MASSE ON EMPLOYMENT INSURANCE ISSUES IN PARLIAMENT

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on this motion that we have as New Democrats. I think it is important to talk about this motion on employment insurance and the issues around it.
I want to make sure that I am clear, as I am splitting the time with the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. I am very happy to do so as he has spoken many times about the issues of trade that affect this country, as well as issues related to the manufacturing sector and the forestry sector where we see a high degree of unemployment.
I want to go back in terms of looking at this current situation through the lens of a working class town. Windsor has been very much a part of the economic hub of Ontario and Canada for many years. It has contributed to the coffers of this nation for a number of different generations, quite successfully, through hard work, innovation and being the leaders in auto manufacturing, as well as participating in the tourism economy and other types of economies of scale but in particular the automotive sector.
We have literally paid into the employment insurance program significantly over the years. It is important to note that now that the tables have turned, so to speak, we are seeing a problem with the overall economy in the world, we are suffering with high unemployment. We have been raising these alarm bells for a long time, back in 2007, back in 2008, very clearly indicating to the government that there was a problem.
Astonishingly the Prime Minister and his think tank around him, which is very much a shallow pool, were basically denying that there was a problem. We can remember quite clearly that during the election the Prime Minister pontificated not only that the economy in Canada was significantly fine and would actually improve but there would be growth and surpluses. On top of that he suggested that during this little instability with the financial markets there were lots of deals to be had. Lastly, he even stated that Canadian property owners would not see a depreciation of their properties. These were all things that we had been telling the government and the previous administration was not true over a number of different years.
Seeing those consequences, it is important to acknowledge that as we saw the tightening around the competitiveness issues in the automotive sector, the Canadian auto workers, the men and women who got up every single day, even the non-unionized ones, did a very significant job of making sure their productivity value was extremely high. In fact it compares favourably to Japan, Germany and other nations. They provided a number of different savings prior to going into this crisis, and in fact negotiated agreements from the CAW resulting in agreements of close to $1 billion in savings to the company.
Those were the types of things that have happened over the years, in fact we even had new plant procurement during these difficult times. We recently had a Ford plant, it was interesting because we have a new SS engine coming in, one of the bright sides of things, hopefully, that will be come. It has been signed and hopefully it is going to continue to come forward to full fruition.
The government of the day had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, in an election period time to actually come up with a low interest loan that they will pay back. That is different than in the United States where they actually opened court, procured the plants and that.
What is important to note is that all these things that were negotiated were done from the perspective of the workers providing productivity increases, reducing costs in the factories around this country. Long before it became cliche to have energy savings, I remember the CAW Local 200, in particular, proposing savings at the plants that they actually worked in that would then be passed on to the company for energy savings.
There was clearly an indication, and not only just in the home area but also up here on the Hill between myself and the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, that there was a systemic problem coming forth. Often what has happened is that Windsor, and the automotive sector, when there has been a problem, has gone into the cycle a little bit earlier than the rest of the country and has emerged a little bit quicker.
What we really recognized right away was the fact that this was systemic. This was systemic in terms of the history but now what had happened is that there was going to be restructuring. Restructuring would take place which would cause an incredible amount of pain, and a lot of planning for a new emerging economy that was important to see diversification, and we have lack of government action.
Why employment insurance reform is a huge part of that is because it provides the stable source of income so that people can not only have their bills paid immediately to protect their homes, to protect their investments, to make sure that their children and their families have food on the table, but also to get the proper training that is necessary in a new emerging economy.
If we had the proper supports in our area, we have the opportunity to be part of the wind and solar industry to make sure that manufacturing takes place in the future. Ironically, we see that happening in the United States but we do not see it happening here in Canada.
In Indiana, a former General Motors plant was turned into a gear box manufacturing plant for wind production, and it has been very successful. We have yet to do that here in Canada. A few of us have been trying to get this into place in our regions but we have not had any support from the federal government.
