The Commons: Help Wanted

'Mr. Speaker, I actually have some examples here of what constitutes suitable employment', reported Ted Menzies

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The Scene. Peggy Nash was very nearly pleading. “Will someone in the government,” she asked, “please outline right now what constitutes suitable employment?”

In Ms. Nash’s moment of need it was Ted Menzies, minister of state for finance, who stood. “Mr. Speaker, I actually have some examples here of what constitutes suitable employment,” he reported.

At last, clarity seemed at hand. “A mining company in Newfoundland is looking to hire 1,500 people in St. John’s, Newfoundland, through the temporary foreign worker program,” Mr. Menzies explained. “There are 32,500 people looking for work right now. That is why we are trying to make EI more effective to help these mining companies get people to employ.”

What precisely was the minister of state suggesting here? That if you are presently looking for work you might soon be expected to strap on a helmet lamp and make for St. John’s? And are there really only 32,500 people in this country presently looking for work?

There were chuckles of incredulity from the opposition side.

Another opposition question afforded Mr. Menzies an opportunity to further explain himself.

“I do want to clarify that 32,500 looking for work were actually in Newfoundland,” he said, “as was the mining company that was looking for the 1,500 people.”

“Ahh!” mocked voices from the other side. Thomas Mulcair shook his head in demonstrable exasperation.

Mr. Menzies tried another example. “Nova Scotia’s recent shipbuilding contract will create over 15,000 jobs over the next 30 years and the provincial government is already talking about importing workers,” he posited. “At this point there are 45,000 Nova Scotians looking for work.”

So the unemployed in Nova Scotia will soon be asked to build ships?

Another question then and another chance for Mr. Menzies to explain.

“Mr. Speaker, as I have been saying, there are available jobs out there, but we will ensure that Canadians will not be expected to take jobs that are not within their skill-set,” he offered.

So only those out-of-work Nova Scotians with skills particular to the building of ships will be asked to take work?

“One other thing we need to exemplify,” he continued, oddly, “is that no job seeker will be asked to relocate.”

Ah. So only out-of-work Haligonians with skills particular to the building of ships will be asked to take work.

This perhaps begs more questions. Like, how many out-of-work Haligonians with skills particular to the building of ships would otherwise turn down one of those 15,000 jobs? And if relocation is not to be demanded and one’s skill set is relevant , how precisely are those “45,000 Nova Scotians looking for work” applicable to those 15,000 jobs?

“The important thing here is, there is a lot of people who want to go to work, there are people who are on EI,” Mr. Menzies clarified. “We need to make sure its effective and the jobs that are still vacant can be filled.”

Despite all of this explanation, the official opposition remained unsatisfied. “When will she stand up,” Chris Charlton asked of the absent Human Resources Minsiter, “and give Canadians a straight answer about her plans for EI?”

In response to Ms. Charlton, Mr. Menzies returned to something he had earlier claimed that the leader of the opposition said.

“I would like to quote the leader of the NDP once more, that we, on this side of the House do not think it is, as he says  ‘a colossal waste’ when Canadians are actually working,” Mr. Menzies admonished. “Canadians working in restaurants, as truck drivers, as food handlers, we think they are important contributors to the Canadian economy. We support and applaud those Canadians.”

It is unclear whether Mr. Mulcair has actually used this phrase in this regard*, but Ms. Nash has.

“It is a colossal waste of skills,” she said the other day, “if we have people who are trained as computer engineers or teachers or nurses or electricians who are working in retail, Tim Hortons or picking fruit in the agricultural sector because it means they may not be available when a job in their field comes open.”

From Mr. Menzies’ attempted explanations, it is unclear in what way he disagrees with Ms. Nash.

The Stats. Employment, 10 questions. Telecommunications, five questions. Old Age Security, the environment and aboriginal affairs, four questions each. Government spending, trade, satellites and the territories, two questions each. Immigration, resource development, Senate reform and food safety, one question each.

Stephen Harper and Ted Menzies, seven responses each. Leona Aglukkaq, six responses. Vic Toews, five responses. Peter Kent, four responses. Christian Paradis and Ed Fast, two responses each. Tony Clement, Pierre Poilievre, Tim Uppal, Gerry Ritz, one response each.

*Note: I’ve asked Mr. Menzies’ office to clarify to what the minister of state was referring. Mr. Menzies’ office confirms that he misattributed the quote.