House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industry.

Topics

Supply
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Honoré-Mercier, QC

No, Mr. Speaker, I will support the motion.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Supply
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from February 3 consideration of the motion.

Supply
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to order made on Thursday, February 3, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion of the hon. member for Haldimand--Norfolk regarding the business of supply.

The question is on the motion.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Supply
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

Supply
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It being 6:15 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Bills

February 8th, 2005 / 6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

moved that Bill C-280, an Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Bills

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Order, please. I must advise the House of a ruling by the Chair with regard to Bill C-280.

The Chair has examined Bill C-280, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another act in consequence to determine whether its provisions would require a royal recommendation and thus prevent the Chair from putting the question at third reading.

Among other provisions, this bill mandates the appointment of 13 new commissioners to the Canada Employment Insurance Commission. The parent Act, in respect of this amending provision, namely the Department of Human Resources Development Act, provides that the members of this commission are to receive remuneration for their services.

Inasmuch as section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867 (and Standing Order 79) prohibits votes on bills appropriating public revenues without royal recommendation, the same must apply to bills authorizing increased spending of public revenues.

Where it is clear that the legislative objective of a bill cannot be accomplished without the dedication of public funds to that objective, the bill must be seen as the equivalent of a bill effecting an appropriation. The amending provision requiring a royal recommendation is found in clause 5 of the bill and appears to be the only provision requiring a royal recommendation.

Therefore, in its present form, I will decline to put the question on third reading unless a royal recommendation is received for this bill.

Today, the debate is on the motion for second reading and will continue as scheduled.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Bills

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today, not only as Bloc Québécois member for the riding of Manicouagan, but also on behalf of Quebec voters, to whom the Bloc Québécois have been making a commitment on this issue during election campaigns since 1993, to rise to ask the federal government to give back to workers the money from the employment insurance account.

Today, I am pleased to take part in the debate, at second reading, of Bill C-280, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another act in consequence, which provides for the establishment of an independent fund managed by a commission. The commission would also have the power to set the premium rate.

First, the advantage to commissioners in managing an independent fund is that they would manage a real insurance program. As we know, employment insurance is an insurance for workers who lose their job, or whose employment is terminated. As regards these commissioners, the chairperson would be appointed by the House of Commons; the two vice-chairpersons could be the deputy ministers of the departments involved; seven representatives would be chosen by employees and seven by employers. After all, it is the employees and employers who contribute to the employment insurance account. The federal government does not invest any money in it. It only plays an administrative role with the fund.

The committee, which would report once a year to the Department of Human Resources and Development Skills, could also submit a report to the House of Commons. This means that the report could be made public, and those who contribute to the employment insurance account, namely employees and employers, would have access to it and would be able to see what is happening with the money that they paid through their premiums.

The government must also show greater transparency as regards the employment insurance fund. The fund must not be used, as it has since 1994, to fill the government's coffers. The Prime Minister or the Minister of Finance says that, this year, there is a surplus of $9.1 billion. There is a $4 billion in the employment insurance account. This means that the excess money in the EI fund is used to increase the surplus of the government, which then uses that money for purposes other than those for which it was intended.

The situation is similar in Quebec. I am addressing now voters in Quebec, who pay premiums to the Régie des rentes du Québec. All workers pay RRQ premiums. When they retire, they receive retirement benefits through the independently-managed RRQ.

Thus, we believe that the government should be clear and transparent and ensure that the money paid toward a certain end is not used toward another. We also believe that at least $15 billion per year should be set aside in the EI fund in case of an economic crisis. However, in 2004, according to the Auditor General, the government collected $48 billion in surplus from the EI fund.

The Bloc Québécois is proposing that the government hand back these funds to the employment insurance account management committee, into an independent fund managed by administrators completely independent of the government. This way the government could refund $4.6 billion per year. It would create a management fund and would give that commission the authority to set the premium levels.

The price is not the same when someone thinks he has insurance but in fact does not. This is what happens with respect to the EI fund. One hundred per cent of workers pay premiums; they have no choice, it is the law. However, only four out of ten workers are entitled to it.

