are now ashamed of their member. Rather than standing up for New Brunswick, the member insults his fellow citizens each time he opens his mouth.
The member for Madawaska—Restigouche should remember what happened in the late 1980s, when he made cuts to employment insurance when he was Minister of Employment and Immigration under Brian Mulroney. Canadians booted him out. There were two Conservatives left in power: Jean Charest and Elsie Wayne from Saint John. They were the only two that were left. Remember what happened to the Liberals when they made cuts to employment insurance in 1996: in 1997, they completely lost Atlantic Canada. It is important to remember what happened. Unless we close the fisheries, people from Atlantic Canada will go and work in the west, and foreigners will come and work in our region.
That is the trick that the government has devised. Foreign workers will come and work in the plants because Atlantic Canadians will have headed west. Then the foreign workers will go home and will not get employment insurance. They will not receive benefits. The Conservatives have got things all worked out. Back home, we call that a quiet deportation. In 1755, the Acadians were deported and scattered far and wide both in Louisiana and elsewhere. This is a new way of deporting Acadians, of sending them elsewhere rather than coming up with a proper response and engaging in economic development in our regions.
Rather than doing that, the government is attacking workers. It is shameful. The major centres think that they are the only ones and that the world revolves around them. They do not recognize our country's rural regions. It is a lack of respect. Even debate is limited in the House of Commons. What a great attitude the Conservatives have: they do not even believe in democracy. Their way of doing things is to rush to make us vote at 2 a.m. because they want to get rid of a bill rather than debate it. They are not even prepared to do that.
They have imposed gag orders on over 20 bills. Their undemocratic measures are at an all-time high. This has never been seen before in Canada. It has become embarrassing to be Canadian and to live in our country. It is shameful. It hurts me to say these things because I love my country, but the Conservatives are destroying it. They are destroying our democratic country and the pride we have or had.
I think that the Conservative government will learn its lesson in three years, in 2015. It is coming. If the Conservatives looked at the polls and listened to what people are saying, they would see that they are not upholding Canadian values.
We have the ability to help each other. We should respect workers. The Conservatives are not respecting workers when they allow companies to cut pensions and decrease wages. These workers are Canadians just like the rest of us.
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-411, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (occupational disease registry).
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to introduce a bill that was tabled in the previous Parliament by Tony Martin, my former colleague from Sault Ste. Marie, who we all know was one of the hardest working MPs this House has ever seen.
I thank my colleague from Jonquière—Alma for seconding the bill.
The bill would require employers to report information about all accidents, occupational disease and other hazardous occurrences known by the employer to the Minister of Labour. It would also require the minister to maintain a registry containing all of that information and to make the information available to employees and potential employees for examination.
As I speak, I am drawn to the memory of my friend, Julius Hava, and his courageous battle with mesothelioma stemming from a workplace carcinogen.
He is not alone. We need only look at Elliot Lake. Every April 28, more names of deceased workers are added to the miners' memorial monument due to occupational diseases.
The measures laid out in the bill would be very important going forward for workers. I hope members on all sides of the House will see the merit in the bill and help move the chains forward on an issue of significant importance to many Canadians.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Mr. Speaker, Burnaby is known as the social democratic republic of Burnaby. New Westminster is the oldest city in western Canada, the first capital city of British Columbia and the home of the New Westminster Senior Salmonbellies, who are to lacrosse what the Montreal Canadiens are to hockey, having won the Mann Cup 24 straight times. I am proud of the riding of Burnaby--New Westminster.
I was referring earlier to the member of Parliament for Scarborough—Rouge River and the member for Scarborough Southwest. They are the dynamic duo from Scarborough and are making a great contribution to our country and to the House of Commons.
A constituent from Scarborough Southwest writes, “Thanks for the opportunity to share some reactions to the budget. Here are a few off the top of my head. There are crafty ways of making a budget appear harmless while seriously beginning to erode some of the principles that Canada is built on. This is disconcerting, to say the least. What I am most worried about are the steps they have taken to plow ahead with projects without the same environmental studies and safeguards. I am deeply offended by their disregard of our precious environment for the sake of bigger, faster profits. I also have issues with their cuts to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. CBC Radio is hugely important to me and is the thing that most makes me feel connected to my fellow Canadians across the country. There are other things that I'm beginning to learn about, but am not yet familiar with.”
