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 workers.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity and the remarks of my colleague from London—Fanshawe. As everyone knows, she is a very effective critic on women's issues and once again has proven that point.

It does take us back to the issue that each of us has spoken to. I am glad to have the opportunity to underscore it. Of all the people who pay EI premiums, which is everyone who pays them out of their paycheque, 68% of the women who make up that 100% who pay EI premiums do not qualify.

The number for men is about as bad at 62%, but unfortunately, once again, which is why my colleague is so effective in her remarks, it is women who are being hit harder. If we look at the agenda of the government, we can see that it is pretty consistent. When we take a look at what it did to the Status of Women, we will see that it took out the word “equality”.

This is not a government that is going to stand up for women. This is not a government that is standing up for workers. That is why each of us needs to stand up. I do not know what the official opposition is going to do. Probably nothing. The Liberals are getting very good at sitting on their hands.

But this is a bill and a budget that call for Canada's representatives to stand up and say no, the Conservatives are not going to do this to workers, they are not going to do this to unemployed workers and their families, and they are not going to do this to the women of our country, because it is wrong.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, speaking about unemployed workers, we have lost 378,000 jobs since November 2002. Those were manufacturing jobs that paid well. That entire sector is in crisis. That number represents about one in six of all the manufacturing jobs that existed in Canada prior to November 2002. What is this theft of $56 billion going to do? What is the message that those of us here are sending to these unemployed workers?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is a representative of Toronto, the largest city in the province of Ontario, naturally, and these people are being hit very hard. This theft of $54 billion means that if we get into a serious downtown we run the risk that there will not be enough money there, even for those who do qualify. It may not happen tomorrow, next week, next month or even in this cycle, but eventually, unfortunately, cyclically it will happen. When it does, we run the risk that there will not be enough money there, even for those who do qualify.

There are two things that need to be fixed. One is that more people who pay the premiums should be entitled to collect the benefits when they need them. When they are down and out, they do not need their own federal government putting the boots to them by telling them the support mechanism that is there is an emergency fund that they do not qualify for.

What would be just as bad would be to qualify and then find out there is not enough money because the money has been taken by the previous government and the debt will not be paid by the current government, a debt that I hope it loses in the courts, because it ought to be paid. It ought to be there for every unemployed worker who needs the money. That is what it is for.

For far too long, governments have been taking that money and using it for other things to make themselves look good, leaving unemployed workers and their families twisting in the wind.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is an insurance scam in this country. It is a sham for most workers. This insurance scam is actually a theft. It is highway robbery. It is a tax grab.

Normally when a person buys insurance, whether it is house insurance or drug insurance, there is an amount the person pays out to make sure there is a sense of security. If there is a theft in the house, if the house burns down, or if something happens, there is insurance to assist. Anybody who buys insurance expects that to happen.

However, that does not happen in the case of the Canadian scam we have, which is called the employment insurance scam. Do Canadians know what it is? It is a burden to the workers.

Yes, the Government of Canada will take the money. The Conservative government takes it now and before that the Liberal government did. Governments take the money for so-called insurance from the workers, but if the workers need it when they are in trouble, unemployed, sick, laid off or on maternity leave, most workers will not qualify. Actually, two out of three workers will not qualify.

Most people, then, ask why they are paying into this so-called insurance fund. In the mid-1990s, the Liberal government set it up so that the government would draw the money into general revenue. Then it would be given for corporate tax cuts and to deal with other matters. That is the workers' money. It is supposed to be theirs. It is their insurance. It is a cost for them with absolutely no return whatsoever to most of them. That is really very unfair.

I will give an examples of workers who need assistance. I recently came into contact with a family, a husband, a wife and a daughter, and unfortunately the daughter has a rare illness that requires her to be in the hospital quite often. The mother told me that she had contributed to employment insurance most of her life but for some reason she did not qualify. She said that her husband earns a good living, but they were really stretched. “This is supposed to be insurance,” she said. When her daughter is sick, she needs to take time off to take care of her. That is supposed to be compassionate leave. She really should qualify, yet she does not.

There are other examples. Workers either do not work enough hours or do not have lengthy enough employment and therefore do not qualify. Many of these workers end up being forced onto welfare. They then feel that they are in a downward spiral of poverty. When we are receiving employment insurance, we do not feel that it is a handout. Why? Because it is our own money. If people have to go onto welfare, they feel they are depending on the state. It makes them lose confidence in themselves.