The commission would also have the power to determine not only premium rates but to make recommendations to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

The government could make a whole slew of recommendations. Now, this government took the money from workers who contribute to the employment insurance fund in order to increase its surplus and be seen as a good administrator. This reform was brought in under minister Axworthy and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

Actually, the Axworthy reform was much too stringent. The year following the introduction of the reform, the employment insurance fund generated a surplus of $6 billion. In the following years, there was a succession of ministers. After minister Axworthy, there was minister Young. Then we had the present Foreign Affairs Minister, minister Jane Stewart. After her, we had the present Minister of Immigration, who administered the Human Resources Department. Finally, a new minister has been appointed, a member from Quebec and former Minister of Immigration. We hope she will understand workers of Quebec and give them the money which belongs to them.

When Prime Minister Chrétien decided to pay off the deficit with the surplus of the employment insurance fund, it became public robbery. Today, we have a commission of inquiry into the sponsorship scandal. There should also be a commission on the misappropriation of the $46 billion which served for purposes other than those intended.

Contributors to the employment insurance fund, employees and employers, have paid insurance to workers in case of job loss or severance. Now, those surpluses ended up in the consolidated revenue fund of the government, which was therefore able to increase its yearly surpluses by using those funds to pay off the deficit.

Therefore, this is a disguised tax for those who have access to employment insurance, since they contribute, not only as workers but also through their income tax and taxes like GST and PST. In fact, they are paying contributions which will be of no benefit to them. Only four workers out of ten will be paid employment insurance benefits.

The misappropriation of $46 billion justifies a public inquiry. In fact, it is a bigger scandal than that of the sponsorships. I would like the auditor general or even us, in Parliament, to ask publicly for an inquiry commission that could tell us how the government could take the workers money from their employment insurance fund to use it for other purposes.

The government remains insensitive to the situation of seasonal workers and we see more and more poverty in Canada because of the cuts in the employment insurance. Many families in the Manicouagan and Charlevoix areas and in the 75 ridings of Quebec and in fact, in the Maritimes and all of Canada, were penalized by the employment insurance reform.

With its bill, the Bloc Quebecois is calling for the creation of an independent fund that would be managed by independent managers and that could not be used to play politics at the expenses of the unemployed and the workers.

The commission could make many recommendations to the government. We already have a slew of unanimous reports from our human resources committee here, which include 17 recommendations.

The eight recommendations made recently include the creation of an independent fund. It is about time the Liberal government stopped playing politics at the expense of the poorest in our society. People who work two to three months a year do not contribute $20,000 to $25,000 a year to an RRSP. They have difficulty making ends meet. What is important for them, as the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst put it so well, is to put bread and butter on the table and to send their kids to school to get an education. They paid for insurance but, unfortunately, the government prevents them from getting their benefits.

I said earlier that it was a disguised tax. It is a disguised tax when people pay insurance premiums but are prevented from getting insurance benefits and when the money they pay goes to the government's consolidated fund and is used for other purposes namely to reduce the deficit. It is clear then that it is a disguised tax imposed on the unemployed.

Furthermore, it is incredible to think that only four people out of 10 are entitled to EI benefits, that is, six people out of 10 or 60% are not entitled. The majority of these are women, young people, seasonal workers, contract workers. By the way, more and more employers provide contract jobs to workers on call, part-time workers, casual workers, replacements for workers on holidays.

The Employment Insurance Commission is so ridiculous that it imposes contributions on students who interrupt their university or college education in May, enter the workforce during the summer and go back to school in August. The law forces them to contribute to the EI fund during their summer employment, knowing very well that these students will never receive EI benefits, since they must have worked 910 hours to qualify.

Let us take the example of a student who enters the workforce. He is a seasonal, on call, casual or temporary worker. As he cannot spend his whole life doing this, he decides to go back to school. The government, through the Department of Human Resources Development and Skills Development, does not give him employment insurance benefits. The first reason is that it is voluntary termination of employment. The second is that he is not available for employment. The young guy decides to go back to university to take an engineering, a technician's course or some other course required to be able to work in a trade on a longer term the year round. Once again, the student contributed for a few months or a year, or even more, to the EI fund. When, for some reason, he decides to quit his work to go back to university or college, he is not entitled to EI benefits.

