House of Commons Hansard #80 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, members of the Conservative Party are proud to vote yes.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois members will support this motion.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, members of the NDP are voting no to this motion.

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

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

It being 6:38 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from February 8 consideration of the motion 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' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-280. The purpose of the bill is to address the EI surplus that has been accumulating over the last six years since the Liberals set aside the rate setting process.

Bill C-280 contains two key elements: first, to establish a separate account to ensure that access to funds raised through premiums do not go to general revenue; and second, to ensure that the government cannot set aside the rate setting process without House approval.

The bill also proposes to increase the size of the Employment Insurance Commission to 17 members from the present 4. The proposal to increase the size of the commission is, I believe, an unreasonable request. It is both unwieldy and costly. I will not be able to support that part of the bill but I would strongly support it if an amendment were made not to increase the size of the commission.

The Conservative Party believes that the government needs to be held accountable for a cumulative balance in the EI insurance account, which continues to grow year after year despite repeated objections from the Auditor General that it violates the Employment Insurance Act.

Through the continued suspension of a fair and transparent rate setting process, the government continues to allow the surplus to accumulate. The Conservative Party believes that this surplus is the property of those who contributed to employment insurance, that being the workers and employers.

The $46 billion accumulated national surplus from the employment insurance system reflects a deliberate program of overtaxing workers and their employers to divert those moneys to fund other government priorities. This practice is misleading, dishonest and violates the law. It has attracted the criticism of the Auditor General and is an unfair and regressive tax. Yes, it is an actual tax.

Instead of funding government spending increases out of a more progressive income tax, the use of the EI surplus for that purpose takes proportionately more from the working poor and small businesses. As such, it taxes those who can least afford it and shifts the burden from those with the means to do so.

The EI program has a problem and that problem is the fact that it has a $46 billion surplus.

Another part of the EI program, which is called compassionate care, is another example of sloppy government legislation and mismanagement. The compassionate care program, which was announced two years ago in the budget speech and became effective on January 1, 2004, was established to ensure that dying Canadians could receive compassionate care in the last days of their lives. The unfortunate part of the program is that the sloppy legislation did not appropriately define who could take care of that dying person. The people who qualify as caregivers are the children and the spouses or the common law spouses. Sisters and brothers do not qualify.

The compassionate care program was funded last year for $190 million but only $11 million of that was actually used. A large number of people who applied for compassionate care were denied it.

I have a story involving a constituent named Sue who came to my office and told me her story about applying for compassionate care. Sue, who is 43 years old, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Sue was taking care of her 73 year old mother. Her sister came down from the Okanagan to take care of Sue. She got released from her employer and went down to Human Resources Canada to apply for compassionate care. However she was told by human resources that although they felt sorry for what was happening to her sister, she did not qualify for compassionate care because a sister was not considered part of the family.

That sounded absurd, so we checked it out. We found out absolutely that human resources does not consider a sister to be part of the family.

I immediately brought this to the attention the Minister of Human Resources and was told that the program was under review. I asked the minister to use discretion and to keep Sue and her sister together. I was informed that there was a category called “other”. What is “other”? I found out that the EI program never defined “other”. It was announced, as I said, two years ago and started in 2004. One can apply online right now for compassionate care and, sure enough, the word “other” is one of the categories. However If one clicks on the “other” button the application goes through but pretty soon the answer comes back that since there is no definition for “other” the application is denied. It became very frustrating.

I started receiving emails from other Canadians. I received an email from Olga in Ontario. Olga, who had a sister in a similar situation, went out to Richmond, British Columbia to take care of her sister. She also applied for compassionate but was denied because the minister defines a sister as not part of the family under this program.

Olga appealed the decision and went before the Board of Referees, which is the appeal board for the compassionate care under the EI program. The appeal board did the right thing and said that a sister was absolutely a part of the family. It told Olga that she should be able to take care of her sister in her dying days.

However the unimaginable happened. The government appealed the appeal board decision. It is saying that Olga cannot take care of her sister because, why? Because it has a program where it has not defined “other”?

It is wrong, it is confusing and it leaves Canadians who are in the last days of their life not being taken care of. The government is keeping families apart.