That is why we are engaging in this debate, so that Canadians can be aware of what is in the budget and what the ramifications will be of the Conservative government acting in such an irresponsible and ideologically rigid way. For this constituent and so many other Canadians like him, we are endeavouring to make sure the details of the budget come out.
He continues, “I am a self-employed carpenter. I have been doing this for 24 years. Although my line of work is famous for people working for cash and not declaring much of their income, I have never done this. I work hard and make around $40,000 a year. I felt good about paying my income tax and collecting GST and now HST for the government. But I have to tell you that this budget and this government's priorities make me feel cynical about taxes for the first time. I will continue to declare all my income and do my share to help maintain the things I value so much, like our health care and pensions. But I will be doing it a bit grudgingly. I really feel that this majority government's values do not line up with me. I truly hope that you and your fellow NDP members will do everything you can to hold this government accountable for the ways that they are trying to dismantle and rearrange the Canada that I have been a proud citizen of.” He adds, for the member for Scarborough Southwest, “I didn't tell you at the time how happy I was that you won the seat for the NDP in our Scarborough Southwest. I just wish that other members were as progressive.”
I am going to continue to read comments received just since question period.
A man from the south end of Montreal says, “I am a veteran, and the cuts affecting veterans in the budget will hurt us a lot, particularly since we already have to constantly fight for benefits and care.”
This is from a veteran, someone who fought for our country. That person is of course critical of the cuts that were announced. We are not talking about minor cuts, but about service reductions in every possible area. There are also significant cuts to services to veterans that should not be made.
The NDP feels it is extremely important that veterans be treated with the respect they deserve. The budget is 500 pages long in English and 564 pages long in French. On page 284 of the English version, there is a reference to the Department of Veterans Affairs. This year, the budget of that department will be reduced by $36.1 million. That is incredible. Next year, in 2013-14, there will be a cut of $49.2 million. This is going to affect Jay and many other veterans across the country. In 2014-15, we are talking about reductions of $66.7 million. Over a three-year period, the budget of Veterans Affairs Canada will be drastically reduced three times.
The NDP thinks that this is critically important. We are talking about $155 million over three years. The government is telling veterans that they will have to make do with a shortfall of $155 million over the next three years.
Those who have visited veterans hospitals have witnessed the erosion of services. Of course, the staff does its best. In my riding, we have the George Derby Centre. People who work in that field care about their work. The impact of previous cuts have already been felt, even before the government came up with these new ones totalling $155 million.
We, on this side of the House, feel that veterans deserve the government's full respect. They should be treated with respect, and the services provided to them should not be cut. We think that our country is really a reflection of how veterans are treated. We believe that these cuts are ill-conceived. They are ideologically driven and they show a total lack of respect for veterans. Veterans deserve better than major cuts to their services.
Someone else just sent us this in English:
He said, “Great job in the House.” He also said that Facebook and Twitter are great ways to show the NDP is a party for the people.
That is a good comment from another young Canadian and I thank him.
I now have a comment from another Quebec riding, an NDP riding. We have two good members in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, namely in the ridings of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, and Jonquière—Alma. They work hard and they work well.
This weekend, these two members were at the Alma aluminum plant, where 800 families are locked out because of the actions taken by Rio Tinto Alcan. We know these workers want to go back to work. The Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region is renowned for the quality of the work done at the aluminum plant. A foreign company just took over Alcan, which has become Rio Tinto Alcan. It is now forcing workers, who have devoted their lives and souls to the company, to accept all sorts of concessions.
On Saturday, 7,000 people marched in the streets of Alma in solidarity with the workers of Rio Tinto Alcan. Some NDP members were also present. Together, we are showing our solidarity with the workers of Rio Tinto Alcan, and our support in their fight against the company.
A man wrote the following to the only Conservative member in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region: “In Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the presence of a public broadcaster is not just precious, it is essential. Since the radio and television stations of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean are already greatly limited by financial means that force them to operate with minimal human resources, I do not think that they could undergo additional budget cuts without the quality of their services being seriously affected, and that is not to mention the loss of jobs that could result from such cuts.”
