House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was benefits.

Topics

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Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for Kamouraska--Rivière-du-Loup--Témiscouata--Les Basques on a point of order.

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Noon

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would appreciate my colleague to withdraw the word “lies”. There were no lies. I never used such a word in my speech. You should read the blues, I never uttered the word “lies”.

I demand that the member withdraw the word “lies”.

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Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

One moment please.

I am informed that indeed certain words that were uttered are unacceptable. I ask the parliamentary secretary to withdraw what she has said.

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Noon

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I still intended to withdraw them, but let us not forget that, on the other side of the House, someone said, “This is not true”. If a word can be used, another one can ultimately mean the same thing. However, I withdraw that word because I am very respectful of the House and have always been. After all, I was Assistant Deputy Chairman at one time.

As far as small weeks are concerned, I already said in my speech that we made changes in this regard. Yet, the member said that we did not.

Concerning the case that went to court, we launched an appeal because there are constitutional considerations. We are negotiating, at this time, with our provincial counterparts regarding parental leave. We hope to sign an agreement in principle soon. As for the court appeal, it is because there is a constitutional issue that must be resolved at a higher level.

We are not close-minded, and I do not accept that the member says that we were close-minded in committee. No one was close-minded, no one is insensitive toward workers. I think the language has to change on both sides of the House. Perhaps it is the member who started this type of exchange.

On the government side, a committee has already recommended that we look at the issue of self-employed workers. We are open-minded on this issue. No one, on this side of the House, has ever said that we are close-minded regarding self-employed workers. I myself raised this issue before the standing committee of the House.

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Noon

Liberal

André Harvey Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand why my colleagues from the Bloc would be offended and upset, because the best job in this country is that of a Bloc Quebecois MP. When the government does something right, it is thanks to them, and when—

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Noon

An hon. member

The worst job is that of a Liberal MP with nothing to do.

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Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, but before things get out of hand, I would ask all members to keep their remarks relevant to the subject being debated. The member knows full well that the inflammatory comments he just made will trigger very strong reactions on the other side of the House; I do not think this is necessary at all.

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Noon

Liberal

André Harvey Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it will not be as inflammatory from now on because I will be talking about figures. For people who have an extremely sophisticated research bureau, I must say that when Bloc members decide to work on a particular issue, they have great difficulty getting their facts straight.

With regard to employment insurance, everybody agrees that improvements are made regularly and will continue to be made. Some Bloc members came to my riding and talked about a $157 million deficit in the EI fund. We did some research on these figures, and it was in fact $239 million that was paid in the last year for which the financial reporting had been done. As for the softwood lumber issue, it is always the same.

I have the figures for the last 20 years. In Quebec, over that period, there is a surplus of some $13 billion in the EI fund in favour of recipients. And the same applies for the last 10 or 11 years.

We are talking about numbers, and on this topic I would like to ask my colleague if we can also talk about initiatives funded with the employment insurance fund. Let's think about the annual transfers to Quebec and the labour force training programs that have been going on for eight years at an annual cost of $600 million. If we add up the numbers, the total is close to $5 billion. This year, there are also reductions in premiums which amount to $4.4 billion. That is interesting for the 14 million Canadians who pay EI premiums. We support the concept of program improvement and we will continue to do so.

However, I would appreciate my colleagues from the Bloc using actual and verifiable figures for all the issues on which they make presentations. We will also be ready for the election campaign and will come up with actual figures.

I would ask my colleague to explain why a supposedly responsible political party frequently releases figures that were inspired by the Canadian Labour Congress but invalidated everywhere in Canada.

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Noon

An hon. member

It is the government's budget.

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12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. Indeed, anyone can juggle the figures.

Still, let us take the example of the Canadian Labour Congress, which said that only 35% of workers qualify for employment insurance. This figure represents the percentage of people who qualify for employment insurance, not the percentage of all workers who still collected benefits.

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12:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh.

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May 6th, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.

Liberal

André Harvey Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

It is always empty rhetoric. Let them all come and debate the issue at home. We will talk about figures.