It was very frustrating to find out that $190 million was budgeted for this program last year and the review process that is going on with this EI compassionate care, and the government is denying families to stay together. Sisters cannot take care of sisters and brothers cannot take care of brothers. Do members know what the government has done? The government has reduced the $190 million down to $11 million. This is how it reviews this program. This is how it is dealing with families who are pleading for compassionate care.

We must remember that the EI fund has a $46 billion surplus and the government is not accountable. It allows $190 million for a compassionate care EI program and the way it is reviewing this is by saying that instead of the program having $190 million, it will only be $11 million this year.

When I asked to be part of that review process I was told that I could not because the minister's staff was dealing with it. I want to be part of that. Canadians need to be part of that.

The solution to this is to keep it simple. People who are dying should be able to decide who takes care of them in the last days of their life. This may be a sister or it be may a mother or father, but I believe people who are dying have the right under the Constitution of Canada and under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to say who they want taking care of them.

The review we can look at is whether six weeks long enough. The compassionate and easy thing to do, which I believe the minister has the discretion to permit, is to allow the people who are dying to decide who they want taking care of them. Of course the care provider has to qualify for EI benefits, which is reasonable, but not permitting family to take care of family because that has not been defined is beyond comprehension

This program is just another example of a government creating sloppy legislation. It knows the right things to do but it does not carry them out. It is broken promises. It promised to take care of Canadians but it does not follow through. We hear a lot of rhetoric and excuses while Canadians are dying.

I support the accountability that the bill presents.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Beth Phinney Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-280, which seeks to make changes in Canada's Employment Insurance Act and the Department of Human Resources Development Act.

The bill raises two key issues with respect to our employment insurance system. One is the proposed creation of an independent 17 member tripartite commission that would replace the current 4 member commission. The proposed commission is designed to be at arm's length from the government.

The other change is the treatment of the employment insurance account within the general accounts of the Government of Canada. The bill proposes to keep the account separate and under the control of the new commission.

These are important points. In fact, they are similar to issues that have already been raised by the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Skills Development which has made its own recommendations on these matters.

The government welcomes and takes seriously the standing committee's unanimous recommendations and is considering them very carefully. We pledge to report back to Parliament within the prescribed 150 days.

It is important to note that the government has already moved to address issues raised in the bill. In December 2004, the Government of Canada decreased EI premium rates for 2005. As a result, employee premiums are now down to $1.95 per $100 of earnings and the employer rates are down to $2.73 per $100 of insurable earnings.

This latest decrease represents the 11th consecutive reduction in EI premiums since 1993. This means employers and employees will pay some $10.5 billion less in premiums this year than they would have paid under the 1994 rates and, at the individual level, it means employees who make maximum contributions are paying $485 less this year in annual premiums than if the 1994 rates were still in place. This is good news.

The government has also committed to put in place a new rate setting mechanism for EI premiums. Our recent federal budget has done exactly that. Following public consultations, the government pledged to develop a new permanent rate setting mechanism based on five key principles: first, premium rates should be set transparently; second, changes should be based on independent expert advice; third, expected revenues from premiums should correspond to expected program costs; fourth, rate setting should mitigate the impact on the business cycle; and fifth, premium rates should be relatively stable over time.

The proposed new rate setting mechanism is built on the experience that has already led to steady reductions in EI premium rates and it takes into account the views of stakeholders and the standing committee of the House of Commons.

Under the proposed new mechanism, the EI chief actuary would estimate the break-even rate for the coming year. He would then provide a report of this calculation to the EI Commission. The commission would then make this report public as soon as possible. Stakeholders would be consulted, after which a rate would be set by the commission for the coming year. Fifteen cents would be the extent to which an employee premium rate could change from year to year. Our goal would be to ensure premium rate stability and limit any negative impact on the business cycle. The last thing we would want is to see a spike in premium rates during an economic downturn.

In addition, the legislation sets out that the rates for 2006-07 will not exceed $1.95. This is intended to provide additional premium rate stability through the transition to a new rate setting mechanism.

Finally, the Government of Canada would have the authority to override the rates set by the commission, if it were in the public interest to do so, through an order in council.

Let us look now at the proposal in Bill C-280 to separate the employment insurance account from the general accounts of Canada.

In the 1980s the government of the day, a government of a different political stripe than today, acting on the advice of the then auditor general, moved to consolidate the EI account with the government's general account. This was more than a bookkeeping move. It was based on sound public policy principles.