Today, with early retirement systems, people are retiring younger and younger, for example, at 55, 58 or 60 years old. Young people will replace them. When these young people enter the workforce, which, by the way, is not easy in the regions, they must work at least 910 hours to qualify for EI benefits.

With the establishment of an independent committee and of an independent fund, non-politicized managers would have to issue recommendations with a view to improve the employment insurance benefits system. The 910-hour criterion is unacceptable for women and young people who are on the labour market.

This was not the first time that former Prime Minister Chrétien was grabbing jobless people by the throat. And yet, seasonal workers in the construction, fishing, tourism, forestry or paper industries need employment insurance. Jobs are seasonal, not the workers.

In closing, I would like to submit a request about the royal recommendation concerning this bill.

We have a majority in the House. Both the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party support this bill, which was brought forward by the Bloc Québécois. I ask the Senate to allow the government to consider the bill at third reading. The Liberal government may be in the minority in this House, but it holds the majority in the Senate.

If the government wants to send the right signals, if it really wants to debate this bill and bring amendments, let it give instructions to the Senate. We are ready to debate the bill and to vote at third reading.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Bills

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know and it may be important for this House to know why this bill mentions a change in the composition of the Canada Employment Insurance Commission. I think that, currently, four commissioners sit on the commission and the bill would raise that number to 17. How did the member get to that number of 17 commissioners for that commission?

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Bills

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, we are proposing an independent and transparent fund whose sole mandate would be to manage the employment insurance program. To that end, we propose the appointment of commissioners. It is a proposal. To ensure that the government can vote in favour of the bill, we can always propose to amend the number of commissioners.

What we are proposing for discussion is that there be a chairman. Any true commission is run par a chairman; the two vice-chairmen would be the deputy ministers of the Treasury Board and of Human Resources Development. Employers could recommend seven representatives and employees could also recommend seven representatives.

Employers and employees who are contributing to the employment insurance fund would administer the fund and their contributions to it.

If the hon. member is not comfortable with the appointment of 17 commissioners and if, for that reason, he cannot support the bill, I suggest that he comes up with an amendment. We would be ready to accept an uneven number, whether it be 17, 15, 13 or 11. I have no problem with that. The idea is to create an independent fund.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Bills

6:30 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to your comments on the ruling as to whether this legislation would require additional expenditures. I wonder if my colleague would care to address that with respect to the point made about increasing the size of the commission. I would assume that a commission of 17 persons would cost more than a commission of 4 persons.

Does he expect that it would not cause an increase in expenditures and therefore those extra administrative costs would come out of money which could be going toward benefits? If so, this legislation would be quite in order at third reading in the way the Speaker described it. Does he propose adding additional moneys to the envelope in order to pay for the 17 person commission? If so, the legislation would therefore be out of order.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Bills

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy that two Liberal members have stood up to ask questions. First of all, members across do not seem against the establishment of an independent fund, nor against giving the commission the power to set the premium rate. They do not seem to be against giving the commission the ability to make recommendations in order to improve the employment insurance system. They are much more concerned about the administration cost of this commission composed of 17 members.

I am thinking about the surpluses accumulated to date and the administration cost for the program. The government is not into volunteerism. It has much more civil servants than we think. We could multiply the number 17 by a rather large number and the result would be the number of people currently managing the Employment Insurance Commission and the department, namely the deputy minister, the minister, all the civil servants, all those who are responsible for issuing cheques. In other words, the whole administration.

We might even save money. However, with regard to the number of commissioners, this is only a proposal. There could be amendments, changes and even discussions. I suppose the bill will be referred to a committee where members of other parties will be able to make proposals and reach unanimous consent.

I remind the Liberal government that at the Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, all the members, whether they were from the Liberal Party or any other party, voted in favour of the creation of an independent fund. The employee, the employer and all the witnesses heard it.

The Prime Minister, who once was finance minister, carried out consultations just before the elections. Everywhere he went, be it in the Maritimes, in Quebec or in Nova Scotia, he was told that the current plan did not make sense. He was told to stop taking money out of the employment insurance fund to pay down the deficit and to give this money to those who had contributed to the plan. One senator even dissented from the report of the bogus committee set up by the Prime Minister, which was written before the consultations were even completed.