The classic, ideological arguments of the day have always been if we lower corporate taxes then things will be okay. That has not worked. That has been a disaster. Three hundred thousand jobs have been lost in the last five years between the past two administrations and more people are falling through the cracks.
As this was taking place a lot of right wing ideologues were saying that we have to make sure that we move up in terms of our products and services. We are already there, and I point to the tool and dye and mould-making industry. Canada is the best in the world. However, we are losing out because of poor trade agreements and because of our dollar. We are losing out because of the use of oil to pad the government purse for a short period of time. People in skilled jobs were never fully utilized because of the economic conditions that really stunted the development of some of those industries, including the tool and dye and mould-making industry and also auto manufacturing in its good days.
Just the other day another 1,200 jobs were lost at a Chrysler plant in Windsor. Another ship has gone down. This was an important plant because it was one of the last plants to operate on a 24 hour cycle.
People now coming off employment insurance have to dip into their savings. This is really hurtful because they have to dip into their capital assets if they cannot find a job.
There is nobody out there who does not want to keep their job. Unfortunately the government has said that because employment insurance is available, people are not motivated to get a job. That is not the case. The fact is opportunities are not available. In the last two years the unemployment rate has been around 10%.
It is simply not acceptable. We need to plug the gap immediately. For the life of me I cannot understand why someone who has paid into an insurance program cannot take advantage of it when needed. That is unacceptable; it is not right; it is backward.
The two week waiting period does not make any sense either. The people who were laid off just the other day are going to need funds right away. Banks will not give them a two week waiting period to pay their mortgages. Credit card companies are certainly not going to give them an extra two weeks to pay their bill. In fact, these companies have actually been raising interest rates and fees without many consumers even knowing.
The NDP motion would correct some of the injustices in the budget. Budget 2009 really would not provide the stimulus necessary for people to be able to protect their incomes, protect their homes, and provide them with an opportunity to get some training. That is why we want to see the motion pass and why I am supporting it as a New Democrat.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question with regard to the two week waiting period.
Just yesterday, 1,200 people were fired from their jobs at the Windsor assembly plant in my riding. This was a devastating blow not only to those workers and the community but each one of those 1,200 jobs actually created 7 other jobs.
I would like to know the benefits of making a worker wait a two week period when bills are due on a certain date. The deadline to pay a credit card, or make a mortgage payment, or pay university or college fees does not change. Children have expenses and people need to put food on the table. Why keep the two week waiting period? Why not provide money to workers right away, especially to workers in places like Windsor where it takes many weeks to get employment insurance because of the lack of support services the government has provided.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on this motion that we have as New Democrats. I think it is important to talk about this motion on employment insurance and the issues around it.
I want to make sure that I am clear, as I am splitting the time with the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. I am very happy to do so as he has spoken many times about the issues of trade that affect this country, as well as issues related to the manufacturing sector and the forestry sector where we see a high degree of unemployment.
I want to go back in terms of looking at this current situation through the lens of a working class town. Windsor has been very much a part of the economic hub of Ontario and Canada for many years. It has contributed to the coffers of this nation for a number of different generations, quite successfully, through hard work, innovation and being the leaders in auto manufacturing, as well as participating in the tourism economy and other types of economies of scale but in particular the automotive sector.
We have literally paid into the employment insurance program significantly over the years. It is important to note that now that the tables have turned, so to speak, we are seeing a problem with the overall economy in the world, we are suffering with high unemployment. We have been raising these alarm bells for a long time, back in 2007, back in 2008, very clearly indicating to the government that there was a problem.
Astonishingly the Prime Minister and his think tank around him, which is very much a shallow pool, were basically denying that there was a problem. We can remember quite clearly that during the election the Prime Minister pontificated not only that the economy in Canada was significantly fine and would actually improve but there would be growth and surpluses. On top of that he suggested that during this little instability with the financial markets there were lots of deals to be had. Lastly, he even stated that Canadian property owners would not see a depreciation of their properties. These were all things that we had been telling the government and the previous administration was not true over a number of different years.