Consolidating the accounts, means the government bears the full responsibility for the obligations of the program.

It is important to remember that some years ago serious concerns were being raised that the old unemployment insurance account was not sustainable because it was operating at deficit. At that time, Canadians were concerned that the program's obligations were greater than its revenues, but were comforted by knowing that the payments were supported by the Government of Canada.

Today the EI account is on a much more sustainable footing and the principle of the government responsibility for paying benefits under the program remains.

Moving the EI account out of the government's general account and to an independent agency requires careful analysis of its effects on the accountability and the government's obligation to pay benefits.

I would also remind the House that from an accounting perspective, today's Auditor General, like her predecessors, also believes the EI account should be consolidated with the government's general account.

In testimony to the public accounts committee on November 2004, for example, the Auditor General said:

--this is the correct method of accounting and it complies with accounting standards for government as promulgated by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.

She also said:

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

Separating the EI account from the government's overall accounts, as Bill C-280 proposes, may not be consistent with the opinions of the Auditor General.

Finally, there is the issue of structure of the EI commission that Bill C-280 proposes. The bill would replace the current four person commission that administers the EI account by creating a new 17 member commission. I am not sure how the number 17 was arrived at, but I wonder about the implications of this proposal. For example, would a commission more than four times as big cost more than four times as much to operate? If it did, would these funds not be better used to provide benefits to Canadians?

There would also be the issue of achieving consensus on decisions among such a large number of individuals. The current commission is composed of two senior public officials, along with one person representing employers and one representing employees. It is important to note that only one of the two senior public officials gets a vote, which reinforces the parity issue among the three partners. Having a much larger group requires careful examination in terms of cost and effectiveness.

The government is committed to monitoring and assessing the EI program to ensure that it remains responsive to the Canadian people. The Speech from the Throne reiterated this commitment and the February budget as well as the EI program enhancements announced following the budget acted on it.

Clearly, the government has demonstrated its willingness, indeed its desire, to assist workers to adapt to today's labour market, while keeping EI flexible and responsive to the needs of Canadians.

It is for the reasons I have outlined that I am unable to support the legislation changes proposed in Bill C-280.

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I apologize for interrupting the proceedings. I think if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent, following consultations among all the parties, that during tonight's debate on Government Business No. 10, the take note debate on the RCMP, any member who wishes to split his or her time may do so.

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion 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 now read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

April 12th, 2005 / 6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to be able to speak on this bill. First, I would like to congratulate and thank my hon. colleague from Manicouagan for introducing this bill and defending it both vigorously and rigorously, as he always does when it comes to standing up for the people of his riding. He does so aptly, as he does here, in the House of Commons.

This bill is necessary under the circumstances. It has every reason to be passed, except with respect to what my colleague opposite just mentioned.

I find rather tragic, however, that anyone would argue today that it is mainly about premiums, when those contributing never asked that the premiums be lowered.

It is not about how much money there is in the fund either, since surpluses have been and continue to be accumulated. My Conservative colleague alluded to that earlier: as of March 31, 2004, there was an accumulated surplus in excess of $46 billion, which was used for purposes other than what the fund was designed for, namely employment insurance.

These surpluses were built on the backs of workers who had the misfortune of losing their jobs and for whom this Liberal government has restricted accessibility and eligibility.

Why are things that way? Because the Liberal government can draw as it likes on this fund and do what it wants with it. This fund is administered by a small group chosen by the government, as my colleague opposite pointed out. She was wondering whether having 17 administrators instead of four was not something that could compromise the fund. If I have ever heard anything nonsensical in this House, that is it.

How can one claim that 17 people are going to administer a $17 billion a year fund and represent some 17 or 18 million working people who contribute to the fund at one time or another and for whom rules must be established to enable them to access employment insurance? It was just claimed today that it is unthinkable to have 17 people administering this fund. Actually, the opposite is true because having four people to administer this fund eliminates a lot of transparency from its administration and excludes the two groups that contribute, namely employers and employees, from its administration. This is nonsense and gives rise to the abuses that we see in other government sectors. We have seen the abuses when there is a lack of transparency. It is the same for the employment insurance fund.