I think that the Liberals are now through making electoral promises because this has now been going on for the last three elections. It is time for the Prime Minister and the new elected and appointed minister to take a position and to look at the unanimous recommendations made by the House of Commons committee. They should examine the recommendations the Prime Minister got from his small committee.

They will see that our position is easily supported throughout Canada and that the employees and the employers are calling for an independent fund. This money should not be used for anything else. It is a disgrace. It is worst than the sponsorship scandal.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Bills

6:35 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to address the subject of the Employment Insurance Act. I want to thank the member for Manicouagan for giving us an opportunity to debate these important issues.

Bill C-280 proposes some fundamental amendments to the EI act and I think it is important to provide some historical context for the present structure. This historical context I think will illustrate the importance, complexity and challenges presented by the proposals contained in the bill.

Let me begin with the employment insurance account, which the member mentioned. It is important to appreciate why the EI account is reported within the consolidated revenue fund and not, as the bill proposes, separate from the accounts of Canada.

In the early 1980s, the Auditor General of the time expressed concerns about the fragmented reporting of government activities. To rectify the situation, that Auditor General was of the opinion that the EI premiums paid by employers and employees were federal revenues that, given the government's control over EI policy and programs, should be included in the reported Government of Canada revenues.

That was a decision of the Auditor General of the day. I know the member respects the Auditor General. The change in accounting was a response by the government of the day to what the Auditor General said.

On the Auditor General's advice, in 1986 the EI account was fully integrated into the government's general finances. This practice follows appropriate accounting methods consistent with the standards of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. This reasoning still holds true with today's Auditor General. Ms. Fraser indicated support for the current EI accounting procedure at last November's public accounts committee meeting.

At that meeting Ms. Fraser said:

In our view, this is the correct method of accounting, and it complies with accounting standards for government...Employment insurance is considered to be a government program: government determines the rate of premiums, eligibility criteria and benefits....

She went on to say:

--I have trouble imagining that the employment insurance program could be excluded from the government's summary financial statements, which include all government activities.

Clearly the Auditor General of Canada strongly endorses current accounting procedures for the EI account.

It is important to note that because the EI account has been consolidated with other accounts of Canada in reality it is not an actual account containing cash, but rather it is a bookkeeping tool.

However, this government is committed to transparency. That is why the reply to the Speech from the Throne contained an order of reference to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities instructing it to recommend measures which would ensure that all future uses of the employment insurance program would only be for the benefit of workers and not for any other purpose. The committee is seized with that at the present time.

The standing committee tabled its report with its unanimous recommendations last December. We intend to analyze these recommendations carefully and give them serious consideration before responding to the committee. I am confident that the government's response will represent improvements and address some of the concerns raised by the member in Bill C-280.

I would now, however, like to note particular elements contained in the bill that require careful consideration. One of these refers to ensuring that the difference between the assets of the employment insurance account and its liabilities does not exceed $15 billion. The member mentioned this.

Placing a cap on the account is something that would need to be examined carefully to ensure that it meets the test of time and future cyclical needs of the EI program. In other words, unemployment demands vary with the economy. Does this cap which is being mentioned cope with those variations?

This point raises the larger issue of an independent fund as recommended in the bill, requiring the replacement of the federal government's at present unlimited obligation to pay EI benefits with the liability of a separate account. Although the bill recommends that the federal government should still be required to lend the account money if it was unable to meet its obligations, this would mean that the account could not be operated at arm's length from government.

It is clear, therefore, that the changes proposed in the bill would be sufficient to cause EI account activities to be outside of the consolidated revenues.

I would now like to return to the other major proposal of this bill: the establishment of the new 17 member tripartite Canada employment insurance commission.

This proposition raises several potential issues, not the least of which is that an independent commission could have important effects on the capacity of government to set direction on the policy and program elements of the EI program. It is important that the government have the ability to ensure the program responds to the labour market needs of all Canadians.

EI plays a key role in Canada's economy and social safety net by providing temporary income support and helping workers adjust to the labour market. It is crucial that the government retain the ability to serve the labour market needs of Canadians.

