House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I am not sure whether the member just relinquished the floor or whether he was responding to the point of order.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

I was responding to the point of order.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, as for responding to it, we already had debate on it. You called it out just before question period and said that after question period the debate would continue. Nobody from the Liberal Party found it important at that time to get up to speak on the immigration issue and then you closed the debate. We voted on it.

Now we have switched to employment insurance and Group No. 2, which is another part of Bill C-50, I agree with the member. He wants to talk about immigration as part of Bill C-50, but that was part one, which we did before question period. Those members had enough time. As a matter of fact, if it was all that important they could have talked about it all night and we would have stayed here, but they did not choose to get up. Then you switched from the immigration issue to employment insurance, Mr. Speaker, and I think we should respect the debate.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

In the opinion of the Chair, the member for Acadie—Bathurst has a point. The reason we group amendments is so that we can discuss all the amendments that are lumped together as relevant to one particular piece of legislation.

The group that we now have before the House does have to do with employment insurance. If the member for Kitchener—Waterloo feels that he can only talk about the section of the bill that actually came before this grouping, then maybe he should reconsider.

On the same point of order, the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I know that my colleague, as he himself said, was stretching it somewhat, except that it was his way of getting into the discussion. I am sure he will be addressing the problems that the first part of the discussions this morning will bring on to the second part of the discussions this afternoon.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Having said everything that I have already said, I look forward to how the member for Kitchener—Waterloo makes the connection.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

June 2nd, 2008 / 3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, given that I did speak on it prior to question period and I did not think we had adequate time to address it, I will return to the topic at third reading.

However, I just want to make the point that the changes being proposed are going to have an incredible impact on the whole process of immigration to this country, and some of those fundamental changes are going to be draconian, which is something that is certainly worthy of more debate than we have had on the issue.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, indeed, we are now talking about Group No. 2, the amendments concerning employment insurance. At the outset, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I must say that we will support the NDP's amendment to remove the part that deals with the employment insurance board.

Let me provide some context for the people listening today. At the Bloc Québécois' request, the House dropped two successive bills, one of which died on the order paper just before the last election.

That was about the creation of an independent fund with full, exclusive authority over the administration of employment insurance benefits by commissioners selected, for the most part, from among employers and employees. Why? Because they are the ones who pay into the fund.

The board proposed in Bill C-50 does not meet those criteria. Not only that, but it entrenches an injustice perpetrated on both workers and employers: the diversion of $54 billion from the employment insurance fund.

There are some people in this House who would like us to forget about that money. They are doing their level best to make us forget, but we will not forget. They would have us believe that the money is virtual. It is not. Workers and employers who contributed put real money into the fund. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have used that money for other purposes. Today, they are trying to convince us that because it was spent on other things, it no longer exists and is therefore virtual money.

I would also note that representatives of all parties on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities unanimously recommended that the money be returned to the employment insurance fund at a rate of at least $1.5 billion per year for 32 years. At the time, about $46 billion had been diverted; now that figure has risen to $54 billion, as I said earlier.

My NDP colleague said earlier that this would be a serious economic crime against the unemployed, their families and the communities and the provinces affected. Each time money does not return to the provinces through employment insurance benefits, the provinces—notably, Quebec—have to make up for this lost revenue with welfare.

Once again, this further worsens the fiscal imbalance. And none of this will be improved by the board. Even worse, within the fund there will be a reserve of $2 billion that will come from the consolidated revenue fund, but as a loan. At least admit that this reserve is money owed to the people.

The reserve is absolutely insufficient as well. The chief actuary of the Employment Insurance Commission has been saying for many years that the reserve should be at least $10 billion to $15 billion. Why? So that year after year, whatever the rate of unemployment, we can provide at least one year's worth of EI benefits according to the fund's obligations.

We are not the only ones who are saying this. Everyone who came to testify in recent days at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, including the major unions, employers and interest groups such as those representing the unemployed, came to say that this reserve is insufficient and that the $54 billion should not be forgotten.

Those are the first two points I wanted to bring up.

The third point is that the government is creating a new board separate from the commission, but is keeping the commission in place. The board is an addition. There will therefore be one decision-making body and two management bodies. The main management body is the Employment Insurance Commission. It will continue to ensure that benefits are paid in accordance with the minister's decisions. It will have no decision-making authority. The minister will make decisions based on the previous year's experience and will recommend a premium rate to the board. When he testified on April 29 and May 27, the minister essentially said two things. According to him, the employment insurance system is already generous enough. He said that. However, we find that the system currently excludes 60% of workers who pay into the fund. If they are unfortunate enough to lose their jobs, they are excluded under existing conditions and cannot receive benefits.

In a written statement that was tabled in committee, the minister also said that, from now on, any surplus can be used only to reduce premiums. That reflects a dangerous and unacceptable ideology that is based on the same principle as the one behind reducing the GST. Of course, every time it reduces the GST, the Conservative government subsequently finds a reason to cut social spending. Now the government wants to do the same thing with employment insurance, as if it had not done enough damage already.