It is entirely appropriate that this fund should be independent again. Does this mean that the government would not have supervisory powers? The Auditor General has told us how this should work: by being accountable, of course, with a government presence in the persons of its deputy ministers and a representative, the chair, appointed by the governor in council. This means that of the 17 people involved in the administration of this fund, there would be seven employee representatives and seven employer representatives. Why this number? A number had to be chosen at a given time in comparison with the administration of a similar fund, to name just one, that of injured workers in Quebec. There is a roughly similar number and the fund is very well managed.

Workers and employers are not irresponsible people but actually take primary responsibility for the money they administer on behalf of the people they represent. Before it is insinuated that such a fund would be better administered by four people appointed by the government, even if employer and employee representatives are present, recent experience shows that this is not the case. It is used for other purposes.

The bill introduced by my colleague from Manicouagan remedies that situation so that the rate set for contributions will be determined yearly in keeping with a recommendation by the commission itself and with a view to improving or maintaining the program depending on the needs of contributors. The EI account would also be established on the basis of each year's requirements. It would be part of the funds on Canada's books, but would not be part of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, so that it could not be used for other purposes. One thing is totally unacceptable: the money being treated as a supplementary tax on workers and employers and used for other purposes.

The commission would be administered as I have already said, that is, by a majority representing employers and employees, who would report to Parliament. As is the case everywhere else, there would be arbitration if there were any problem in deciding what level the fund should be kept at. Representatives selected by both groups concerned and appointed by the governor in council would be capable of administering the fund because they would be chosen in keeping with the criteria of each group.

The Bloc Québécois has always disagreed with the way the government has handled the EI fund. I will remind you that during the 36th Parliament in 1999, seven of the 137 bills tabled in the House were introduced by the Bloc and concerned employment insurance.

The EI situation leads us to reflect on the duties of government. A government's first duty is to respect the laws it has itself enacted. The second is not to appropriate things that do not belong to it. In the matter of concern here, the government of the current Prime Minister has violated those two fundamental rules by helping itself to the surplus in the EI fund.

This program was designed as a type of insurance. When people need to make use of that insurance, after paying into it all their working lives, they find that their contributions have been used for something else. Two things would happen to any insurance company in a situation like this. First, it would be seen as crooked. and second, of course, it would soon be out of business.

This is what we should be considering and what we must decide as a group, with respect to the bill we have before us.

Earlier, my colleague opposite also cited the report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. On December 13, 2004, this committee prepared a unanimous report recommending precisely what we are putting on the table, that is, an independent fund administered by a majority of people who contribute to it—equal representation of employers and employees—with its own management.

The time has come for the government to implement this recommendation. I am pleased to see that our Conservative colleagues agree that the situation needs to be remedied.

Unfortunately, the examples they are giving are not suitable in this case. The bill addressed the issue of compassionate leave, and the Conservatives voted against it. In this case, I invite them, and all my other colleagues in this House, to vote in favour of Bill C-280, in order finally to correct this injustice toward workers, so that they can administer their own fund in their best interest.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate. Let me also congratulate my Bloc colleague, the member for Manicouagan, who sponsored Bill C-280.

What we are dealing with in terms of what the government has done is one of the most disgraceful acts of abuse of power that one could imagine. Let us understand the scenario.

The government, by virtue of changing the regulations and the qualifying factors for EI, has pushed virtually every worker out of the lineup for EI, whether the worker is deserving or not, because he or she no longer technically qualifies. Roughly one in four workers will qualify for EI.

At the same time, the government has taken all this extra money it has now acquired because it is not paying it out to as many workers because it has denied them access, and has used it to build up a surplus. That is a complete abuse of the consolidated revenue fund, the general accounts of the Government of Canada.

Personally I am not opposed to the notion of a consolidated revenue fund for the simple reason that government needs an opportunity to put money where it is needed. I suspect a lot of my NDP colleagues feel the same way. Crises do come up and priorities change. There are a whole host of reasons that a government would need to move money from a fund with a little extra to an area that needs help. SARS comes to mind. Money has to be found from somewhere, so it is moved around. I have no problem with that.

I give the government its due, although it breaks my heart to do it. The Conservatives in this country, regardless of whether they go by P.C. or Conservative, or in the case of British Columbia they are all wrapped up in Liberals and it is the same in Quebec, the fact of the matter is that the right-wing Tories think that tax cuts are the answer to everything. They think that cutting taxes is the answer and eventually we will not need to worry about things like the EI fund because lo and behold all these magical jobs will be created by virtue of corporate tax cuts.