This bill in front of us actually legitimizes the $54 billion surplus. With one stroke of a pen, it now will disappear.

Let us imagine what we could do with this money. We could, if we had a proper employment insurance program, generate all the funds from employment insurance premiums and that could then increase the percentage of unemployed Canadians covered by the program from the current level up to a target of 80%. This would mean that most people who contribute would be able to receive the insurance for which they paid. When it was first set up, that was how the system was supposed to work.

We could reflect the realities of seasonal workers by using the best 12 weeks of employment to determine the EI benefit levels. We could phase in a decrease in the qualifier to 360 hours. We could support an expanded caregiver program where caregivers would receive up to one year of employment insurance while caring for sick or elderly family members.

We have an aging population. Many ordinary Canadians want to stay home and take care of their parents. They want to take some time off from work. They want to receive employment insurance, which they have paid into throughout their working lives, so that they can take care of their parents or other loved ones and yet we are saying no to compassionate care because of this EI theft.

For Ontarians it is particularly unfair. On average an Ontarian worker may receive only $5,110 versus on average, $9,070 in the rest of Canada. If EI were structured properly, each year Ontario workers would receive an extra $1.7 billion but instead, the $1.7 billion is being taken out of their contributions and given away.

Also the amount of $2 billion which is being put into the reserve fund of the new arm's length agency is nowhere near enough. The Auditor General said that at least $15 billion is needed. In fact, the Canadian Institute of Actuaries also said that $15 billion is need and that the way the reserve fund is structured now, if more money is needed, it would have to be borrowed and interest would have to be paid. Again the taxpayers would end up footing the bill. That is grossly unfair.

We also have trouble with who is going to be on the board of directors. We are worried about the details of the plan. We believe that the $54 billion should be given back to the workers.

If ordinary Canadians understood what is actually happening to their insurance money, they would be outraged. Insurance coverage should mean that if a person contributes, he or she should get it back. This extra penalty on workers is unfair, unjust and unethical. We have an opportunity to comprehensively reform the entire system. We should be fixing the system and providing benefits for workers who lose their jobs or become incapable of working through no fault of their own.

EI payments should never be seen as a hand out, just as house insurance or life insurance is never seen as a hand out. The policies were paid for completely with the hard-earned dollars of working Canadians.

That is why New Democrats are completely opposed to the budget implementation bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for outlining some of the problems associated with part seven of Bill C-50.

My colleague pointed out how fundamentally wrong it is to deduct something from a person's paycheque for a specific purpose and then to use it for something completely different and for which the government was never authorized to use it. That goes beyond misrepresentation. It builds an expectation that workers will be covered for income maintenance should they be unfortunate enough to be laid off.

Would my colleague agree that this is a double insult? First, it is fundamentally wrong to take money off a worker's paycheque every week, and there is no choice because it is compulsory, and then use it for purposes the worker may not have ever authorized or approved. Second, it is a misrepresentation to say that a worker has insurance against unemployment and then when the worker becomes unemployed, in some cases, the worker has a less than 40% chance of being eligible for any benefits. A youth has only a 25% chance and a female youth has a 15% chance of qualifying for any benefits at all. What kind of an insurance policy is that? I would ask my colleague to expand on these two big lies associated with the EI fund in recent years.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great insurance scam and the Liberals and Conservatives are scam artists. That is what I see it as. Governments have been raking in this money by the shovelful. People should not have to grovel for that money, which is what is happening and it is their own money.

It is worse than a scam because people have no choice. They cannot shop around to get other employment insurance corporation anywhere else. They have to pay because the Canadian government says they have to. It is mandated. It is the only game in town.

That is why it is a complete scam for ordinary workers. It is unfair, unjust and unethical. This bill should be defeated. The Liberals should stand up for their principles.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to go back to something my hon. colleague said with regard to the Liberals and their treatment of the employment insurance fund.

I recall in 1997 the prime minister of the day standing up at a $250 a plate luncheon and declaring that the Liberal Party had defeated debt and deficit in this country and that the people at the luncheon had made a great contribution. It is interesting that he neglected to talk about the thousands and thousands of Canadians who had lost their employment insurance benefits while I suspect that the people who could afford $250 for lunch suffered not.