This person goes on to tell the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean this: “As you surely know, the economy of our region has already been seriously weakened by the never-ending forestry crisis and other uncertainties, such as the labour dispute at the Rio Tinto Alcan aluminum plant in Alma, which has been directly affecting some 800 families since the beginning of the year. Thank you for maintaining CBC's budget in its entirety.”
That person is asking the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean to vote against the budget, as we have already seen with other Conservative members, including the member for Sarnia—Lambton.
We must vote against these cuts to the CBC, and we must support the interests of the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region and of all Canadians. These people are saying no to the federal budget because Canadian families deserve better.
Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question and the best one thus far. I thank the member for Jonquière—Alma, the only member to this point who listened to my presentation. I know that I am not the most interesting speaker, but I had hoped that the members would at least listen to me. The member for Jonquière—Alma was listening carefully and that is great. I very much appreciate his talent and the fact that he listens.
As has been said, obligations must be mandatory. That is what did not work in the agreement with Colombia. The Liberals said that a report every two years would be enough, but we saw the human rights crisis in Colombia.
We know that there are problems in Jordan. Women live in horrible situations. We are proposing amendments that would make these obligations mandatory. That is what the European Union is doing and that is what we are proposing, among other things, in our amendments to the bill.
We hope that, for once, the Conservatives will set aside their ideology and use common sense. Violations of human rights must stop. An agreement that has mandatory requirements and penalties will help improve human rights in Jordan.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-291. The member for Bourassa acknowledged, in presenting this bill, that New Democrats have been at this for a number of years. I know New Democrats have presented this bill in various forms, whether it was the member for Acadie—Bathurst or the former member, Dawn Black, from British Columbia.
I also want to acknowledge the member for Jonquière—Alma who ably outlined why the House should support the bill.
I feel quite fortunate to follow the Conservative member across the way in speaking because I feel I have an opportunity to set the record straight about some of the claims that were made.
The employment insurance fund is funded by employers and employees. It is their money. This does not come out of the general revenue fund. Employers and employees pay this money for just the kinds of circumstances the member for Bourassa outlined.
We have people who are ill. We have their families often in crisis. I heard the member say that if their EI ran out after 15 weeks, they could apply for welfare. I do not know what province he is from, but in the province I come from, British Columbia, welfare rates are not enough to pay bills. In many provinces across the country, before going on income assistance, people have to liquidate all their assets. For those suffering from cancer or some other disease that they are struggling to recover from, the member says that we will pay them for 15 weeks and then they must liquidate their assets in the middle of their chemo, radiation or whatever other treatments they are undergoing, so they can go on income assistance. That does not sound like a compassionate society to me.
I need to put a few facts on record.
First, under regular employment insurance, under the so-called progressive rules we have before us, less than 50% of Canadians now qualify, despite the fact that they may pay into employment insurance.
Second, Statistics Canada's studies show that 20% of sick leave lasts 17 months or more. They also show that 60% of these sick leaves are from 17 to 28 weeks and 40% are 29 weeks or more. Currently, only 31% of beneficiaries collect the maximum 15 weeks of sick benefits.
Despite what the government claims, we do not have massive numbers of people that will collect long-term sick benefits. Therefore, if we were to be a compassionate society, all members of the House would support the bill.
I heard the member talk about the NDP-Bloc-Liberal coalition as if that would be something scary for Canadians. The New Democrats would bring to the table the kinds of changes that have been proposed for a number of years to employment insurance funded by employers and employees, to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are well looked after instead of saying, “Suck it up, you get 15 weeks and forget it”.
A recent study called Making It Work: Final Recommendations of the Mowat Centre Employment Insurance Task Force made a number of recommendations. I want to touch on a couple of those recommendations because they relate directly to the bill proposed by the member for Bourassa. The task force talks about the two-week waiting period and how it applies to all employment insurance claims, whether regular or special benefits claims. The task force makes the recommendation that the two-week benefit period should be eliminated for special benefits. It says:
After eligibility is established, applicants must wait two weeks for payments to begin. The two-week waiting period applies to special beneficiaries just as it does to individuals...