We know from Ontario's experience that works great as long as the overall North American economy is booming, but as soon as it cuts back, what did the Ernie Eaves government do? It put its corporate tax cuts on hold for a year because it could not afford them. If the argument that cutting taxes generates jobs and that in turn generates new tax revenue is true and therefore they pay for themselves, then it seems to me that the worse off the economy is and the less money there is, the more we should be advocating for tax cuts because they will turn things around.

That is not the case. As soon as the North American economy went in the ditch, Ontario followed right behind. The Conservatives in Ontario were forced to put their tax cuts on hold thereby, in my opinion, putting the lie to their whole theory.

As I said, I do not have a problem with the notion of a consolidated revenue fund. However, because this tax cut mantra has reached fever proportions, at least until recently it was difficult for anyone to argue for any kind of increase in revenue to the Government of Ontario because it was a politically impossible thing to do on the doorstep.

The government and other right-wing governments across Canada have made it virtually politically impossible to run on a platform of new revenues. We need to find a way where the public will appreciate the transparency and see where the money is going. Dedicated taxes, I have already explained why I have a problem with that, but in this context it seems to be the only way that one can make a case.

The Liberals in Canada have so badly mismanaged and tainted the whole fund that it is necessary now to provide almost an artificial transparency for the public as it relates to this. Who can blame them? A surplus of $46 billion is not a bit of an overrun. Who is not in favour of running surpluses? It provides the means to reinvest the money in places in Canada that will do us the most good going into the future and will help the most people. That is no problem, but be up front about it.

What is obscene about this is that it is all being put forward as some kind of magical economic elixir that the Liberals have managed to do and that is how this happened. That is hogwash.

By the way, it bugs me that it is called the employment insurance fund. I have never understood why it is not called the unemployment insurance fund. One does not have insurance for a job; one has insurance for when one does not have a job, but that is just a personal thing.

The Liberals allow the money in the fund to accumulate, the same money over the years, but they start cutting back on who gets the benefits. They know there is going to be a huge surplus. They apply that to everything else they are doing and say, “Are we not wonderful?” No, they are not.

In the first place, the most obscene thing is that all the workers who have lost their jobs then find out the government is not even going to be there to help them out with a fund that the workers paid for. That is the maddening thing. All the workers have to pay into the fund and a quarter of them get to benefit. It was not that way when the Liberals took power. Here we are with a $46 billion accumulated surplus that the government wants to write off as being due to the Liberals being wonderful economic managers.

The only argument I have heard that to me has any substance at all is the issue of going from a four member commission to a 17 member commission. Let us understand that the commission is made up of a chair who is appointed by the House, two vice-chairs who could be the deputy ministers of two departments involved in managing the fund, and seven representatives on the employer and employee side. Why so many? The argument from my colleague who is sponsoring this bill is that one wants to ensure there is as much neutrality, impartiality and independence as possible and making sure there are appointees from outside government bureaucracy is a good way to do it.

I have heard some Conservatives mention it, but the Liberals--and I looked at the parliamentary secretary's remarks before I stood up--went on at great length to talk about how this is an abusive waste. I do not know whether it should be 14 members or 10 members, but I certainly do not think that quibbling over that number is important enough not to support the bill. It is such a small amount of money relative to the $46 billion that we are talking about that to me it is a red herring. The Liberals are looking for reasons to justify why they are opposed when in reality they just do not want their special little piggy bank to be taken away from them.

I thought my colleague, the NDP critic for EI, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, said it well the other night when he made his remarks. This is his opening comment straight from Hansard :

Mr. Speaker, I can assure you that I will not be saying this evening that the government has stolen the workers' money. It has only taken it without asking.

That is the essence of this.

At the end of the day, the details over how big the commission should be is not enough, in my opinion, to stop anybody from supporting this bill. It is obscene that there are so few workers covered by the fund. It is obscene that the government continues to accumulate massive surpluses. It is obscene that the government says there is an overall government surplus because of good fiscal management when in reality it is because it shafted the unemployed workers of this country. This bill attempts to correct that. That is why I and my colleagues in the NDP caucus will be supporting this bill, because it helps unemployed workers, as opposed to the Liberals who have been hurting them.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-280 introduced by my colleague from Manicouagan, especially since he is from the riding next to mine and once represented part of the riding that I currently have the honour of representing. I am talking about the great traditional region of Charlevoix and the Haute-Côte-Nord regional municipality.

