Debates of May 6th, 2004
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 workers.
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Business of the House
Oral Question Period
John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the government House leader if he could advise the House as to what the business is for the rest of today, tomorrow, and just in the event the Prime Minister does not have the courage to call an election again this weekend, what we will do next week in the House.
Business of the House
Oral Question Period
Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, this afternoon we shall continue with the opposition day motion.
Tomorrow we shall debate the motion to refer to committee before second reading Bill C-34, the bill introduced earlier today respecting dumping of toxic waste by ships. We shall then return to third reading of Bill C-23, the first nations fiscal legislation, Bill C-12, the child protection, and Bill C-10, the cannabis legislation.
Next week, we will continue this business where it has been left on Friday. We will add to the list a motion to refer to committee before second reading a bill to be introduced tomorrow concerning the DNA data bank.
Tuesday and Thursday shall be allotted days.
Hopefully, by the end of the week, we will begin to have some of the legislation now in committee reported back, so that we can get a good start on finishing the work we have to do before the summer adjournment.
The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC
Mr. Speaker, you will soon be calling me by another name, given that my riding will be named Saint-Maurice--Champlain following the election. For the time being, it is still Champlain.
I am pleased to speak today on the motion tabled by the Bloc Québécois, which I consider to be of the highest importance. Let me read the motion:
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 [...]
The unanimous report, now three years old, called for EI to be improved so that more workers and contributors to the plan could benefit.
There is also one thing which shocked people then and shocks them even more today. EI is anything but a scheme to ensure employment for workers. We have known for quite some time that the government has made off with the EI fund, which had a surplus of some $45 billion.
A worker who makes $39,000 or less contributes his full share of premiums to the EI plan. When he pays into the fund, it is simply to ensure he has help when he loses his job. His contribution to the EI plan is for him security that will allow him to get through tough times after losing his job, for whatever reason.
In my view and in the mind of the majority of people, the EI fund, which has a $45 billion surplus, must belong to the workers. Today we see a situation where fewer workers can enjoy EI benefits simply because it has been used for other purposes than that for which it was originally intended.
People who contribute to the EI fund, as I said earlier, are workers making $39,000 or less, and their employers. The fund is not intended to pay down the national debt. That is understandable.
I am convinced that it is not the workers who make less than $39,000 a year who put the country in debt. In my view, the national debt belongs to people who are a lot richer than that, to people who, often, do not contribute to the EI fund.
Taking that money and using it as a tax to pay down the national debt is totally unfair to the poorest members of society. Nowadays, in view of the cost of living, if you make between 0 and $39,000 a year, you are not among the richest. With the way the cost of living is today, a salary of under $39,000 is barely adequate.
I have trouble explaining to people in my riding and in my area, since everybody is talking about it, how its is that the government's moral standards permit the poorest and the smallest members of society, those who earn the least, to pay the national debt.
The government is very proud to say that not only has it eliminated the deficit over the past few years, but it has paid back about $50 billion of the old national debt.
This $50 billion is made up of $45 to $47 billion from the EI account and $3 billion from seniors, who were literally robbed, the government having failed to provide them with the information necessary to receive the guaranteed income supplement.
They should be ashamed to boast about their performance and their good management when they are in fact taking money away from the little guy and the disadvantaged to pay down the debt.
I do not know if the Liberals hear about this, but I can say that, in my riding and my region—and I assume it is the same throughout Quebec—at every opportunity people bring up the EI account and the fact that seniors have been deprived of $3 billion in benefits under the guaranteed income supplement. They are wondering where public morals, that is, government morals, have gone.
In this debate, this morning, a Liberal speaker suggested that our numbers were wrong. This person also stated that 88% of workers are eligible for employment insurance benefits if they lose their jobs. While 88% of those who qualify for EI may receive benefits, what she failed to mention was that only 39% of those who contribute to the plan are eligible for benefits.
People who say to us that our numbers do not tell the truth should be mindful of the examples they choose. Certainly, the 88% who qualify may receive EI some day. However, of those who contribute to this insurance scheme, only 39% will have the benefit--or rather the inconvenience, since losing one's job is never beneficial--of drawing EI when in trouble.
This means that 61% of those who pay into EI will never benefit. If this is not robbery or embezzlement, then what is it? I would sure like to know.
I will give the example of the former POWA program, which was designed to help older workers having contributed to the EI fund throughout their active life who had the misfortune to lose their job after the age of 55. You find that in all of our municipalities where old industries or old plants close or are converted. We have seen that happening in Trois-Rivières and elsewhere in recent years. Some workers who had spent a good part of their life, if not all of their life, in a plant and found themselves without a job at the age of 55, could get benefits from the POWA because they had insurance to protect them and help them keep an active life.