I was wondering if my hon. colleague could comment on that.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I remember the despair on the faces of hotel workers who were laid off when the hotel industry suffered greatly during the SARS crisis in Toronto. Many of the workers had to sell their houses because they had no money to pay their mortgages. They said to me, “We have paid into this insurance. Why are we not qualified to get some of it back? It is our money”. They were desperate. They lost their homes. Some of them were in great despair. That is what happened to ordinary workers when they faced unemployment.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleagues for their interventions. I think most people would be more than surprised to find out that probably the two most significant changes that have occurred with the Conservative government exist in Bill C-50. I say that because what we have in front of us is not a traditional budget bill. Bill C-50 has a couple of Trojan horses in it. One will irreversibly change our immigration system and the other will irreversibly change our employment insurance system.

In speaking of the changes to the Employment Insurance Act that are in front of us, it is interesting that the Conservatives previously had suggested that government should get out of the way of Canadian citizens and just let the invisible hand take over. We have seen that with the rhetoric and certainly the economic philosophy of those of the Calgary school. We have seen the government and its predecessor party advocate for that.

It is interesting what the government is doing. It is taking what was a social democratic idea, something that was a progressive idea and it is using a crown corporation to delegate away the authority, to delegate away the responsibility and to delegate away any efficacy of our employment insurance system. It is deft policy making on the one hand, but it is really absurd on the other.

We have a government with a philosophy of a certain school of economics that does not actually believe in crown corporations. If we actually got behind closed doors with some of our friends in the government, I think the truth would come out that if they had their way they would get rid of all crown corporations. I find it passing strange that the Conservatives are using the crown corporation structure with respect to the EI system. I guess they think that Canadians can be fooled, but I do not think that is the case at all.

Employment insurance, or unemployment insurance as we used to call it, came out of the Depression. In 1935 Prime Minister Bennett came up with the idea and was pushed by the predecessor party to the NDP, the CCF, to do something about the egregiously horrific situation of people suffering from unemployment. I could regale members with stories that were passed on to me from my mother and father who lived through the Depression. Their parents would help people at the back door by giving them food and supplies. People would go to the back door because they were too ashamed to go to the front door. This country built social programs to deal with that. That was in 1935.

When it was first brought in, an interesting thing happened from a constitutional perspective. It actually was one of the times we had to deal with the nature of our system. The relevant act was challenged and the unemployment insurance measures that were brought in 1935 were deemed unconstitutional, because unemployment was deemed the responsibility of the provinces. That constitutional crisis had to be dealt with and changes to the BNA Act were made in 1940, I believe.

Then we went forward with an unemployment insurance system in different capacities for many years. It got to a point where we saw the unemployment insurance system as a progressive way of dealing with downturns in the economy which happened from time to time. We would have a safety net along with our health care system and our pension system. Canadians were proud of it because we built it and supported it. There was a consensus on that.

Around 1990 we saw the first challenges to it fiscally with the previous Conservative government. There were cuts and again in 1993 and yet again in 1994. In 1996 the whole thing was revamped. The then Liberal government changed the name. The most recent way to deal with things is to change the nomenclature, never mind that the challenges to those who paid into it to actually qualify were undermined, but change the name and somehow people will not notice. Now the government is trying to change the administration of it to a crown corporation. It is delegating away the authority, delegating away the accountability and delegating away the ability for us to have a robust system. By 1996 with the previous Liberal government, we were dealt yet another death blow. There was another chink in the armour of our employment insurance program.

Many Canadians who paid into this system will never have to use it, which is the idea of insurance. We pay into it hoping that we will never have to use it, but we pay into it because we know that it should be there for people if they need it. What frustrates so many people is that they watched the previous government stand and take credit for slaying the deficit when in fact what it did was a shell game.

It was preposterous to see and it was horrible to watch as it claimed that it had done all the work when in fact all it did was bleed working Canadians of the money that they contributed to the employment insurance fund. Then it said, “Look, we have slayed the deficit”, and along with that of course it downloaded responsibilities without money to the provinces.

When we look at the history that I have just provided, employment insurance came out of an experience in this country of the Depression. We had constitutional challenges to make sure it was congruent with our British North America Act and it was something that over time was built and changes were made. It has been challenged since 1990 in terms of the fiscal capacity of the fund and recently in 1996, it was raided and the name was changed.

We know that something desperate was going on with employment insurance, and I challenge anyone in this House to tell me that they went out on the doorsteps and campaigned to have the Employment Insurance Act taken out from the accountability of Parliament and thrown over to a crown corporation. There is not one. I see everyone looking down at their computers and their shoes with great interest at this point because they know that none of their constituents had a clue about this planned proposal.

Just like the changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, not one of these government members went out and talked to their constituents. There were no consultations. Not one of the government members, not one of the cabinet ministers or the Prime Minister, I could go through the whole list, consulted Canadians on this change. That is reprehensible.