Introducing this bill to create an independent employment insurance fund makes sense considering the work the Bloc Québécois has been doing since 1993. Some work was even done between 1990 and 1993, before we formed the official opposition. Nonetheless, it must be acknowledged that the Bloc Québécois has defended the interests of Quebeckers and also the interests of the regions in Quebec, which, like my region, are greatly affected by the problem of seasonal employment and work involving various interruptions.

What do we mean when we talk about seasonal employment? Among other things, we mean the entire fishing industry. Even if they wanted to take their boats out in mid-January, when the ice is four feet thick, workers could not work in those conditions.

Tourism is another seasonal industry. I must say that the people in the regions are doing an amazing job at trying to develop the concept of year-round tourism.

We could also talk about work in forestry. To meet the needs of our sawmills and pulp mills, small black or grey spruce that help regenerate the forest need to be planted and planted again. However, they cannot be planted when the snow is four feet deep.

When I went to the opening of a new peat bog in Sainte-Thérèse-de-Colombier, I had the opportunity to visit many others. I am sorry, but you cannot harvest peat when the snow is four feet deep.

The job market in these regions consists in large part of seasonal work and that is the reality. Through the years the EI system has generated surpluses estimated by the Auditor General at $46.8 billion in 2003. This Liberal government, by the way, no longer deserves our confidence to govern. That is why a number of our fellow citizens are asking us to get rid of this government. It is not only corrupt, but also insensitive to the needs of the unemployed.

Representatives of this government have come to meet the residents of the North Shore and Charlevoix only just before an election. They propose transitional measures and geographic programs that fail to consider the reality of unemployment in these regions. And so, they came to see us in 1997, again in 2000, yet again in June 2004, during the election campaigns to tell us that the government was going to address the issue of seasonal workers and have faith. However, once elected, the Liberals remain indifferent to the issue and absolutely refuse to address it.

I want to take this opportunity to mention the efforts of the Mouvement Action-Chômage, which started in Charlevoix. I salute this initiative created by a slip of a woman, named Dany Harvey, who is the movement's coordinator, along with other people who contribute enormously to it. This movement in Charlevoix has led to more; there are now 14 such movements throughout Quebec.

The North Shore has a group, too, whose president, Lyne Sirois of Portneuf-sur-Mer, is doing a fantastic job. These people are making do with limited means.

Even the Sans-Chemise movement in Abitibi was visited by Canada Revenue Agency inspectors, who said it was not complying with its mission regarding charitable receipts. They threatened to pull the organization's subsidies and benefits in this regard.

It is indecent. This government is insensitive. Unfortunately, this is the reason workers become exasperated, take to the streets, and even block the main roads. No one condones that, but exasperation and disgust sometimes make us realize that something just has to be done.

Last April, a year ago, we went to Forestville. It was literally shut down by the community, not only by the workers. Elected officials from all levels were present. Retailers closed up shop. A huge meeting was held at the Forestville church. The people marched, and their solidarity was apparent as they called on the government to wake up and do something because things could not stay the way they were.

This is why the bill must be passed. I challenge the Liberal members from Quebec and the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, who keeps saying she is aware of the situation of seasonal workers and the unemployed. Let her prove it, and let the Liberals vote with us.

I put the challenge as well to Conservative members, who would not stop saying during the debates in the latest election that we did not have a monopoly on defending the unemployed, that they too were concerned. We will see what the Conservative members do. I hope there will not be a repeat of what happened to the motion of my colleague from Trois-Rivières last week, which was defeated with the support of the Liberals and the Conservatives.

The Liberals and the Conservatives are two sides of the same coin. They make fine promises during the election campaign, but only the Bloc Québécois can defend the interests of Quebeckers. We have proven it.

The aim of this bill is to keep the government from dipping into the employment insurance fund surplus, because that is theft. The surpluses do not belong to it. The Prime Minister, when he was Minister of Finance, was a champion at dipping into the EI fund. He bragged about his government's eliminating the deficit, which had been $42 billion under the Conservatives. He has the gall to brag about the $12 billion surpluses annually. It is indecent.