In addition, a jump from a commission of 4 members to one of 17 could affect the commission's ability to reach consensus and get issues resolved in an efficient and effective manner. My colleague raised that question earlier. Departing from the commission's present composition of the Deputy Minister and Associate Deputy Minister of HRSD, as well as a commissioner of workers and a commissioner of employers, requires careful analysis and needs to be cost effective.

Finally, the establishment of an ongoing administration of a 17 member commission that would operate and oversee the EI account would be a costly undertaking. Canadian premium payers do not want their money spent on administration. They want it spent on benefits. That said, it is an important issue and one that the government will consider carefully in developing a response.

Returning to the issue of EI premium rate setting, the government is reviewing the rate setting process and will be considering approaches for a new mechanism in responding to the standing committee. It would therefore be premature to make changes to the process prior to the completion of that work.

That said, it is important to note that the government has demonstrated prudent financial management over the EI account. Over the past 11 years, premium rates have steadily gone down while the benefits to Canadians have been steadily enriched since 2000.

Just last December, the Government of Canada announced that the 2005 rate for employees is $1.95 and for employers $2.73 per $100 of insurable earnings. As a result of these rate reductions, employers and employees will pay $10.5 billion less in premiums than they did under the 1994 rate when this government came to power.

Canadians can be proud of their efforts to strengthen the Canadian economy. It is that strength and the number of Canadians working that have allowed us to lower the rate yet again.

While I appreciate the member's contribution to the debate on the EI Act and welcome this opportunity, as I said, to share ideas, for the reasons that I have outlined I believe that it would be premature to move forward with this bill.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Bills

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party supports the principles set out in this bill.

In supporting the principles of the bill, we look at the fundamental values behind it, the values of fairness. We look at helping those genuinely in need in society. We believe that people should be able to enjoy the fruits of their own labour. We also believe that the best form of employment insurance is a strong economy that creates jobs so people never have to be unemployed.

I thought I would start by first responding to some things that my friend the parliamentary secretary said about why the employment insurance fund was rolled into the consolidated revenues of the government. He pointed to the Auditor General's reference to certain accounting principles.

However, what happened is that the Liberal government then used that technical approach once the fund was rolled into consolidated revenues as a free ticket to raid the employment insurance fund to the tune of some $46 billion over 10 years.

That is $46 billion that the government took from employers and employees who contributed in the hopes of having their work and their future secured. The government used that money, diverting it for other purposes, perhaps including, as my friend pointed out, supporting the sponsorship scandal that has drawn such attention in recent days.

What my friend also failed to mention was the role that the Auditor General played in exposing the inappropriateness of that government diversion of funds from the employment insurance purposes for which they were intended to other purposes. That was condemned by the Auditor General one year after another and in one report after another.

It was not until this government faced a minority situation, where opposition parties could bind together to bring to the fore the importance of this issue, that once and for all the government is being held to account. That theft from workers and employers who paid in that money is hopefully going to be brought to a halt.

Certainly this private member's bill put forward by my friend from Manicouagan is a good example of how we are working on this side of the House, regardless of the party we belong to, to try to bring an end to the theft of those moneys by the Liberal government.

The $46 billion accumulated notional surplus from the employment insurance system reflects what was, over the past decade, a deliberate program of overtaxing workers and employers in order to divert those moneys to fund other government priorities.

As has been mentioned, the Conservative Party worked very hard at committee to have the first eight recommendations of the employment insurance subcommittee approved and adopted. The recommendations were designed to bring the system into fiscal responsibility. We were pleased to see that happen.

Those are only recommendations out of the committee. We are concerned that the government may not respond appropriately. When I hear the comments from the parliamentary secretary, I am concerned that it may not. That is why this private member's bill from the member for Manicouagan is most timely.

The practice of diverting those funds to other purposes, as has occurred with the $46 billion out of employment insurance, is intellectually dishonest. It violates the law. That is exactly what the Auditor General found. That practice has attracted her criticism repeatedly. It also represents, most profoundly, an unfair and regressive form of taxation.

Instead of funding government spending increases out of more progressive forms of taxation such as income taxes, the use of this EI surplus for that purpose takes proportionately more from the working poor and from small businesses. As such, it taxes those who can afford it least, shifting the burden from those who have means.

