Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs,
Science and Technology
Issue 8 - Appendix 1
Notes for a Presentation to the Standing Senate Committee on Social
Affairs, Science and Technology
Concerning Bill C-12 on Employment Insurance
By Mathilda Blanchard, Union Representative
Syndicat Acadien des travailleurs affiliés et des pêches [Acadian
union of affiliated and fishery workers]
Founding Member Comité des 12 pour la justice sociale au
Nouveau-Brunswick [Committee of 12 for social justice in New Brunswick]
Member Comité de la formation en pêches [fishery training
committee] École des pêches [fishery school] Caraquet, New
June 11, 1995
The Acadian Peninsula and its Activities, All Seasonal
The Acadian peninsula has many industries, all of which depend on natural
There is farming, with its blueberries, vast fields of strawberries,
greenhouses, the production of potatoes and other vegetables, and oats, wheat,
hay and other crops. This land that we have cultivated for nearly 300 years is
the country's most fertile, and the climate that effects nature's mysterious
cycle is the world's best. Fruit crops, including apples, plums, cherries and
several other species, are also grown in our region. Farms that
industrialization had eliminated are slowly but surely coming back into
production; increasingly, milk, eggs, meat and other products are produced in
The fisheries harvest fish and crustaceans, which abound in the waters
surrounding the Acadian peninsula in greater numbers than anywhere else; taken
from the world's saltiest waters, these products have unequalled flavour. The
peat bogs, another form of marine environment, produce a first-quality peat
A vast forest covers the centre of the peninsula where many of Canada's
finest tree species grow, producing wood for construction, heating, and pulp and
paper. The Christmas tree and wreath industry, based on our lovely fir trees,
the kings of the forest, is increasingly prosperous. We are told that the
quality and colour of our fir trees are superior to those of trees grown
Our region is a veritable paradise on earth that God has made available to
everyone for their survival. God also created a climate for this blessed land
ensuring that for about six months out of every year all of nature, which has
given so much during the summer season, disappears under a thick layer of white
snow. The earth is frozen, some trees lose their leaves, and those that keep
their needles bend under the weight of their covering of snow. The waters that
surround us, as well as the inland rivers, lakes and bays, become masses of
solid ice, slow to melt even when spring comes. All of nature rests and gathers
its strength again.
People, too, withdraw into their homes in order to rest and gather their
strength again for the next season of work. Although we did not mention people
in mentioning our industries, it goes without saying that it is the workers who
make the wheels of industry turn. Each of the industries we mentioned forms the
basis for others and, as is the case elsewhere, the economy of our region
depends entirely on them.
The labour force on the Acadian peninsula is versatile and unique. Nowhere
else is such a mosaic to be found. That may be the reason the seasonal workers
in our region are so poorly understood -- to the point where some schizophrenic
parliamentarians consider that they spend their summers "sitting on the
The working season begins in late April or early May with catches of
lobster, crab, herring, alewife and other species.
This time of year is also seeding season. Then, in late June and early July,
comes the strawberry harvest. Strawberry time is like lilac time; everyone seems
happy. And then comes haying. All this work becomes a pleasure, a sort of
vacation in the form of trips to the fields.
The lumberjacks are already at work in the bush and the woodlots. They enjoy
being be back in natural surroundings, despite the heat and insect bites.
This is the time when activity is at its peak. A real sort of frenzy comes
over everyone. There is constant busyness until the end of July, followed by a
period of calm until mid-August, when the dance begins again. This is the time
for herring and herring roe. In the fields the blueberries have ripened, and
potato and vegetable picking begins. And already, with the first full moon in
September, it is harvest time. The first frosts in October are the time to cut
evergreen branches for Christmas wreaths; and along the logging roads in the
bush appear bales of Christmas trees, all for export to our neighbours in the
United States. Then, in December, all this activity comes to a sudden halt. The
work stops. The paycheques stop. People will have to wait until spring for their
next pay. Most workers have earned about $3,000, sometimes less, during
approximately seven months, accumulating between 12 and 20 weeks of work.
Throughout this season, the workers range from one industry to another and
one job to another, depending on demand. They go from one place to another,
working four weeks here and five weeks there; that is the nature of their work.
They make return trips of between 50 and 124 miles a day. The travel from one
end of the peninsula to another. They change jobs, from harvesting lobsters, to
picking blueberries, to cutting branches for Christmas wreaths, and so on. They
are qualified for dozens of different jobs.
These, then, are the men and women who are called seasonal workers. I trust
you have understood why that is what we call them. I also trust that you will
relay that information to the parliamentarians who are unaware of it and have
passed Bill C-12 in a cavalier manner with no concern for the wellbeing of
I also want you to know, and to let those parliamentarians know, that during
the winter of 1996, in the small community of Paquetville on the Acadian
peninsula, 40 jobs were advertised. There were 700 applications received. Last
week, in Bathurst, the Caribou mine announced 200 jobs. There were 2,000
applications received. In Edmunston, in the Madawaska area, the Premier of New
Brunswick cut the ribbon to open a communications centre offering 40 jobs. Two
years ago, he had promised that this centre would provide 400 jobs. We must face
facts. The industrial era is coming to an end. Jobs are going to be increasingly
scarce. That means that we have to find a reasonable way to distribute the money
people need to survive. A guaranteed income would cost much less than all these
various pensions and payments. Unemployment insurance has nothing to do with the
federal deficit. The government does not contribute one cent to unemployment
insurance; on the contrary, it dips into the unemployment insurance fund for
political purposes to promote its own ends.