Initially, we were in favour of the board because the government said its sole function would be to manage contributions in the interests of the unemployed. In fact, this is not true, as we have seen. Not only is this not true, but the board will work against the interests of unemployed workers. As I said earlier, the government is legalizing the theft of $54 billion and saying that in future, this money will not be used to help rebuild the fund, much less improve benefits. Instead, from now on, it will be used to reduce premiums. That is the government's philosophy, and it is unacceptable. I said earlier that we were in favour of the board because the clear intention was that, from now on, this fund would be used only for employment insurance.

The minister's statements, the facts revealed to us in committee, as well as the concerns expressed by the stakeholders, showed us that this board would not assume the responsibility I just described.

There is another thing. By separating the roles, by not allowing the Employment Insurance Commission to set the rates, the government is trying to have it both ways. We think it would be wise to create an Employment Insurance Commission worthy of that name. Commissioners are appointed by the minister, of course, but recommended by whom? We need to have commissioners who serve the interests of contributors, which would mean people who, for the most part, are recommended or delegated by the employer and employee organizations. Also, as was the case for large management companies in Quebec, these people need to be able to work alongside consultants who can give them information about decisions to be made. The chief commissioner is one of them. A representative from the Canadian Institute of Actuaries also came to speak about this. He said that the fund needed to be managed by taking into account a five-year period, that it should have a reserve fund that is worthy of the name, and that it should be used exclusively for employment insurance.

I thank you for your attention, Mr. Speaker, and I truly hope that our colleagues here will vote in favour of the amendment before us in order to remove the employment insurance financing board from this bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on the clarity of his presentation regarding the misappropriation of $54 billion by the government.

Is reduced accessibility to employment insurance benefits not part of the poor treatment of workers? The member for Chambly—Borduas gained some insight into this, as we did, when he met with people who were truly depressed and about to be declared clinically mentally ill because workers are not being looked after when they experience the shock of becoming unemployed.

Does this mean that monies should be transferred to Health Canada, which must look after those suffering from depression because the employment insurance fund did not meet their needs as it should have?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi on his excellent work concerning homelessness and the whole issue of housing.

He is quite right about how the fund has been used over the years. As everyone will recall, when there was a high unemployment rate, the fund could not fulfill its obligations through contributions. Here is how it worked: when there was not enough in the fund through contributions, the national treasury loaned money to the fund and contributions were later adjusted to pay back the treasury, and this always worked out.

When the EI fund was rolled into the consolidated revenue fund, the government at the time, a Conservative government, began dipping into that fund. First, it tried to lower contributions as much as possible in order to limit benefits as much as it could. This government is trying to adopt the same system.

When the Liberals came to power, they re-established a certain level for contributions to meet their obligations, but they began restricting access to benefits, gradually excluding over 50% of people who normally would have received benefits if they became unemployed.

My colleague is quite right to say that this strategy was used to create surpluses, at the expense of people who lost their jobs, in order to use those surpluses to pay off the debt or pay for other budget items.

This is appalling, especially since it has been inflicted by the government on the people who are hurting the most.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about a crown corporation. I know that the Bloc Québécois has always supported the concept of an independent fund, just as I have.

However, with respect to the employment insurance financing board, a crown corporation that will be created tonight following a vote on Bill C-50, is the member concerned that the same thing will happen with this entity that is happening with all of the other crown corporations, such as CBC/Radio-Canada and Canada Post, that is, when members of the House ask the government a question, it will say that it is not responsible and refer us to the crown corporation in question? Is he concerned that once such a board is in place, the government will wash its hands of the whole matter and the fund will be lost?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. Our discussions with the minister have pointed to that happening. Why take this matter out of the hands of commissioners, as I was saying earlier, and give the responsibility to a board?

The board will have no power other than making sure that contributions are sufficient to comply with the requirements set by the minister. In other words, the real work will done by the chief actuary, who will advise the commissioners.

This is the problem our colleague raised: once they have a purely technical role and no performance obligations with respect to the decisions they make, they will lose control over decision-making; their only purpose will be to rubber-stamp other people's decisions.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to part 7 of Bill C-50, although I am not pleased about what is happening. I will be clear with all Canadians, including workers and businesses.

This evening, we will see the first vote that will truly legalize the theft from the employment insurance fund. This evening, we will see $54 billion being taken away. That is what will happen. The sad thing in all of this—and we saw this coming—is that the NDP proposed amendments, which went to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, asking that, if such theft must occur, that there at least be a mechanism in place to try to help workers.

For example, the Auditor General said that a $15 billion cushion was needed in the employment insurance fund. We would like to have an amendment stipulating that there be at least $15 billion in the crown corporation. The Liberal Party refused and even refused having $15 billion out of $54 billion placed in the employment insurance fund. It voted against that.