The reason is simple. When someone pays into employment insurance and they achieve a certain income level there is a cap that they run into. Those who have high incomes and earn far more than the cap stop paying into employment insurance. As a result, the burden falls disproportionately on those with lower incomes.

That may make sense in an employment insurance system where only a certain portion of earnings is insured, but when that money is taken and used instead for the general programs of the government, it represents a replacement of what would otherwise be income taxes, a much more progressive form of taxation, a much fairer way of funding government programs.

For that reason, we find the approach taken by the government in the past 10 years of diverting these employment insurance funds to be an unacceptable, punitive approach that has hurt workers more than anybody else. On the other hand, it could only have happened by having insurance premiums that were too high. That was the other thing the government did over the past decade to achieve the $46 billion surplus. Consistently, illegally, year after year, the premiums were set far above what was necessary to maintain the system as viable, resulting in a surplus. In so doing, what effectively was occurring was that those taxes themselves, those premiums, were too high. That is a job killing payroll tax. It stifled and continues today to stifle the ability of employers to create new jobs and economic growth.

As I have said, the best form of employment insurance is the creation of new jobs. That has been harmed consistently by the $46 billion in overtaxation through EI premiums in the past decade, something that has yet to stop. Even in the new premium which has been set, any basic math tells us that a surplus will continue to be generated. Our priority is to stop the unfair practice which hurts working families and the businesses that have had their money taken by the government under false pretences. The theft must stop and the money must be returned.

Some items trouble us about the proposed legislation. It is the commission with its 17 members and a potential policy-making role.

We feel that the fundamental structure of employment insurance as a program should remain primarily a matter of government policy. The number of 17 commissioners perhaps seems to us an unwieldy and large number. For that reason, I am somewhat encouraged by the Speaker's ruling and would encourage my friend from Manicouagan to consider shutting that portion of the legislation which stands as a barrier to its passage. This would make it possible for us to embrace the bill with a full enthusiasm completely.

There are other problems with the employment insurance system as it works today. One of the biggest problem is that people fall through the cracks. Increasingly the government in an effort again to shift that burden out of their own revenues has layered program after program, what are essentially social programs, on to the employment insurance mechanism as a vehicle to deliver those social services, whether they be maternity leave or extended maternity leave, compassionate care leave and the like.

The problem is that increasingly more and more Canadians are not part of the employment insurance system or, if they are, they are not eligible in the special, unique circumstances that arise. People fall through the cracks. This increasing reliance on employment insurance to deliver things like maternity care, compassionate care and sickness leave and the like results in a discriminatory situation where many Canadians simply do not have the support they need. That has to be addressed in the long term.

Similarly, the reliance on using employment insurance as the vehicle to deliver training means we are delivering training that often is not aimed at increasing the productivity of society or ensuring that people actually are better off after the training and better equipped to get a job. Rather, it treats it as an extension of the employment insurance system. Decisions are made on what training to pursue based on length of eligibility and whether we can extend our eligibility, rather than will this help us to contribute more to the economy. Will this mean we end up with a more productive workforce? Will this mean we will have overall economic growth?

Those issues have to be addressed in the long term. While they may not be addressed in this bill, these are things I think are important priorities and they certainly are for the Conservative Party. I am not sure they are for the government yet, but we will continue to press them to make it so.

Finally, I wanted to address the issue of long term viability of the employment insurance system. We think it is important that the management of the system, the premiums, the rate setting mechanism which has been politicized in the past decade be restored to accountability. This has to be the number one priority. Before we start looking at major changes to the system, we have to ensure we have corrected the mismanagement, the fiscal theft that this government has engaged in for years. We have to ensure that the new structure of it can be viable.

Before we tinker with it massively, we have to ensure it is viable and works and can be sustainable. Our concern is that if one makes too many changes too quickly, we may face a situation where the long term viability of the system is in jeopardy.

I am confident that the proposed legislation before us in Bill C-280 does not do that. I am confident the legislation would help to contribute to restoring fiscal accountability in the system, putting an end to the consistent theft of workers' and employers' contributions to employment insurance and their diversion to other purposes by this government.