I spoke to you about the wealth of natural resources on the Acadian
peninsula, comparing our region to a paradise on earth. Still, our region has
the country's highest unemployment rate; if all citizens able to work are
included, the real rate is 30 per cent or even higher. We have the highest
hospitalization rate, and the suicide rate is high as well. In certain
municipalities, we also have the highest rate of millionaires per capita in the
It is strange that our federal and provincial governments take turns taking
their problems out on the most disadvantaged people, reducing social assistance
and cutting unemployment insurance.
The presidents of the big banks and large corporations are the ones who
advise the federal government on issues of social assistance and unemployment
insurance. These rich, complacent people pay themselves annual salaries in the
millions of dollars. In an excessively capitalist society, the rich, who have
the power to Govern, get richer and richer.
Canada's six largest banks made $5 billion in profits in 1995; this year
they are preparing to make $6 billion more.
Bill C-12 was thought up and drawn up by lawyers, judges and officials who,
every year, skim one-third off the unemployment insurance fund by bothering
unemployed persons for no reason with decisions by unemployment insurance
arbitration court officials, appeals to Revenue Canada, umpires, and sometimes
even the Tax Court of Canada, finally notifying the poor unemployed persons that
they were not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits and have to pay back
all the money they received over several years. Some unemployed persons even
borrow money to pay lawyers to defend them. The law is made to mislead people.
The parties concerned interpret it to suit themselves. Unemployed persons
receive in benefits less than half of all the money paid in on their behalf.
Most of that money goes to administer the system.
So it is on behalf of all the seasonal workers, with whom I have worked for
more than 30 years and whom I represent here this evening, that I am speaking to
The reason I am asking for amendments to Bill C-12, instead of outright
withdrawal because the bill is unacceptable in its present form, is that I know
that the bill has been passed by Parliament and it will therefore become law on
July 1, 1996, no matter what we say or do.
Since you asked for a one-page summary, the amendments I shall ask you to
make to Bill C-12 are set out in that summary.
[signed] Mathilda Blanchard, Union representative Syndicat Acadien
des travailleurs affiliés et des pêches 120 guest, boulevard
Saint-Pierre Caraquet, New Brunswick E1W 1B6
Telephone: (506) 727-4802
Honourable Senators of the Committee:
Since Bill C-21 will become law on July 1, 1996 and since we can hold it
back no longer, we ask you to make the following amendments at least.
Workers who are entering the labour force for the first time or who have
been absent for some time should be able to qualify with 420 hours of work, like
other workers, rather than 900 hours. No one can work that many hours in one
The "plus two" divisor should be eliminated. If a worker applies
for unemployment insurance with 12 weeks of work, the amount earned will be
divided by 14 weeks, 14 weeks worked will be divided by 16, 16 weeks by 18, and
so forth, which will have the effect of further reducing the amounts of
applicants' benefits. Benefits are low enough already.
We trust that the amendments made by the Standing Committee of the House of
Commons will be maintained. Bill C-12 is so ambiguous that it is very hard to
understand what Parliament means. Even the officials we consulted are not
unanimous in their interpretations.
The presentation accompanying this summary explains why workers in our
region are seasonal. It points out that there are no jobs. It states that Bill
C-12 is a document that will allow the government to give money from the
unemployment insurance fund to businesses, to create jobs and train their
Since the reform of the unemployment insurance system, there has been much
talk of so-called fraud. In most cases, there is no fraud. The law is
interpreted in different ways, depending on who is doing the interpreting.
I say that, when the citizens of a country have to commit what is called
fraud -- if indeed there is fraud -- in order to survive in spite of everything,
the reason is that the system in which they live has done a lamentably poor job
of carrying out its primary responsibility, which is to ensure the wellbeing of
every one of its citizens, and that those who pass the laws governing this
country have done a deplorably poor job of carrying out their duties.
For over 40 years I have worked, with others, to find a more humane system
and a more appropriate way of sharing our wealth. In the 1960s with Louis
Robichaud and his Byrn Commission, and later with the late lamented Richard
Hatfield and his social reform that was a continuation of the Byrn Commission's
recommendations, we had managed to set up a system that went some way toward
eliminating poverty and destitution. Since the early 1990s, the whole social
welfare system has been crumbling.
Louis Robichaud, Norbert Thériault and the other leaders of the 1960s
lost power. The best Premier in all of Canada, Richard Hatfield, was
assassinated by the most offensive kind of slander. Today we have Jean-Maurice
Simard who is still standing up and trying, against all odds, to counter the
battle being waged by the rich and complacent against those who cannot defend
themselves. The violent events we are witnessing now are only the beginning of
the end of an excessively capitalist system.