We live in a representative democracy. We are supposed to be under the guise of responsible government and what we have is a government packaging together all of its changes, feeding them through in a budget, and hoping that no one will do anything. Of course, the official opposition will not do a thing. It will say, “Just wait until we are back in power with our God-given right to govern and we will change everything again”.

The problem with that is that by the time the Liberals get there, there will be a crown corporation set up for employment insurance. It will be too late. There will be an immigration system that centralizes power in the hands of the minister, that gives temporary citizenship to employers to use people and then throw them on the scrap heap when they do not need them anymore, for places like the tar sands. Those things will have been done, and do not tell me that any government is going to come in there and put the genie back in the bottle successfully and without harm.

That is what we are talking about. We are talking about the breaking of a tradition, the breaking of trust, the breaking of a social contract between citizens and their government with this change in the bill, and at the end of the day, what we have done is say to Canadians that we do not care about them. Why? It is because we have foisted all of the responsibilities, fiduciary and otherwise, to a crown corporation that has no accountability here other than whomever the government decides to appoint to that board.

It is a sad day in this place. It is a sad day for responsible government and it is a sad day for everyday people when a government is allowed to do that. That is why this party and our members on this side of the House will gladly stand against the government, vote against this bill, and say to Canadians that when the election day comes, ask the government how it voted and what it did. Did government members look down at their shoes or did they look people in the eye and say, “Yes, we are going to represent you and do something in your interests?”

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a comment and a question to put to my colleague from Ottawa Centre.

I was interested in the way he illustrated the fact that there are EI changes in the budget implementation bill that do not properly belong there and there are immigration changes in the budget implementation bill, which I view as a further Americanization of Canadian politics when all these extra things are stuffed into a budget bill. He called it a Trojan Horse. That is a good, graphic illustration to which Canadians could probably relate.

However, in the context of passing a budget implementation bill, which has a few goodies that the Conservatives are throwing out there to try to endear themselves to Canadians, in the same context, they are sneaking in these major policy changes. I would like to ask the hon. member about that from a process point of view.

I would also like to ask him about the Canadian Labour Congress analysis of the impact of the changes to EI, the most recent changes by the Liberals when they changed the number of hours needed to qualify, et cetera. What was the impact on his riding?

In my riding alone, those changes accounted for a loss of $20.9 million a year worth of federal money that used to come into my low income riding that no longer comes in. I am asking if his riding, which is similar to mine in many ways, experienced a similar impact when the EI rules were changed?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was very deliberate in providing the analogy of a Trojan horse. What we have here is a budget bill and normally in a budget we will have economic measures, no question, and we hopefully have measures that will help governments. This government likes to have tax cuts, particularly for large corporations, and it gave away the store, actually, before the budget, in the fiscal update.

However, in the tradition of our Parliament and responsible government, we would have major structural changes, at least consultation and debate. Then we would have implementation. My colleague from Winnipeg is quite correct. The government has taken this playbook from another jurisdiction. It has bundled these altogether and will try to get them through quickly.

I recall a paper called, “Cycling into Saigon: The Conservative transition in Ontario”. It was a policy paper about how the previous Conservative Ontario government of Michael Harris got its changes through. The philosophy was as follows: Do all the changes as quickly as possible, the quicker the better and the larger the better, because the public will not pay attention and the opposition will be in such disarray, it will not be able to oppose.

I think the Conservatives have been reading up on the playbook, and they certainly had a willing dancing partner, sadly. In one budget bill they propose to revamp our immigration system and our EI system so that we will not notice it.

The effects on my constituents are significant. You know my constituency fairly well, Mr. Speaker. I see you at events often in my constituency. It is very diverse with high needs. At times there are challenges with employment for many people, be it new Canadians or students. Recently, we had layoffs in the high tech sector.

As I said in my comments, these will bring irreversible damages at a time when we have more than $50 billion in the fund, and instead of changing it progressively, creatively, we are simply robbing the bank, getting out of Dodge, and creating a new structure called a crown corporation to clear up all the details so that there are no fingerprints.

Let it be known, the fingerprints will be analysed. The DNA evidence is right here and we will make sure that Canadians are able to see it, come the next election.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think you should call the cops. I think you should ask the Sergeant-at-Arms to go and find the RCMP because there is a robbery in progress as we speak going on in the House of Commons while I am standing here and while we are sitting here. The robbery I am talking about is numerically the biggest robbery in Canadian history. It makes the great train robbery look like nothing. It makes the Grenkow boys who had the gold heist at the Winnipeg airport seem like peanuts. We are talking about $54 billion being swiped by legislative decree as we speak. If people in the country knew they would be horrified. I am not exaggerating.

