Michel Saba, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — New Democrats and Bloc Québécois joined their voices Thursday to criticize the Trudeau government for reneging on its commitment to reform employment insurance and to implore it to extend the temporary measures that facilitate access to the program due to end on Saturday. .
The Liberal government is “sacred” for workers and the unemployed, launched the deputy leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), Alexandre Boulerice, during a press scrum in the foyer of the House of Commons alongside activists for the rights of the unemployed who came knocking on Ottawa’s door after a symbolic 200 km march.
“On Sunday, people who lose their ‘job’ find themselves with the old system that does not work, where the majority of workers do not have access to employment insurance benefits when they lose their job”, he continued before accusing the government of “laughing in the face of the world” and “betraying his word”.
Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough “outright denies her commitments” to reform the system, added Bloc Québécois spokesperson for human resources, skills development and social development, Louise Chabot.
“By not wanting to commit to minimally keeping the eligibility criteria for temporary measures in place, she is abandoning a lot of people,” said Ms. Chabot. It abandons pregnant women who, if they lose their job, will not be able to qualify for employment insurance. (…) It abandons young people and women who occupy more and more atypical jobs. It abandons seasonal workers.”
The wind and the storm
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed “all the flaws” of the employment insurance program, one of the most “dysfunctional, inequitable and unjust” among all those that exist at the “federal, provincial combined, “coast to coast, ”said the spokesperson for the National Council of the Unemployed, Pierre Céré.
“Let’s not wait for the next crisis to repair the social safety net,” he insisted. It’s after the storm that we repair the house. It is time to make this reform.”
But Mr. Céré, who walked from Montreal, feels that the tide is turning. And he fears the status quo. “They are letting us down,” he said.
“We have always been told, both in private and in public, that the reform would take over from the temporary measures,” said Mr. Céré. So we felt that wind. And all of a sudden, I would tell you that since June, for a few months, it has become opaque. There is nothing more that transpires. Then we worry. Then we try to communicate. What is your legislative game plan, what are you going to do? No answer. No answer.”
However, “everything was there,” he said, recalling that the Liberals have a parliamentary “majority” – with the support of the New Democrats – and support in society.
“Don’t let this apparent rise of the conservative right paralyze you,” he said. Don’t let them stop progress.”
No extension, says Ottawa
During Question Period in the afternoon, Minister Qualtrough faced a barrage of questions on the subject. She reiterated the government’s promise to carry out “a complete modernization” of employment insurance, but also that the temporary measures will end as planned.
“Of course some pandemic benefit programs are winding down, but regular benefits will continue to be available to workers as before the pandemic,” she said. We look forward to launching our long-term plan. We look forward to delivering 26 weeks of EI sickness insurance before the end of December.”
The Minister also confirmed having met with representatives of organizations defending the rights of workers and the unemployed.
Contacted after the meeting, Mr. Céré declared that there is “nothing certain”, but that he found “reassuring to note that there is really a determination which emerges from her to want make this reform.
The minister’s mandate letter instructed her to present and begin implementing a reform plan for the employment insurance program “fit for the 21st century” by the summer of 2022. In particular, it was to include a new benefit for the self-employed.