The prime minister had promised in 2000 to improve the POWA. However, when he took office, he abandoned this program. The POWA has virtually disappeared. This means that some older workers who had paid in the EI and were entitled to those services cannot benefit from them anymore and were deceived by a government that had promised to improve the program, not to abolish it.
The way the government is treating the workers is a real scandal. It can do all sorts of things. It can say just about anything and often things that are far from the truth. When it says for example that in Quebec people get more from the employment insurance that what they pay into the plan, it is distorting the facts.
There are all sorts of contradictions about the employment insurance plan.
The Bloc Quebecois motion is quite simple, and the discussion could be over quickly. We would just need to make it votable, because it is based on unanimous recommendations by an all-party committee of the House. This committee unanimously requested the government to implement its recommendations.
If we want to move things forward instead of making election promises, since a general election is probably just around the corner, this Bloc Quebecois motion should be made votable. The employment insurance plan would be improved immediately. Many workers to whom promises were made during the 2000 election could then get benefits they still do not have.
The Liberal government is managing public money as if it were private and as if the country belonged to it. It is taking money from those most in need. It cut funding for health care in Quebec and other provinces. It is cutting funding for education not only in Quebec, but in other provinces as well.
The Liberal government has made the EI plan less and less accessible, under the pretense that many of the unemployed were not exactly honest and were collecting undeserved benefits for various reasons.
Our workers throughout Quebec and the whole country are much more honest than these people opposite who are the government. I can tell you that the percentage of those who were cheating the EI system, as was said this morning, to get undeserved benefits is certainly not higher than in other areas. Workers should be trusted. We should make sure they get the coverage that should be provided by the plan they contribute to.
If somebody takes out insurance on his house and a fire breaks out, and if he learns that the money has been used for something else and he cannot get money to repair the damage, I think he would be really upset and would take action against the company which has managed the insurance plan that way.
However, this is how the employment insurance fund is managed in the case of workers. They just grab the cash. They pay the debt of the country and they tell workers it is for their own good. They say that employment insurance conditions have improved when it is not the case. They have deteriorated.
For example, they say that many more workers are now eligible. However, they fail to say that many more workers are now paying premiums. The percentage of workers receiving benefits is lower and it is not because the economy is booming, it is because they structured the system in such a way that it is much less accessible to young people, women and those who do not have a secure and steady job.
Young people are among those who have the most problems with employment insurance. For example, in 2001, 39% of jobless youth received benefits; 61% of them had paid in for nothing, they just fattened up the treasury so that the government would pay off the debt. As regards women, only 33% of working women were eligible and received benefits.
For those 25 years old or less, it was only 16%. In total, 30% of those who paid into EI are entitled to benefits when they need them.
We do not know how to describe what the government has done. There is one sure thing though. As far as I am concerned, I am sure that whenever somebody takes money that does not belong to him, even if that person is in charge of managing the fund, it is called theft.
Besides, the Fund should be managed jointly by the workers and the employers. The government should not be in charge of managing it since it is not contributing a cent to it. Those who contribute to it should manage it. It would be safer.
I can tell you that the $45 billion or $47 billion taken from the EI fund could have helped a lot of people who are now struggling, people who, as the NDP member was saying before question period, have a hard time, especially the seasonal workers. These people could benefit more from the plan they have paid into.
The electoral campaign will certainly give us the opportunity to judge the government on the money that was taken away from the workers through the EI fund and on the $3 billion that older people did not get in guaranteed income supplements because they were not given the information they needed to get what they were entitled to. I am convinced that this government will be judged harshly.
May 6th, 2004 / 3:20 p.m.
André Harvey Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his intervention.
I understand that my Bloc colleagues are happy here, in Canada's Parliament. They want to be re-elected. However, whatever the issues they have occasion to deal with, their figures are never right.
They always include Quebec. I am also a Quebecker; I am from the Saguenay. I am keen to be involved in the next election campaign with them. We will talk about the real numbers. Every time I have the opportunity to talk with them, unfortunately, I am obliged, not to be disrespectful, to try to correct the facts about the numbers.
In the past 20 years, our fellow Quebeckers have contributed $73 billion to employment insurance, and we have provided $86 billion in benefits. Not only that, but in the past 10 or 11 years, the amounts collected and distributed were about the same. We are not taking into account here the contributions that were reduced by several billions of dollars.