It goes on to say:
Other than cost containment, there is no clear justification for the waiting period for special benefits, and it may cause inconvenience or hardship for individuals.
Eliminating the waiting period for special benefits would have a relatively small impact on program costs. As most recipients of special benefits exhaust them, eliminating the waiting period for these beneficiaries would in most cases imply providing the same total benefits earlier.
Eliminating the two-week waiting period for special beneficiaries is an easy and affordable way to enhance support for new parents and caregivers. It would also support the reforms to sickness benefits discussed below.
I want to talk a bit about the proposed changes to sickness benefits. I think a number of us in the House have had meetings with people with episodic disabilities and the severe impact it has their ability to stay in the workforce because of the way sickness benefits are currently set up.
Under recommendation 17, the task force states:
TEST A CHANGE TO SICKNESS BENEFITS TO SUPPORT LABOUR MARKET PARTICIPATION OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
To support the labour market participation of persons with disabilities, periodic use of sickness benefits should be tested. This would allow individuals to qualify for benefits once, and with medical certification take benefits periodically throughout the year without having to re-qualify.
It goes on to say:
There is currently no income support available to help individuals with sporadic or episodic illnesses or disabilities to remain in the workforce or to avoid other forms of assistance, such as provincial social assistance for persons with disabilities or Canada Pension Plan-Disability.
Of course even when people go on some of these other systems, there is a problem for them if they want to rejoin the workforce.
To give a rationale for this change, it states:
In coming decades, Canada will experience labour shortages and an aging population. More Canadians are finding themselves on long-term provincial disability programs. This is not an efficient use of our human capital. Canadian social programs should not create barriers to labour market participation or disincentives to work for those who would like to.
In some ways, Canada's income security framework currently categorizes individuals as either able-bodied and employable or disabled and unemployable. This blunt categorization can be demoralizing for individuals who have the capacity to work part-time and can discourage self-sufficiency. It may also place unnecessary pressure on disability support programs.
It goes on to say:
The OECD recognizes the lack of supports for employment as a primary weakness in Canada's approach to income security for persons with disabilities. “Similar to a number of other OECD countries, Canadian disability benefit systems still too often appear geared to steer people into welfare dependency and labour market exclusion rather than participation”...
Moreover, “the 'all-or-nothing' nature of most disability income supports leaves these individuals with no realistic alternative to long-term dependence on disability income programs, and no realistic opportunity to contribute to society”....
That is an important point to raise. We often hear issues around Canada's productivity, about needing to increase labour force participation. Here we have mechanisms with the employment insurance sickness benefits to encourage that very participation.
I know people in my riding, who have episodic disabilities, have approached me. There are periods of time in their lives where they are very capable of working. Sometimes they are capable of working full time for a number of months and then of course they need to go back on sickness benefits. We need to encourage that participation in the labour market and at the same time provide some income security. That is a valuable resource for employers.
I will touch briefly on the sickness benefit aspect of it.
I know we have had a number of people talk about various cases. I want to talk about the case of Jennifer McCrea. She was about eight months into maternity leave with her second child when her doctor discovered early stage breast cancer. Her doctor told her that she needed six weeks to recover after being on a maternity claim. She went to the employment insurance people and said that she needed sick benefits. She was told that since she was on maternity leave and not available for work she was not eligible for that benefit.
Imagine a young mother struggling with a new child, which can be a challenge at times, and on top of that needing some radical surgery as a result of an early detection of breast cancer being told that because of the way the rules were set up she was not eligible for EI.
Oddly enough, there was another case where Justice Marin ruled that legislative changes to the EI act were intended to give women on maternity leave access to additional sickness benefits immediately before, during and after receiving maternity and parental and that although the regulations required a person to be available for work, it was impossible for a woman on maternity leave to be available for work. Therefore, he said that there needed to be a more liberal interpretation and that the government should change the rules.
The human resources minister agreed, yet we are now in November 2011 and there are still no changes. Women are still losing that ability to have both maternity and sickness benefits where it is required.