Today, we are in the House of Commons and we see that to date, the Liberal Party of Canada has not even stood up to explain whether it is for or against Bill C-50, which is the government's budget implementation bill. The government will take this $54 billion, put it aside and forget about it. That is what is going on right now.

What is more, in Bill C-50 the government is saying that it will put $2 billion into the crown corporation. If there is a problem with the economy, money can be borrowed from the government's general funds and interest will be charged. Imagine that. Today we see that the Liberals are not even standing up to condemn this. I am talking about $54 billion that was taken out of the pockets of workers. Those people got up every morning to go to work and that money was deducted from their pay.

If the government wants to pay down the debt, it can use the taxes we pay. I remember when the Mulroney Conservatives brought in a new formula called the GST, which was to be used to pay down the debt. But instead of paying down the debt with the GST, the taxes people paid, the Conservatives decided they would use the money in the employment insurance fund and hit workers. When workers lose their jobs, they have no money to defend themselves in court. They cannot defend themselves. If workers try to get money from Imperial Oil, Shell, Ultramar or Irving in New Brunswick, these companies can afford to take the workers to court. The poor workers, who have lost their jobs and have no more money to feed their families, cannot afford to go to court. That is who the government is taking money away from. The government is taking money away from the poorest, most vulnerable members of society. That is what the Liberal government did in 1996. It made cuts to employment insurance, and the Conservatives supported those cuts.

In 2005, the last year the Liberals were in power, 28 recommendations were made regarding employment insurance. Among those recommendations was one made by the Conservative House leader that the $54 billion be put back in the employment insurance fund within 10 years. The Bloc Québécois had generously called for a timeframe of 32 or 33 years. The current Conservative House leader said that this should be done within 10 years. The money belonged to employers and employees and should be returned to them.

Now, the Conservatives are telling us that this is just virtual money, that it disappeared because it was spent and that this is the Liberals' fault. They have brought in a bill that legalizes all that. They are also telling us that if we want to get our money back we will have to pay interest. This is a sad day. It is true that they would like us to stop talking about this.

Why should we stop talking about the biggest theft in Canadian history? It is the worst scandal to have ever taken place in this Parliament. It is even worse than the Liberal's sponsorship scandal and the Conservatives spending $1.5 million over the $18 million spending limit in the last election. We are talking about $54 billion. This money could have been used to help people, but instead people are forced to go on social assistance and to embrace poverty. That is the end result.

In Canada, only 32% of women and 38% of men are eligible for employment insurance; some 800,000 workers are ineligible. Furthermore, 1.4 million children are hungry. How many times have I said this in my speeches in the House of Commons? I have never tired of repeating it. Today it seems that the Liberals are tired of hearing it and are in a hurry to move on.

The member for Kitchener—Waterloo rose earlier saying that he wanted to talk about immigration. He had already had an opportunity to do so. He said that it was terribly important and that he wanted to talk about immigration. If it is so important, he will have the opportunity to vote this evening and tell the government that he does not agree with it. The Liberals do not have to sit on their hands or leave Parliament or not vote. This evening, if the Liberals decide to remain in their seats and not vote, that will mean that they approve of the Conservatives' theft from the employment insurance fund, a theft from the workers that they initiated in 1996. I hope that workers are listening today and that they do not forget what happens.

I hope some workers are listening to what is being said here. The government has decided to put Bill C-50 to a vote tonight. The Liberals will just sit in their places. They have decided not to vote on the bill. As a matter of fact, they have decided not to speak to the bill at all today.

I hope the men and women who call their members of Parliament telling them they cannot get their employment insurance will understand that today the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party have stolen their $54 billion employment insurance surplus. There are provisions in Bill C-50 to create a crown corporation and only $2 billion will go to the crown corporation. What is going to happen if it runs out of money? The bill is very clear. If Canadian workers need money from employment insurance, the money will have to be borrowed from the government and interest will have to be paid on that money. They will have to pay interest on their own money, something never seen before in the history of this country. The vote is going to happen tonight. It is a sad day for workers. I hope workers never vote for the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party based on the action those parties are going to take against workers tonight. Canadians must remember.

When a person has a job, things go well and he or she has no problems. However, when the person loses his or her job and the paycheques stop coming in, it is a sad day not just for the worker, but for the family under the person's responsibility.

There are 1.4 million kids in this country going hungry. When 800,000 people do not qualify for a program that belongs to them, they will go hungry because they will have no money. The Liberals are partly responsible for this. The Conservatives are totally responsible by introducing Bill C-50 and creating this crown corporation.

Having a crown corporation means that when a member of Parliament raises a question about EI premiums, the government will tell the member to ask the crown corporation. It is arm's length to the government. The government will not answer any questions, just as it does not answer any questions about CBC or Canada Post.

For this reason, I am proud that the NDP members will stand up this evening in the House of Commons and vote, unlike the Liberals, against this bill and against the immigration bill. They are not like the Liberals, who will remain seated and so shirk their responsibilities as parliamentarians and as Canadians.