Also, this does not include manpower training programs. For 25 years, Quebeckers asked for them. In the past seven or eight years, we transferred $600 million a year to the Quebec government. This does not include reductions in contributions, which amount to several billions of dollars a year.
Members opposite keep going back to that $40 billion surplus, but they forget about the investments in initiatives that contribute to creating jobs and are important for the future of our regions.
It is unfortunate members in the Bloc are ready to stoop to anything just to get elected. It is really unfortunate. They indulge in demagoguery just to keep their seat in this great democratic institution, the Canadian Parliament.
Let us take, for example, the issue of employment insurance. The leader of the Bloc came to my region and told the public that $157 million were missing. I checked, and it was $239 million. I thought they would have a good research service by now, with the Election Finances Act, and that their researchers could come up with accurate figures.
They even make mistakes about the softwood lumber issue. In health care, they were talking this week about a 4% federal contribution. Then, it went up to 14%. They should raise that to 40%, because that is the reality.
I would simply like to ask my colleague why it is they always come up with the wrong figures in our discussions.
In conclusion, I would like to say this. We improved the Employment Insurance Act and we will continue to do so year after year, in spite of the demagogy we hear from Bloc members who do not want to lose their seat in the Canadian Parliament because they are very happy here.
When they come to my area, they talk about unemployment but when the time comes to invest they go somewhere else, to Gatineau, for instance.
Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC
Mr. Speaker, if we are lying with the figures, I can tell the hon. member that he was in agreement with them. Indeed, we are using the unanimous report on employment insurance prepared by the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development. We did not make up anything in that document. It was signed by more Liberals than Bloc Quebecois members. If we are lying, then the hon. member is lying even more.
There is another thing that I want to say. I will be pleased to go back to the riding of the hon. member who just spoke to see if I am lying. I was told the same thing when we raised the issue of the guaranteed income supplement for seniors. I can say that, so far, we have found at least 25,000 elderly people who had been robbed by this government. These people are now collecting the guaranteed income supplement. This represents about $100 million annually. We still have to find 40,000 people. I was also called a liar when I raised this issue publicly. Let me say that, today, we have the truth.
We are able to interpret the figures as they are.
On a point of order, the hon. parliamentary secretary.
André Harvey Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC
Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to point out, in addition to the preliminary information and considering the errors that they continue to make, that they mentioned three different percentages.
I think that this is not a point of order. It is a disagreement about the facts. Perhaps we can hear other comments and arguments later on, but I am now giving the floor to the hon. member for Champlain.
Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC
Mr. Speaker, when it hurts, people try to stop us from talking. I can assure you that I always know what I am talking about and that I use factual information from the House. Actually, this information is contained in a report that the member should have signed and that all liberal members on the committee have signed.
If the member feels that things are so great, why does he not come to meet with softwood lumber workers who have lost their job because of the inaction of this government. While there was $45 billion in the employment insurance fund, the government told the workers of this industry: “Too bad, you have lost your job, but we will not do anything for you”. Absolutely nothing was done to help them.
Two days ago, we met with representatives of the forest industry. They told us that with the way things are going, when we win the war, all the plants will be shut down. There is money in the employment insurance fund; as workers we pay EI premiums in order to be protected. I am sure nobody will dare say that I am lying. I am perfectly willing to have a debate in his riding to show who tells the truth.
Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would simply like to ask a question of my colleague who made such an excellent speech. Why did the Liberal Party of Canada, whose members have signed this report, refuse to let this motion be voted on today? According to him, why would the government refuse a vote on the motion, and, in so doing, go against the word of its own members?
Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question.
As my colleague says, why did they refuse a vote on this motion? Very simply because this is a very profitable issue to talk about during an election campaign. We are about to travel all over Quebec once again, as we did in 2000. They will go and see the workers and tell them that they will improve the employment insurance system. But once we are back in the House, they will not do it.
The member for Acadie—Bathurst said this morning that, at the rate they are going right now, it would take this government eight elections to bring about a reform of the employment insurance system.
They rejected a vote on the motion because, once again, they will make it a campaign promise. They do not know what to do anymore to buy the vote of workers. However, I can tell you that it will become increasingly costly to buy workers.
André Harvey Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC
Mr. Speaker, before the hon. member has a chance to get too comfortable, I would like to ask him if he thinks it is right for the Canadian Labour Congress, in its scientific analysis of employment insurance, to include people who have never worked, people who have never paid premiums, formerly self-employed workers and students? Does he think it is right in an insurance context to include in our statistics people who have never contributed to the program?
Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC
Mr. Speaker, this is part of the recommendations in the report. We have to find a way for self-employed individuals to contribute to and benefit from employment insurance.
It would be easy. It would simply be a matter of willingness. If you go back on what you signed before the committee, then there is something wrong. It would be easy. It would simply be a matter of having the willingness to do it.
Earlier, during question period, I heard the government House leader say how much he trusted committee reports. He told an hon. member that he should not talk about the report before it is tabled in the House.
This report was tabled three years ago. It has been examined. We have heard from stakeholders. It seems to me there has been time to draw from it and he agreed. He should still be in agreement. We have to adopt it as soon as possible. I can assure hon. members that we will give our support in order to make improvements immediately. We are prepared to do this immediately.
Paul Bonwick Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development (Student Loans)
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand today in the House and address this most important topic, the motion dealing with our employment insurance benefit program, a program that I believe is one of the cornerstones of our social safety net within the country.
Before I go into detail on all the great things the program does and some of the challenges it will face and some of the changes that may be required, I would like to spend a couple of minutes to deal with process.
When I talk about process, I would like to lend some clarity, some rational discussion and rational positions on the process surrounding the report that came out of HRSD, how that report was addressed and how that report will be addressed in the House by the minister and cabinet.
Through you, Mr. Speaker, for those at home, the committee process is an incredibly invigorating and focused process. As parliamentary secretary, I happen to be a member of the human resource development committee. The committees that meet, whether it be HRSD, or Canadian heritage, defence, health, foreign affairs, whatever that committee might be, have a very specific focus. Whether they be members of the Liberal caucus, or the NDP, or the Bloc, generally speaking I believe committee people put forward their best effort to try to focus with a very specific mandate on the solutions they think are important. Committees work tremendously well, Mr. Speaker, as you well know. You sat on them. When committees have a very specific focus, they produce very clear recommendations.
Through you, Mr. Speaker, the people at home must understand the process is such that once those recommendations are made, they are brought forward to the House and debated in a more generalized context. They are debated taking into consideration many more things than simply the narrow focus of that committee, as does cabinet. Cabinet must view things in a very horizontal fashion, not in a very vertical fashion.
Therefore, it is not uncommon for Canadian heritage for that matter or HRSD to sometimes bring forward recommendations that are focused in a very linear fashion that can not always be adopted in the most timely fashion possible. That does not mean they are not being considered. That does not mean that parts of those recommendations are not being implemented. That does not mean it does not provide us with the opportunity to raise the level of debate in the House on a particular topic.
However, let us not buy into the rhetoric coming from Bloc, that just because a recommendation comes from committee, it must automatically become. That is irresponsible for the Bloc to even make that accusation or statement.
Once people have a clear understanding of how the process works, how actively engaged members of Parliament are in this process, I think they will have a higher level of comfort in some of the decisions that come from the House and some of the decisions that come from cabinet.
Specifically, on the employment insurance fund itself and the employment insurance program, this program has had an impact on Canadian society like few others have. We have a number of different occupations in my riding of Simcoe—Grey that from time to time have to rely on the EI program. We have a number of seasonal workers within my riding. They are seasonal workers not simply because they are forced into seasonal employment, but rather they are in seasonal employment by choice.
In some cases the EI program addresses the needs of those people who quite clearly cannot be gainfully employed 12 months of the year. In some cases it does not address some of the challenges of part time students. If we deal with part time students, we have to understand that some of these seasonal employment opportunities are stepping stones, as is fortunately the case in my riding.
I have a tremendous number of young people who come back to my riding every summer to explore career opportunities. They work for a specific period of time and then they go back to university. Those people are clearly seasonal employees and it is clear that they are using seasonal employment as a stepping stone, as do many.
However, let us go beyond that and talk about some of the other incredible things that this EI account has done in the past. I would suggest that over the last 60 years of this program it has been a flagship of the fine Canadian social fabric and the fine Canadian social safety net that we have in this country. It is one of the flagships. Throughout the OECD and, for that matter, around the world, this program would be the envy of most countries.
Does that mean it is doing everything it should? Clearly not. This government has been incredibly responsive to the needs and the challenges as they have come forward on an ongoing basis, and certainly over the past 9 or 10 years as changes have been required, changes have been brought forward. We have seen the EI rates reduced on a number of different occasions. I might add that for many these EI reforms we have brought forward, we unfortunately have not been able to get the support of our Bloc colleagues.
