Eighteenth Report of Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee—Bill S-244

By: The Hon. Diane Bellemare

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Lebreton Flats and Canadian geese, Ottawa

Hon. Diane Bellemare: Please pardon my eagerness. I’m nervous about this bill. First reading happened on May 4, 2022. The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology studied it this fall, and the committee unanimously adopted its 18th report, which was on Bill S-244.

This bill, which was the subject of an order of reference on June 14, 2023, would amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act and the Employment Insurance Act with respect to the employment insurance council. It would establish an employment insurance council to advise the Canada Employment Insurance Commission, the CEIC.

I must start by saying that I proposed an amendment to my bill at a previous sitting because an error was made when the bill was being drafted. The process of Bill S-244 has been a long one. It was tabled in 2022, but I’ve been working on it since 2019.

I worked on this bill with all of the employer and union associations in the country. The following organizations participated in drafting this bill: the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Business Council of Canada, the Conseil du patronat du Québec, manufacturers, the Canadian Labour Congress, Unifor, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), and I’ve likely forgotten others. We held several meetings. When we created this council in the bill, we added a small point requiring the commission to hold at least three meetings a year with the employment insurance council. Without this, a committee could be created without ever meeting. This was lost in the course of the changes we made. I introduced this amendment during the study in committee.

I’m not going to take too much of your time, but I have to say that the committee met on November 29, November 30 and December 7. So the report was adopted on December 7. The committee heard several witnesses, including representatives from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, obviously, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business — The president of the Canadian Labour Congress, Bea Bruske, strongly supported the report. The same goes for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Unifor, the EI commissioners and a few officials who came to present their view of this report.

Every representative from the labour market spoke in favour of this bill because it is their report. My role was that of coordinator in all this. I don’t want to say too much because I want to make a speech at third reading, but this bill, which creates the employment insurance council, tries to return employment insurance back to its roots. When employment insurance was originally created, it was managed by a tripartite council made of up the government, the unions and the business community. Then employment insurance slowly became the responsibility of the department and labour market partners slowly lost the ability to weigh in.

That is very important in the context of the current transition, because the employment insurance system is one of Canada’s human resource practices. If we want to adopt good human resource practices that produce sustainable jobs that are also productive, because productivity is dropping dangerously in Canada, then it’s important for stakeholders to be able to provide a common opinion. That is the key thing that this bill will do. It will make it possible to provide a common opinion on matters related to employment insurance.

I also wanted to mention that this bill seeks to provide a basis for social dialogue between labour market partners so that they can meet regularly. If we want to ensure prosperity in our society, then we need to find winning solutions for everyone — mutually beneficial solutions.

Parliamentarians aren’t used to this process. As parliamentarians, we are in the seat of power, so what one party wins, the other loses. Solutions for parliamentarians in the political arena are not usually positive-sum games. However, in society, parliamentarians have the duty to establish institutions that can promote positive-sum games. That is the mission that I gave myself as a parliamentarian, and that explains my professional path. On that note, I would ask senators to pass the bill at this stage, if possible, so that it can move on to third reading.

To wrap up, I’d like to mention the meeting we had yesterday. My Twitter feed lists all the officials and organizations in attendance. They included Perrin Beatty from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Bea Bruske from the Canadian Labour Congress. In addition to the organizations I mentioned earlier, there were also representatives from Canada’s building trades, homebuilders, building trades unions and some key industry associations.

I hope to be able to tell you more about it at third reading. Everyone said yesterday that they hoped Bill S-244 would be passed quickly.

Thank you for your attention.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

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