MASSE IN THE HOUSE: Brian Masse Speaks on NDP Opposition Day Motion

Jobs and Employment Insurance

NDP Opposition Day Motion:

      That the House (a) acknowledge that mounting job losses combined with a lack of access to Employment Insurance (EI) contribute to growing income inequality and a situation where too many Canadians are struggling to make ends meet; and (b) call on the government to honour its campaign promises and Throne Speech commitment to strengthen the EI system “to make sure that it best serves both the Canadian economy and all Canadians who need it,” by taking immediate action to: (i) create a universal qualifying threshold of 360 hours for EI, regardless of the regional rate of unemployment, (ii) immediately repeal the harmful reforms of the previous government, including those that force unemployed workers to move away from their communities, take lower-paying jobs and those that eliminated the Extended EI Benefits Pilot program to help seasonal workers, (iii) protect the EI account to ensure that funds are only spent on benefits for Canadians, including training, and never again used to boost the government’s bottom line.

February 25, 2016

    Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am rising to talk today about employment insurance and the effect it has on the Canadian economy, Canadian citizens, and, most important, the most vulnerable in our communities. We can always measure a community and a country by how we treat our most vulnerable citizens. Sadly, Canada has not done a good job—not with our aboriginal nations, not with persons with disabilities, and, of course, not with social programs like employment insurance.

    The motion today takes into account a number of different issues. The first is about acknowledging the mounting job losses. In Windsor West, we are not unfamiliar with this, having for the last 14 years that I have been in the House, most usually among the highest if not the highest unemployment rate in the country. We have witnessed workers in the past who have paid into this system far too often all the time, on a regular basis, then to find out later that they do not qualify. That is a shame because when we pay into an insurance system, we would expect that we would get something back. We would expect that the terms and conditions of that policy also would not change by others in this chamber, and this chamber over here with regard to the Conservatives, which has happened.

    Say for example, individuals sign a personal insurance policy for their house, the company at least would notify them if it was going to change the policy. Sometimes they would get a discount. If it were going to increase they would be at least notified and they would have an option to get into or outside of that product.

    Here in the House of Commons over those years, we have seen unilateral majority-type changes that have changed people's intput into employment insurance—sometimes for 10, 20, 30, 40 years—and when they finally needed it they would find out that they were not eligible. That is unacceptable. That is unfair. That is a breach of contract and trust from the most important decision body there is, their government. Individuals' insurance agencies do not take it for granted like that, but our own government does it to our own population, and it does it with a focus on the most vulnerable. The most vulnerable being part-time employees, employees who do not accumulate the number of hours, and employees who have a disability who still work part-time when they are able, and then end up not being eligible for employment insurance. It is not their fault they are in precarious work, meaning part-time, seasonal jobs, and temporary employment.

    Coming from a community that has faced this, I can say we have gone from regular mainstream employers being the number-one employment to actually now having employment agencies as the number-one employer in our region. It is a shame. I used to work on behalf of persons with disabilities as an employment specialist. Thank goodness we actually had support to do this. We worked to get people off of disability support, be it provincial or federal, because I was a support case worker. I was an employment specialist who went out, made contact with employers, trained the employees and we got them some wages through their jobs.

    Sadly enough, the province at that time—first the Conservatives and then the Liberals—clawed back the Ontario disabilities support program payments up to 75% of what the employees earned on this program. People went to work every single day without a problem, because they were proud to have a job and to contribute. They made friends and other contacts that they normally would not have had. They worked at 25% of the wage of everybody else who worked in there.

     These unacceptable practices are ingrained into our political system. My appeal today is for my colleagues. Let us stop being part of that. Let us stop being part of a matrix of issues that end up costing our workers so much.

    Part of this campaign that we are working on is to ensure all Canadians have immediate action taken on this file. We cannot wait any longer. We see what is happening in Alberta right now, and in other places and jurisdictions. It is one of several. We have seen what has happened on the east coast before. It is very significant. If my good friend, Yvon Godin were here, he would certainly give highlights, and they would be proud to carry the flag for them in their region.

    Mr. Brian Masse: Madam Speaker, first of all, putting any money back into poor people's pockets is actually a boost to the economy. We are talking about saving their homes, making sure they have money for food and the basics, and looking for another job.

     If members do not believe me, believe the person in my riding who wrote to me, Michelle Baldwin. She had an attack, as well as a back injury. She stated, “I have not yet received a dime from EI, although I have provided all the necessary items”. She worked a part-time job for about six months, lasting until October, which was the reason for the delay, and then was no longer provided any support. She paid in up to her capability for what jobs were available and what her physical condition could be and she was totally nullified for what she was paying in, even though it was a part-time job. Part-time jobs do not pay a lot of money normally. She was nullified.

    We made somebody with a disability and who is living on the poverty line pay into something she will never get. That is a shame and the government over here is also part of taking the employment insurance money. It is their money, not the government's.

    Mr. Brian Masse: Madam Speaker, the member's comments about Yvon Godin are very germane, actually. The only reason he needed a bullhorn was because the crowds were so large. There was such an interest in the subject matter that even Yvon needed help. Anybody who knows Yvon knows how loud he can be. I appreciate my colleague's intervention on his work and his knowledge of that. That is very kind and generous.

    With regard to the two weeks to one week and no weeks issue, it is not our money. If people qualify, they qualify, and they get their money. I do not know why we have to keep one week of people's earnings that they contributed as employees and the employer has contributed. I say we should give that money back.

    He started out talking about employment insurance. He actually talked about it to get his message out. He got into the back of a truck and used a bullhorn to talk to people in parking lots, grocery stores, and other places, and people would come to hear Yvon speak. He took it on the road all over the place. We miss his voice in this debate. However, as New Democrats, it is here with us in spirit, and we are proud of that.

    Another part of this issue we have with respect to unemployment insurance is the qualifying period. There needs to be a national base minimum acceptance level one must qualify for to obtain employment insurance.

    Right now, the employment insurance system that is in place is like a gigantic puzzle when people are experiencing a most stressful time, such as having lost their job or been laid-off, not knowing what the future holds for them and their family, their colleagues are in the same predicament, and they wonder where the next mortgage payment will come from. They submit a claim into the EI process and it becomes a crapshoot as to whether they will be accepted or not. Therefore, we have proposed a qualifying minimum of 360 hours. We feel that is a stable level because in certain areas of my region it is generally over 400 hours, However, there are people in pockets and areas of the region where it is difficult to get work and hard to achieve the 360-hour minimum, so they wait around for something to happen because there is a two-week waiting period, which is painful for people.

    On the other hand, we spend valuable resources on casework and programming that is ridiculous. Here is an example. When the Chrysler plant in my region needs to retool, it plans this well in advance, for up to a year. As it is well planned out, employment Insurance knows that those positions will be returning in a matter of weeks, however, it sends those workers who have been laid-off due to the retooling to employment insurance school to learn how to get another job even though they will be returning to that job. It is a waste of resources that we could be using on other people who do not have a job to return to, rather than for those who would be going back to a job that pays benefits and is good for the community.

    Another issue I would like to speak to is that both the Liberals and the Conservatives purged the surplus in the EI fund. That needs to be protected.

Mr. Brian Masse: “Stolen” is the right word.

    Let discuss what employment insurance really is. It is the workers' contribution as citizens and employees, and the employers' contribution for that employment insurance aspect. There is no government money involved in that whatsoever. We simply run the program. That has to stop. There was $56 billion that was stolen from workers. They need to return it now.