We can cite any number of cases where a compassionate, caring, concerned society would say that we need to support people. These are some of the most vulnerable people. When people are sick, they really need that support. If we want to demonstrate that compassion and caring, as the money is there, employers and employees pay for it, members should pass the bill.
moved that Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (waiting period and maximum special benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, there are times in our lives as parliamentarians when we can and must make a difference. On June 2 of next year, I will celebrate 15 years as the member of Parliament for Bourassa. Every day brings its share of wonderful surprises and small pleasures, and most importantly, we have the opportunity to meet with people who help us do a better job. The person I met with—who is watching us now and to whom I pay tribute—has met most representatives of the political parties. I am talking about Marie-Hélène Dubé.
Unfortunately, following a third relapse of thyroid cancer—she is doing better and we wish her the best—she noticed that there was something unfair about the Employment Insurance Act. Since 1971, there has been no change to the act regarding benefits for persons who have suffered a serious injury, have a serious illness or, due to their individual circumstances, cannot enjoy a normal standard of living. She has cancer, children, and noticed that she was not entitled to the 15 weeks of employment insurance benefits. Obviously, we can always look back and ask what we did when we were in power. We made changes concerning family caregivers, and we did what it took, but it is time in my opinion to play a leading role on this issue.
It is not the first time that this bill has been discussed. We in the Liberal Party have done so, as have we. The NDP and the Bloc Québécois supported it, and members from the Conservative Party did so as the minority government at the time was sympathetic to this cause. It is therefore in a spirit of non-partisanship that I stand before my colleagues and call on them to support my bill, C-291. This will achieve two things. First, it will extend the benefit period from 15 to 50 weeks. Second, there is the infamous two-week waiting period. When you are faced with a major and tragic event in your life, when you are receiving chemotherapy, when you have children to look after, a two-week waiting period is an eternity. It does not make sense. For purely compassionate reasons, I do not see why this person would have to wait two weeks before receiving her first payment.
Honestly, I do not understand the 15-week benefit period. Some have brought forward a petition and have worked with Marie-Hélène in Vancouver. Some people are forced to remortgage their houses, others have to take a part-time job when they are able to work, and then there are those who have to deal with specific family circumstances, and in most cases these are single-parent families. It is not easy.
The role of a government, of a Parliament, is to improve people's quality of life. We do not need to ask 25 questions. It is only logical, since our role is to ensure that our constituents live a decent life. Some of them are terminally ill. The least we can do is tell them that they do not have to worry about other problems. Increasing the benefit period from 15 to 50 weeks would be a good way to tell Marie-Hélène and the 500,000 petitioners that we support them. The NDP has presented a petition. I myself have presented petitions signed by over 75,000 people, and the Bloc Québécois has also done so.
If we turn to our families, if we look at our friends and loved ones, there is not likely one member here who does not know someone who is going through this exact situation right now. Unfortunately, cancer is everywhere. I think it is our role, through this private member's bill, to bring them a little peace of mind. It is called solidarity. It is called dignity. This bill could be called “an act to ensure dignity for those who are suffering”. This is not a partisan issue. This is not to say that some people are better than others. There is no point in talking about what was done in the past. This is to say that, right now, we are looking towards the future and working together to tell Marie-Hélène Dubé and everyone else going through this problem that we support them and we are working with them.
There are other people, like Carlo Pellizzari of Vancouver, who has lymphoma and, at the age of 26, is facing a situation similar to that of Marie-Hélène. Like her, people decided to not only sign the petition but also bring this situation to our attention.
Our role today is to invite everyone who is watching the proceedings of the House to first sign this petition and to then continue to exert pressure. They can sign the petition on Marie-Hélène's website, which is found at http://petitionassuranceemploi.com/en/.
The site provides information and a brief explanation of the situation. Basically, there is a call for an amendment to subsection 12(3) of the Employment Insurance Act, which would provide some relief for people in this situation. Unfortunately, as I said earlier, they are often in the terminal phase of the illness. However, I believe that it is important for us to do this.
We in the Liberal Party have taken similar action in certain cases. Clearly, this is not the first time that we have reviewed matters related to employment insurance. There are precedents in which, as a government, we took certain action. For example, we increased the period for parental benefits from six months to a year.