He has robbed the provinces with the fiscal imbalance and dipped into the EI fund to finance his deficit. This means that the unemployed should be the ones boasting about reducing Canada's deficit.

This bill is designed to prevent the government from dipping into the surpluses. After all, this money does not belong to the government; it belongs to the workers as well as the employers and the entrepreneurs who pay premiums.

When we visit an industrial park, people there tell us they hope we are going to resolve the unemployment situation. We also tell business people that they too are being robbed, because part of what is in the EI fund came from them.

If the fund were managed by an independent committee and the surpluses remained in the fund, by the end of any given fiscal year, we could say that, next year, we are going to pull up our socks and take a serious look at the situation of seasonal workers. Another year, or later that year, we could look into the situation of young people, women and older workers. These are all groups which are penalized under the current employment insurance plan.

The fact of the matter is that this is not an employment insurance plan, but an unemployment insurance plan. Those who are covered by this plan are not sure of getting a job, but one thing is certain: they are unemployed. To add insult to injury, only 40% of those who contribute qualify for benefits.

So, on top of being robbed because of the system, when the time comes to claim benefits, we are told that the system will not pay.

What would we call an insurance company that refuses to pay after you lost all your belongings in a fire, saying it will only pay after a second fire? We would call it a blasted thief. That is how the government is behaving.

Let us pass this bill, pull up our socks and look into the situation of seasonal workers, young people, women and older workers. That is what we are calling for, and I challenge the two other parties to vote for this bill.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the member for Manicouagan, it was a pleasure for me to be able to defend the interests of the unemployed by introducing Bill C-280. During the election campaign, the Bloc Québécois made a commitment to defend the interests of Quebec. To do that, however, one must first focus on defending the interests of the regions, the seasonal workers, the casual workers and those who work on call.

The Bloc Québécois made that commitment during its campaign, which was specifically that its members, once elected to the House of Commons, would introduce a bill on an independent EI fund. They also promised to speak on behalf of the workers.

This is diametrically opposite to the objective of the Liberal Party, which is to get $6 billion yearly out of the employment insurance fund in order to reduce its deficit. This has been the situation since 1993, first with Jean Chrétien and now with the former Minister of Finance, as well as at the time of the Axworthy reform in 1994.

As my colleague for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord pointed out, four people in ten who pay premiums think they are insured against the loss or termination of work, but they are not. New arrivals on the labour market are told they need 910 hours to qualify for EI. In the Bloc, we know that, with $4.8 billion annually and an accumulated surplus of $46.8 billion, the EI fund can be improved.

The Bloc Québécois proposes eliminating the two week waiting period, lowering the eligibility requirement to 360 hours for all contributors, and abolishing the gap, in other words, increasing the number of insurable weeks. The government has the money it needs to do so.

At this time of year, when people do their tax returns, seasonal workers on the north shore, in Charlevoix and throughout Quebec have to return money to the federal Liberal government coffers, even if they work only five or six months a year.

With the sponsorship scandal and the waste of public money, it is shameful to think that the Liberals will find a candidate in the next election campaign to defend the Liberal government's positions on the management of public funds and the EI fund.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe that a person from that party would dare run in your riding or mine. It is a corrupt party without soul or conscience, capable of appropriating money from seasonal and casual and those who work on call to manage what I call a disguised tax.

As I was saying, four in ten who contribute to employment insurance benefit from it. That is 40%. All of them contribute, and only four people draw benefits. According to the statistics, the six who do not qualify for benefits are primarily young people and women. It is a disguised tax. Workers pay for insurance in the event of a loss or termination of employment.

A unanimous report by a House committee, composed of Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Bloc Québécois members, proposes eight recommendations with regard to the creation of an independent fund.

We shall see their true nature during the vote. We really hope that the Liberal members, if they do not intend to continue to “govern” using the contributions of seasonal workers and at the expense of the Sans-Chemise and unemployment action committees, will be able to support this bill. If so, they will be saying that is ridiculous to continue appropriating such funds and that the money should, in fact, be placed in an independent fund.

We want the support of Conservative Party members too, who seem to agree in principle with the creation of an independent fund and perhaps on the number of commissioners.

I have a question for the Conservatives. Has anyone calculated how many thousands of people across Canada are currently administering the employment insurance program in the public service?

I will conclude here, and I hope that, when it comes time to vote, the members will support the seasonal workers and the unemployed.