We make positive changes to the employment insurance program and the Bloc votes against us. I think there is a certain amount of hypocrisy when those members say in one breath they think there needs to be change, this government responds, and then they vote against it. I am not sure what kind of language we would choose for that, but it is certainly contradictory at best.
Let me talk about some of the things that this program has done in my riding and about some of the people and some of the families it has supported. Let me say that I am very, very proud of some of the things this program has accomplished. I know that due to circumstances beyond employees' control, from time to time they have to rely on this employment insurance account. We have to put this into dollars: Over $11 billion was paid out last year to families like those in Simcoe—Grey, families that have had an unfortunate situation arise with plant closures, plant layoffs or seasonal work. Any number of different things will impact this, but the program has been there for them.
For those who have paid in, those who qualify, over 83% actually achieve the benefit of the program. That is a staggering number, so we cannot deal simply with the rhetoric coming from the Bloc.
As the Parliamentary Secretary for Human Resources and Skills Development, I can stand here in the House without any trepidation whatsoever and tell members that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and the Liberal members of caucus, and certainly those from Quebec, have put forward the strongest arguments possible to make sure that the changes we make, the changes that need to be addressed to meet the needs of the people, are done in the most timely fashion possible. I sit in on briefing after briefing. We sit in on strategy meetings with some of the most senior officials within the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and this is one of the number one priorities. The minister is fully engaged.
But we also have to recognize that we do look at things in a very horizontal fashion on this side of the House, and on that side of the House they should as well. In doing so in that horizontal fashion, if we are going to make changes we have to understand what the implications are of those changes. That does take a little time. As we have done in the past, we want to make sure that when we make decisions and make changes we get it right the first time. That is the process that is under way right now.
I will take this opportunity to talk about some of the incredible changes that have taken place in the EI program. When we were raising our children and my wife or I had to take time off work after the birth of our children, it was a very specific period of time that we were allowed to take, the reason being that we were a young family and we needed the income. We had to get back into the workforce in order to generate income to support our family. That was unfortunate.
I say it was unfortunate because our children lost out on something that this generation is not going to lose out on. There can be no more important time in a child's life than those first few months after being born. And what better quality time, what better motivating force, what greater impact can a parent have than being at home with that newborn child? I was incredibly proud to stand in the House and vote for the women having babies in this country today so that they qualify for EI and are able to stay home for a full year to spend that kind of quality time with and give that kind of commitment to their children. At the end of the day, as has been said time and time again in this House, there is no more valuable resource in this country than our children.
I was very proud to see that kind of change within the EI account and to see that kind of change come forward from this side of the House, from my Liberal colleagues. I know some of the moms and dads who have benefited as a result. Gratefully, I know some of the children who are going to benefit from that. How well-rounded a child can become with that kind of interaction with their parents in that first year. What a tremendous opportunity. What an incredibly civil approach to society in addressing the needs of our children to make those kinds of changes to address those challenges.
We must not let it be said that changes have not been brought forward by this government, because clearly there have been, and those changes were the right changes. Those changes have had lasting positive consequences and there are Canadians from coast to coast to coast who would stand up and say they were the right things to do.
We must also recognize, of course, that as we make these changes in the House we are not simply talking about one EI recipient. We are talking about decisions that quite clearly could have an impact to the tune of billions of dollars. Canadians rightfully expect and deserve and receive from this government an approach that says we must mind this money carefully.
So when I say we have to make sure that we weigh out all the options, that is exactly what I mean. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development stands in the House and says that he is waiting to get all the facts, that he is waiting to get all the information. One very important piece of information is the report that came out of HRSD, but it is one piece of information. There are other areas we have to collect information from.
And I know this is time sensitive. I did not get involved in politics and voted in to see people do without. I did not dedicate a good part of my life to this and then come to the House to see people do without. Liberal members of Parliament in this House did not get into politics to see people do without.
We are compassionate, caring people. We want to help. We want to do things that will raise the quality of life, not only in Quebec but all across the country, but I am also here to say that we have an obligation to those very same people to make sure that any of the changes we bring forward are done in a proper fashion, to make sure we have a clear appreciation of the consequences of those decisions, positive and negative. To suggest that we rush into things, to suggest that we simply look at a sliver of evidence and base conclusions and, in turn, decisions on that sliver of evidence, is irresponsible.
It is easy in opposition. I am not criticizing those members for it, but it is easy in opposition to say the government should do this or should do that. They do not have to live with the consequences. They do not have to look at things in a horizontal fashion. They do not have to make sure that things are done in a balanced fashion.