The Employment Insurance Act is living legislation. It is economic legislation that requires flexibility. Sometimes, we have to help people who are having difficulty. We cannot be perfect and we cannot fix everything at once, but with this ode to tranquility and dignity we are acknowledging that there are times in our lives when we have to take action. We have conducted pilot projects. When it comes to employment insurance, there are realities and situations specific to the regions. That is why I am putting myself in the shoes of these men and women who are going through extremely difficult times. Do we think that—and forget about the lists or documents that the government would have us read—we can in all decency tell a person with cancer or a person who has sustained a serious injury that he or she will receive 15 weeks of benefits?
Some of us here have had cancer or are in remission and we know that it can take 5 to 15 weeks or even more to recover from chemotherapy or radiation. Imagine what it is like for people in this situation. They are being told that they have completed their chemotherapy and that they are still sick but that they will not receive any more benefits. It is not right. It does not make any sense. Let us ask ourselves this question: when someone is in that situation, is it right that they should have to wait for two weeks before they receive their first cheque? There are quick ways to eliminate this waiting period.
I would like to pay tribute to my colleagues who brought this issue before the House before me, namely Jean-Claude D'Amours and Michael Savage. These people from my party moved this forward. The member for Acadie—Bathurst has also worked on this file, and my colleague from Jonquière—Alma will be talking about it shortly. It is truly non-partisan. We need to reach out, show solidarity and work together to make a difference. I did not reinvent the wheel. This is not my work; it is the work of a Parliament that has experienced this sort of situation. I had the opportunity and pleasure to table a bill so that we could find a concrete solution to this situation.
Everybody knows of a friend, a member of his or her family, or a constituent who lives in that situation. Our role is to ensure that those people who have already suffered enough have the capacity at least to take care of their kids, and to ensure they do not have that social pressure.
Some of them lose their jobs. Some of them have to take out another mortgage on their homes. They are suffering enough. The least we could do as parliamentarians is to raise the number from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. Also, instead of waiting for two weeks before getting their first cheque I think those people should get them right away.
In a non-partisan way, I am asking all my colleagues to make that gesture of solidarity and support my bill.
Mr. Speaker, I know that all members in the House are tired at this point, but it is our duty to be here to speak on behalf of our constituents regardless of our opinion.
As this is my first moment in the House to be giving a brief speech, I want to thank the constituents of Edmonton--Strathcona for re-electing me and for having the confidence in me to represent their interests in the House.
As have all of my colleagues in the House, I too have received quite a few emails, and some letters too. I do not know if those came by passenger pigeon; I thought those went via the way of the dodo.
As members on both sides of the House have said, our constituents are deeply concerned that they are not receiving their pension cheques, their old age security cheques, their provincial welfare cheques, disability assistance cheques and so forth. We all share that concern.
And we all share the concerns of the various non-governmental organizations that our communities depend on. They depend on government cheques for grants and donations and the campaigns they run in order to gather funding.
I am gratified by some of my constituents who have raised concerns about the impact of the strike on their businesses but nonetheless they have congratulated me on my re-election. They respect my determination and principles, wish me luck and tell me to keep up the great work.
Those are the kinds of constituents I have in Edmonton--Strathcona. They understand that we deal with difficult issues. They understand that there are pushes and pulls between employers, employees and unions. There are those who are not necessarily for unions and would like to strike the unions down.
One of the things that has troubled me in this debate is the suggestion by members on the other side of the House that somehow we are doing something importune by continuing this debate into the wee hours. Let us remember that it is the government that is trying to force this legislation through in a rushed manner. We were forced to resort to mechanisms to represent our constituents and those who are going to be impacted by this repressive legislation.
I too share, with my colleagues from Jonquière—Alma and Scarborough—Rouge River, the concern about the suggestion that we on this side of the House only care about people who work in unions. There is a bit of hypocrisy there. There have been complaints that my fellow caucus members are not speaking to the subject of the legislation. At the same time they accuse us of only representing the interests of union workers. They cannot have it both ways.
As some members have reminded the House, we are talking about legislation that is going to affect the rights and privileges of union members, particularly union members who are postal workers. Therefore it is logical that if members are speaking to the bill then that is what they would address.
