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Chamber makes EI recommendations to House HUMA committee

Chamber makes EI recommendations to House HUMA committee

On May 26, 2022, the Canadian Chamber’s Leah Nord, Senior Director, Workforce Strategies and Inclusive Growth, appeared at the House...

On May 26, 2022, the Canadian Chamber’s Leah Nord, Senior Director, Workforce Strategies and Inclusive Growth, appeared at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA), to address Employment Insurance (EI) concerns contained within Bill C-19, the Budget Implementation Act (BIA).

During her remarks, Nord’s first area of focus was to address the appropriateness of funding support measures through the EI program amidst the system’s growing debt. The second area concerned changes to the EI Board of Appeal, where Nord recommended removing this aspect from the BIA pending a dedicated review of the changes.

Leah Nord’s opening remarks:
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Good morning Mister Chair, Vice Chairs, and committee members, and thank you for the opportunity to make an appearance here today regarding certain divisions of Part 5 of Bill C-19.

I am speaking today from Ottawa, the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe peoples. I go by the pronouns she/her/elle.

I am speaking on behalf of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which is the voice of Canadian business. We represent 200,000 businesses across the country, across sectors and across sizes, including our network of 450 local chambers and boards of trade from coast to coast to coast.

I am the Canadian Chamber policy lead on workforce strategies and inclusive growth.  My portfolio includes the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance program.

I have two interventions to make.

The first is in regards to Division 26. 

It is very important to remind ourselves that the EI program is estimated to have a debt of 29 billion dollars for FY 2022/2023. That is as is – before we add any additional pressures into the system. The eligibility expansion for support measures and employment services within Division 26 is well-intended, and might not look like much in and of itself. However, this is what has happened continually over the years – the past 8 decades in fact: recurrent drops in the EI bucket that have a cumulative burdensome impact on the program.   

As the Government of Canada is starting Phase II of its EI Modernization consultations tomorrow, we have urged that this is a comprehensive review. No more nibbling at the edges as it were, we have said that this is our once in a lifetime opportunity to really look at the program and set it – and future generations of Canadians – up for success. 

Importantly, this includes Part II of the EI Program, referred to as active measures, which involves the over $2 billion dollars transferred to the provinces and territories annually for employment services and skills training, alongside a plethora of pan-Canadian programs and initiatives.

This is not to say that we do not believe that skilling education and training isn’t important. Quiet the opposite.  When I appeared in front of this committee in the early days (May 2020) of the pandemic I stated: “…we need to identify the reform needed to build a system than can respond to current and future workforce needs, ensure Canadians remain connected to the labour force and that it includes a strong upskilling / reskilling training component.” It’s not the importance that is being questioned, it’s the suitability and efficacy of having support measures and employment services funded by EI dollars.  EI doesn’t need to – and cannot – fund everything.  And if it does continue, the business community, which contributes 7/12 to the program would like greater transparency – and input –in to how the funding is spent. 

The second intervention I have is in regards to Division 32 and the EI Board of Appeal. Our recommendation is to remove Division 32 from Bill C-19 for a separate and focused review. This is not the first time you have heard this, it likely will note be the last. Importantly, you have heard this from both labour and business representatives.

The institutional structures that underpin the EI system are critical for well-functioning system that meets the needs and expectations of Canadians in. The Employment Insurance Board of Appeal is complex, and changes proposed in Bill C-19 are significant and do not necessarily align with the tripartite principles and framework that had been agreed upon before the onset of the pandemic. The changes included in Division 32 are not the ones we thought we would see, and they need to be examined and discussed in a more deliberative manner. 

Thank you. I look forward to answering any questions.

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