The EI fund has been a cash cow for successive governments for as long as I have been a member of Parliament. They have been using this money for all the wrong purposes. A previous colleague of mine explained how fundamentally wrong it is to deduct money from people's paycheques for a specific purpose and tell them it is for income maintenance if they should happen to lose their jobs. Then, to use that money for something else completely is just fundamentally wrong. It is not the government's money. The government should start from that basic premise. That pool of money is not the government's.

It was the Mulroney Conservatives who withdrew from the EI fund. The unemployment insurance fund used to be made up of money from the employer, the employee and the Government of Canada. In 1986, the Mulroney Conservatives stopped doing that. The government no longer paid anything into it, so it was 100% funded by employer and employee contributions at a ratio of 1:1.4. It simply is not the government's money to use unless it passes a bill. It can do anything. The Government of Canada's Parliament can pass legislation to make this its money but it should not. Morally and ethically it would be fundamentally wrong.

It is fundamentally wrong to balance the books on the back of the unemployed. It is almost cowardly when we think about it, of all the places governments could look for additional revenue to fund their fiscal agenda is from the unemployed. Almost no one qualifies for EI any more, that is why it is showing such a great surplus. Fortunately, we are in buoyant economic times as fewer people are applying for employment insurance although that is about to change given the layoffs in the manufacturing sector.

Let me tell everyone how Liberals balanced the books and what is wrong with that, and then explain why it is wrong for the Conservatives to do the same. The Liberals came up with $100 billion worth of tax cuts and they brag about that. They say they cut more taxes than any government ever, $100 billion worth, but let us look at how they paid for it. They took $30 billion right out of the EI fund, so that is like an upside-down Robin Hood, robbing the poor to give tax cuts to the rich. Another $30 billion they took from the surplus in the public service pension plan.

Just before he left politics in late 1999 and early 2000, Marcel Masse, the former treasury board president, the last thing he did on his way out, knowing full well the hue and cry would be deafening, was to rob, and I deliberately use this term, the $30 billion surplus that was in the public service pension plan. The average beneficiary of the public service pension plan makes $9,000 a year and they are female. The government could have taken that $30 billion and doubled the annual pension of those beneficiaries currently, or improved the benefit package for future beneficiaries, or it could have shared it.

That is what is done in the private sector. When Bell Canada had a big surplus, union and management sat down and negotiated. Some went to benefits, some went to donation holidays and some went to the company. But no, the Government of Canada took it all. With the other $40 billion, the Liberals engaged in program spending, the most ruthless, cutting, hacking and slashing of social programs in this country's history. That is how they came up with their $100 billion in tax cuts.

Taking a page from the same book, the Conservatives find themselves wanting to spend money, trying to endear themselves by buying their way into the hearts of Canadians. Where do they look for money? They do not look at offshore tax havens. They do not look at perhaps having a tax on excess profits in the oil sector. They do not look at the tax fugitives who take $7 billion a year of tax revenue out of our country, something they promised they would do when they were in opposition. They have left those tax havens alone and they have left the very rich able to expatriate their family fortunes and family trusts offshore. Not only the millionaires themselves never pay taxes in Canada again, but none of their progeny ever pay taxes in Canada again. These things have been exposed in the newspaper this past couple of weeks by Diane Francis, a right-wing Conservative journalist. She has condemned the government, to which I presume she sends money, for not acting on these tax havens, these tax fugitives.

It really begs the question why, now that they are in a position to do so, the Conservatives would have three budgets and one economic update and never touch this atrocious situation, leaving $7 billion a year untouched? Instead, where do they look for revenue? They are taking it off of the backs of the unemployed. It is almost a cowardly thing to do.

I will tell members the impact the changes in employment insurance has had in my inner city riding of Winnipeg Centre, by some standards the lowest income riding in all of Canada.

When the government changed the system to the existing hour based system, it took $20.9 million a year out of my low income riding of Winnipeg Centre. That would be like taking the payroll of four pretty major companies, a $20.9 million payroll, from the poorest of the poor. It would be different if it took that from high income earners and they lost a couple of grand a year each.