In no way does that mean that our members, or any member in the House, do not care about people who work in any place of employment, whether they are sole proprietors, lawyers in a law firm, surgeons or dentists, working in a corner grocery store or a large corporation, or they are miners or farmers. Surely all Canadians have rights and privileges, and we have the responsibility to protect those rights and privileges.
I would remind the House that we are discussing a particular piece of legislation that the government has tabled in the House. By the way, it was at the last minute and just before we were about to adjourn.
I am also deeply troubled by the suggestion that we are either for seniors or for private entrepreneurs, or we are for union workers. Surely our responsibility as elected members is to represent every Canadian equally and to make sure their rights and interests are protected.
I heard a lot of discussion in the House about protecting the rights of various members who run businesses themselves, but I have not heard a lot about the people who are working for those businesses and whether provisions are in place to protect the rights and interests of those workers.
As a number of members on my side of the House have mentioned, it is through the organized labour movement that we have the right to practise what some members in this House call family values.
What are family values? Surely it is the right for people to have time off from employment to spend with their children, with elderly parents, to visit them in their retirement homes, to travel across the country and visit cousins.
That is what these workers are fighting for: the right to have extended time off. It is my understanding that what is being proposed is to limit the time off from work. That does not sound like family values to me.
We have heard in the House over the past week about the reports of rising family debt. Yet, the proposal in the government legislation is to reduce the salary levels below even what the employer was offering. The result down the line is that we will have even more family debt. Surely every Canadian should have the right to a liveable wage.
If we do not ensure that the employers are providing a liveable wage, somewhere down the line the taxpayers will have to supplement that. That is why we fight for a liveable wage. People prefer to work hard and earn that liveable wage. They do not want to have to turn to one order of government or another to supplement them, or to turn to a food bank.
We have heard the discussions by some hon. members that even some of our veterans, who have served valiantly overseas in defending the freedoms of our country or other countries, are now having to turn to food banks. We need to make sure that all workers, our armed forces, RCMP, police officers, postal workers, nurses, have a liveable wage.
It troubles me very deeply. I am getting the sense that some employees should have rights and that some employees do not deserve those rights.
I want to give hon. members a concrete example of where unions have stood up for the kinds of workers that the government has been promoting: temporary foreign workers. In the province I come from there were tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers brought in. Who was looking after their interests? It was the unions that stood up and came to the forefront. They offered free legal assistance to these workers where the governments had dropped the ball.
Both orders of government dropped the ball on that. Who was looking after the interests of workers who were working for private businesses and big corporations? The government was not there for them; it was the unions that stepped up to the plate.
The unions had no interest in protecting foreign workers who could potentially replace their own members' employment, but they fought for proper inspections to ensure the rights of the temporary foreign workers were being respected. That is the value of the unions.
I have never been a member of a union. I have not done union work or labour work in my practice. That does not mean that I do not respect the work of my colleagues. I have great respect for my colleagues who have done this work. It is tough, hard, arduous work to be at those negotiation tables. It is a very valuable role to play, whether one is on the management side or the employee side. I think we should respect the advances that have been made in this country.
I have had the honour and privilege of working overseas in countries where we trade, and these rights and privileges do not exist. These are the kinds of countries where we are exporting products like asbestos. Daily I would go to my work and I would see the workers in bare feet going to construction sites. They were not provided with boots. They had no helmets, no proper clothing, no proper way to wash and no union protections. In fact in most cases, if they tried to unionize, they would be beaten.
We are very fortunate in this country. We are very fortunate that a lot of those who work in the unions have freely been offering their assistance to other nations to make sure they have the same rights and opportunities.
Why is that important? It is very important to an operation, whether it is a mine, a petrochemical industry or an agricultural operation, to have proper working conditions and health and safety. An organization has to maintain a healthy workforce in order to deliver its product.
We should be honouring these workers who are willing to stand up against a major employer. It is not easy to stand up to against a major employer.
I have to say that I find--
The electoral district of Jonquière--Alma (Quebec) has a population of 97,232 with 79,322 registered voters and 228 polling divisions.
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