We hear the rhetoric about softwood lumber. We heard the member who stood up and said the government has done nothing for those who have been hurt by this softwood lumber dispute between Canada and the U.S. That is not true. I cannot be any clearer than that. It is simply not true. This government has responded. It has responded in a number of ways. If the hon. member truly believes that a quarter of a billion dollars, $250 million focused in on this particular challenge in a very short period of time, is nothing, perhaps he should go back to his riding and explain to the taxpayers that a quarter of a billion dollars means nothing.
I will stand here and tell the member today that there has been a massive investment within the softwood lumber industry since the challenges by the United States took place, and we are making progress. The most recent progress, of course, was the decision that clearly sided with the Government of Canada. That did not happen by itself. The Minister of International Trade, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister himself have been fully engaged in this file. To simply say that we are doing nothing is not accurate.
I know the hon. member wants to do what is right for his constituents, as do I. We are caring, compassionate people. We are trying to accommodate the needs of Canadians, but we have to do so in a balanced fashion.
It is this kind of balance that people require of government. There is no balance coming from the opposition members because they do not have to look at these things in a horizontal manner. They do not have to understand. They do not have to appreciate the fact that there are significant consequences. We have to make sure we understand them. In short, the opposition is not responsible for delivering the important services that the people in this country require.
It is clear that changes are required. There are gaps within our society and challenges within our economy. There are regional problems, not the very least of which are in my riding from time to time. We have to be sensitive to them and we are. Nobody in the House will fight more viciously or more aggressively than I if I have a problem in my riding and I think the government can respond to it in a timely fashion. Of course, I also respect the fact that in responding to that we have to understand what the impacts are, both from a revenue standpoint and from a societal standpoint.
As for the Bloc members, let us drop the rhetoric. We have to work in a collegial, cooperative fashion. Enough talk about elections. Let us try to resolve the problem. Let us try to resolve it as a team. That is what the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has been saying. He is saying that there is no time to try to score political points on the backs of the unemployed. The opportunity is there to work together to address the needs.
I fully expect members from the Bloc, if I have challenges in my riding, to support me in helping me try to address them. That is what we are supposed to do in the House. We are here to help. We are here to build a better Canada. For members of the opposition to suggest otherwise is just untrue and quite frankly slights the House and slights individuals like me, individuals who truly believe that when we work together, when we work in a collective, we can accomplish some great things.
But I come back to the responsibilities of government. Nobody in the House takes this issue more seriously than the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. He has dedicated enormous amounts of time to this. He is making sure that no rock is left unturned with respect to what the potential consequences of various changes will be. He is looking at countless scenarios and he is doing so because he wants to get it right. He wants to make sure that whether it is a seasonal worker in Quebec or a seasonal worker in Alliston the program is there to support them in the most appropriate way possible.
I have to conclude by simply saying this. The time is now to drop the political rhetoric. We have Liberal colleagues from Quebec, from New Brunswick and from British Columbia who are uniting and saying we must make sure these issues get resolved. We need the opposition to join us. We need the opposition to recognize that the only way to address the needs of Canadians, the only way, is to do so in a collective approach: to have a good debate, to find the right solution, and to support it, not as in the past to vote against some of the changes we made, but to support the recommendations that will be coming forward.
I am sure that at some point in the not too distant future the minister is going to come forward with some changes, whatever they might be. When he comes forward with those changes it is certainly my hope that the Bloc members, who are saying here today that change is necessary, will stand there as they have today and say, “Good work, Mr. Minister”. I hope they will say that he made the changes that Canadians required. I hope they will say, “We are here to support that change. We are here to make sure the money is delivered to those who need it most”.
A number of different things have come out of the EI account that have had incredibly positive impacts within my very own riding. Let us think about the unemployment rate at the present time being somewhere around 7.5%. Even better news than this is the fact that the unemployment rate for women in Canada is now about 5.8%. This is astonishing and this is positive.
That did not simply happen by itself. That happened as a result of a collective approach. This is how Canada works. We stand shoulder to shoulder when we recognize challenges and we overcome them. That is what happened.
When we took office in 1993, unemployment rates in my riding were close to 15% and now they are down below 5% because of our collective approach to addressing these things.
Some of the money from the EI account was used to help train people in Collingwood, Wasaga Beach and Clearview. These moneys were spent to upgrade the skills that those people possess and, in turn, it created a better standard of living for them.
The answer is simple. I ask all members to please work with us to make sure that we get the right solutions in the right time.