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12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC

As regards benefits, over $3 billion are transferred to Quebec each year. My colleague made the point and the figures are available if opposition and Bloc Quebecois members are interested. They will see that, in Quebec, benefits are equal to premiums.

When the Bloc Quebecois says that workers are paying more than they are getting, it does not take into account all the other benefits, such as parental leave, and the new system that we implemented to give people the opportunity to care for a family member who is sick. We put in place a whole set of measures.

Even though we point out our good initiatives, we know that the Bloc Quebecois is not interested only in helping workers. The Bloc does not want Canada to work. It does not want us to continue to look after workers, because it is only interested in separation and in trying to make the system fail.

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12:05 p.m.

An hon. member

They like to organize protests.

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12:05 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak today in the debate on the motion by my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, which reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should propose, before the dissolution of the House, an employment insurance reform along the lines of the 17 recommendations contained in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities entitled “Beyond Bill C-2: A Review of Other Proposals to Reform Employment Insurance”.

I would like to take a few seconds to sort out some figures. I hope that the parliamentary secretary is listening carefully. It is rather strange to see the government strutting out a meaningless figure.

When people lose their job, the first thing they do is to check whether they might qualify for EI benefits. They are told that they have accumulated enough hours and that they qualify. This is the famous 80% or so of workers that the government is talking about.

When we talk about the 40% or so of workers who lose their job and who receive EI benefits, we are telling the truth also. It is the same reality that they are talking about.

In fact, a young worker, for example, cannot qualify if he is let go after having worked 800 hours at a first job. He would have needed 910 hours. With their 80%, they forget these people. And what about the woman who comes back to the labour market and does not have the required number of hours and then loses her job? She is not included either in the 80% the government is constantly bragging about.

The much vaunted 80% has to do with people who qualify for EI. But what about young people, older people, women and others who do not qualify? When one stops to consider what they have really put in place, it is a plan where only 40% of unemployed people qualify for benefits. They should stop saying that it is 80%. That is not the right figure. It is not 80% of the unemployed who get EI benefits; it is 40%. Possibly 39% or 41%, but somewhere close to 40%. So let us stop trotting out that figure, because it is a false one.

For the last eight years, we have been hearing the same old song from the government that does not understand a thing. I remember when Lloyd Axworthy was minister. He is the one who launched the reform. For at least two years, he rose to answer questions put by my hon. colleague from Mercier, who thought the reform did not make any sense and went as far as predicting the problems the reform would bring on. During two years, the minister told my colleague that she did not understand anything, that she did not know how to read and that she had not bothered reading the documentation. He kept saying that for two whole years. That is the only thing he told my colleague.

According to the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, they are aware of the problems, they realize that changes are needed; some have already been made here and there and they will make some more. But that is not what he used to say when he sat on this side of the House as a Conservative. He thought the reform brought forward by the Liberals did not make any sense.

We can only hold people hostage and play them for fools for so long. This is probably the last time I have the chance to speak in this House. So, please allow me to thank each and every one who helped me do the work I really enjoyed doing for the last 11 years.

However, the Parliament of Canada needs to come up with answers for the people. Whether the government is red, blue or any other colour, it needs to respect the people and stop lying. There is just so much we can take. Things are getting out of control. The employment insurance reform is a complete disaster.

During the 2000 election, I remember quite well the member for Bourassa, president of the Privy Council and the member for Outremont, who was then a minister, traveling across Quebec and saying: “Please, stop your demonstrations, do not demonstrate. We will take care of you after the election”. We had to wait to be on the eve of an election again for this government to decide to take care of those workers who have lost their jobs. This is nonsense. We are fed up with this system. People are fed up.

During the next election, people will send a clear message to the Prime Minister. In Quebec, at least, they have understood. I hope that in the rest of Canada people will also understand that it makes no sense to be governed by arrogant and incompetent people who line their pockets and empty those of the public. They are the ones who force people into unemployment, into a gap situation and who say that they will make small reforms and that they have already made some, as the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord was saying. This is truly an aberration...