However, the people who miss out on the income maintenance benefits of employment insurance are in desperate circumstances. They went from being marginalized and poor and getting by on EI, to abject poverty. The government has offloaded the income maintenance burden onto the province and these people on welfare.

That has been the experience with the brilliant social policy initiative of the management of the EI fund to day.

For years, we said EI should be a separate fund. I guess we have to be careful what we wish for because we were not specific enough as to what we wanted. The Conservatives are creating that separate fund. They are taking it out of consolidated revenue, as we have always maintained they should. They are putting it into this crown corporation. I do not disagree with that. However, they are taking $54 billion of surplus that exists now and using it for whatever general consolidated revenue spending they wish to spend it on. That is fundamentally wrong. It is morally and ethically wrong. I call it robbery, and I do not hesitate to put it in those terms.

We need a $15 billion operating surplus, according to the Auditor General, to be safe. Otherwise we will fall into deficit with that fund if we have any kind of an economic downturn. Judging from the job losses in Ontario in the last 18 months and what could happen elsewhere in the country, as we turn our back on the manufacturing sector, we will need a robust employment insurance fund to provide income maintenance and bridge training to retrain the workers affected by that. The $2 billion left in the fund would be gone in a minute.

The Conservatives are showing a surplus of $750 million a month and they are only going to leave a $2 billion surplus. They are taking the rest. That is not a per year surplus; it is a per month surplus. It is a cash cow. It is a licence to print money. It is a dream come true for a finance minister. It is like catnip for a finance minister. They cannot stay away from it, but they should because it is not their money. That is the most fundamental basic element the Conservatives seem to forget: it is not their money. They have no proprietary right to that fund. That is our money. It is not even the employers' money. It is all the workers' money because it is put in there for the benefit of the employees if they should be unfortunate to find themselves out of a job.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

June 2nd, 2008 / 5:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Williams Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my good friend speak about the employment insurance fund and what he perceives to be a dearth in the surplus. I thought it was rather cute when he said “send out the RCMP and the Sergeant-at-Arms to see if we can find this missing money”. He knows exactly where that money went, as we all do. It was spent by the Liberals.

Every year the Liberals used the money in general revenue, treated it as a tax revenue and spent it. It was spent on behalf of Canadians and now the money is gone and the coffers are empty. That is why we in the government have put forth a plan to kick-start this with a $2 billion fund.

As the member already admitted himself, a $750 million a month surplus is going into the fund. How much does he actually want to tax Canadians? Is this a notion that Canadians are a bottomless pit when it comes to paying tax so he can boast about having all this money sitting in a bank account? We would rather see the money in the pockets of Canadians. We want to see that the fund is protected and there for them should they ever find themselves unemployed.

I thought it was rather cute when he pleaded ignorance as to where the money had gone. Does he acknowledge that the money was spent by the Liberals, that it is gone now so therefore the fund has to be rebuilt?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, that money exists as a debt to Canadian workers and that debt is just as real as any other debt of the Government of Canada.

It was under the Conservatives in 1986 when the money was directed into the consolidated revenue fund. When workers were told the money would be deducted from their paycheques, there was an expectation, a promise made, that it was for the specific purpose of income maintenance should they become unemployed.

If the Conservatives were looking to roll back taxes, they could have rolled back some of the tax cuts they gave to corporate Canada, which does not need them by the way. The richest and most successful corporations in the country were the beneficiaries of most of the tax cuts. Why did the Conservatives not look there instead of unemployed workers? If the Conservatives wanted to harvest a few dollars out of the existing system, they could have asked Exxon or Shell for some of that money back. They were high-grading when they needed it the least.

I recognize that successive governments have used the EI fund as a cash cow since at least 1986. It has fallen into deficit and into arrears a couple of times over the years, but the cumulative total of deficit has been $11 billion and the cumulative total surplus has been $54 billion. No matter how we add it up, that is a lot of money owing to Canadian workers, either as improved benefits for when they are unemployed, or changing the eligibility rules so if someone becomes unemployed, they might actually qualify for some benefits, as most currently do not, or a premium holiday for both the employer and employee. That has been done. The government has ratcheted down the premiums a number of times.

The fact remains that over that period of time more money went into the fund than was paid out and it was not the government's money to use. It was morally and ethically wrong for the government to use it for anything else.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, the auditor general is the one who directed the government of the day, Brian Mulroney's government, to incorporate the deficit at the time in the unemployment insurance fund into the consolidated revenue fund because the government had to be accountable for the operation of it.

Something went wrong somewhere, and maybe the member wants to comment on it. Premiums up until—