Seeing those consequences, it is important to acknowledge that as we saw the tightening around the competitiveness issues in the automotive sector, the Canadian auto workers, the men and women who got up every single day, even the non-unionized ones, did a very significant job of making sure their productivity value was extremely high. In fact it compares favourably to Japan, Germany and other nations. They provided a number of different savings prior to going into this crisis, and in fact negotiated agreements from the CAW resulting in agreements of close to $1 billion in savings to the company.
Those were the types of things that have happened over the years, in fact we even had new plant procurement during these difficult times. We recently had a Ford plant, it was interesting because we have a new SS engine coming in, one of the bright sides of things, hopefully, that will be come. It has been signed and hopefully it is going to continue to come forward to full fruition.
The government of the day had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, in an election period time to actually come up with a low interest loan that they will pay back. That is different than in the United States where they actually opened court, procured the plants and that.
What is important to note is that all these things that were negotiated were done from the perspective of the workers providing productivity increases, reducing costs in the factories around this country. Long before it became cliche to have energy savings, I remember the CAW Local 200, in particular, proposing savings at the plants that they actually worked in that would then be passed on to the company for energy savings.
There was clearly an indication, and not only just in the home area but also up here on the Hill between myself and the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, that there was a systemic problem coming forth. Often what has happened is that Windsor, and the automotive sector, when there has been a problem, has gone into the cycle a little bit earlier than the rest of the country and has emerged a little bit quicker.
What we really recognized right away was the fact that this was systemic. This was systemic in terms of the history but now what had happened is that there was going to be restructuring. Restructuring would take place which would cause an incredible amount of pain, and a lot of planning for a new emerging economy that was important to see diversification, and we have lack of government action.
Why employment insurance reform is a huge part of that is because it provides the stable source of income so that people can not only have their bills paid immediately to protect their homes, to protect their investments, to make sure that their children and their families have food on the table, but also to get the proper training that is necessary in a new emerging economy.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the opposition party's whip, but I am actually a little surprised by those comments. Of course the gap can be filled.
I worked with HRSDC, the administration component to Jobs Canada, and the reality is that we should not tell people that they cannot have their two weeks because we cannot fill the bureaucratic backlog. I hope it is not the member's suggestion that people should be disentitled to two weeks of employment insurance because we cannot get our act together to get things out the door.
I can tell members that coming from a riding that has had high unemployment, we have actually had delays like the member is indicating, and it really depends. If we have the concentration of government services, it brings the weeks back down, but it is actually political will in ensuring the staffing.
We have to go back to the Paul Martin administration that actually cut Service Canada at that time in HRSDC. They gutted that service and there has not been the backfill of those people. That is important because we need to have that bureaucratic structure.
What a stimulus that would be if instead of giving these large corporate tax cuts which we continue to do right now as part of this budget bill, we actually provide some employment for some Canadians to clear out the backlog of employment insurance.
The workers are out there. There are many contract workers and also full-time positions that could be filled. There is a mixture of those two things that could happen. I would hate to see Canadians denied two weeks of unemployment insurance because we did not have the will to hire the people to actually process the applications.
Mr. Brian Masse: Madam Speaker, it does make any sense and it is just very frustrating to hear this type of thought process.
I can compare that to another one. I have spoken ad nauseam in this House about the Chatham Navistar plant. There was a $300 million procurement policy for defence by the government which it tendered out to Navistar. Navistar decided to put the plant money into Texas, when we actually have one in Chatham, Ontario that is closing down and can produce the same vehicle with an $800,000 retooling.
The employment insurance bill on that, for all those laid-off and fired workers, is going to be around $19 million. We are going to lose more money out of the system because we did not have the capability to say that we are going to have a defence procurement policy for our country, which the United States does, quite frankly, all the time, and we respect that over here.
We are going to pay $18 million more in employment insurance by throwing Canadian workers out the door and moving the work down to Texas, giving them the reward that we would have seen for our workers here.