Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-280, introduced by a Bloc Québécois colleague, the member for Manicouagan.
This is a very important bill for the simple reason that it deprives the Liberals of the possibility of stealing the workers' money to pay their debts and reduce the deficit to zero at the expense of people who have lost their jobs. It is as simple as that. This minority government then wants to hide behind royal assent. This is regrettable.
I have listened to the parliamentary secretary's praise of the member for Madawaska—Restigouche and the great work he did on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. It must be kept in mind that the member had recommended that the EI fund become independent and out of the Liberals' hands.
Another thing that is regrettable is that the member for Madawaska—Restigouche was not the only one in committee calling for an independent EI fund. The Liberal member for Beauséjour did as well, Those same two made a recommendation to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities that the 12 best earning weeks should be used for calculations
It is, however, no surprise that these same people are contradicting themselves in the House of Commons. In early June, I moved to consider the 12 best weeks, and they voted against it. Now they are contradicting themselves, which is regrettable.
It is a fact, the Conservatives want to have an independent EI fund. I agree. That is not all, however. They also want that independent fund to reduce EI premiums and do nothing else for workers, whom they consider to be a gang of abusers of the system. That is regrettable. It is to be hoped that those watching us this evening will remember that. That is exactly what the Conservatives are saying.
What is more, the Liberals support them in this, which is even more of a pity. They started with EI premiums of $3.04. This dropped to $1.98, then $1.93 , and they want to reduce them another 8¢. They claim that is what workers and employers want, which is absolutely false.
I have often said in the House of Commons that no worker has ever contacted me to complain that he was paying too much in EI premiums. What I have heard from workers is that they were even prepared to pay more if they had to, provided they could qualify for EI.
Employment insurance is a misnomer. It should be called unemployment insurance. It is the Liberals, in 1996, who changed the name to be able to steal the EI fund to pay for the national debt and reach the zero deficit. They did this on the backs of people who lost their job as well as on the backs of women in fish plants who have difficulty working for 12 weeks.
The Liberals then come bragging. The member for Madawaska—Restigouche rose in the House yesterday to congratulate the minister for the best 14 weeks changes. Yet, this same member, in committee, with the member for Beauséjour, recommended the best 12 weeks. I do not understand how they can be so uncaring. They cause suffering to families and children. Some people do not even receive $150 a week in employment insurance during winter periods. They have seasonal jobs.
Earlier, my Conservative colleague said that some employers were laying off workers on purpose because they could then receive EI benefits. He does not understand that, in the winter, Chaleur Bay, in the Atlantic, is frozen and that we cannot fish. He does not understand that lobster cannot be caught on the ice, as opposed to Lake Ontario, where people fish for fun. This is not how the industry works.
It is the same for the forest industry. When there are five feet of snow in New Brunswick, loggers cannot go and cut trees.
In Toronto, when there are two inches of snow, the army is called in to clear it up. This is not the same in my region. I can guarantee you that these people cannot go to work.
The bill before us today would have prevented the Liberals from trying to take the money from workers.
I am certain that in 1986, when the Auditor General proposed that the money be put into the consolidated revenue fund it was not to allow the government to use workers' money as it saw fit.
It is ironic to see that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development voted for the bill at first reading, when she was Conservative, but votes against it now that she is Liberal. It is as if you caught a sickness simply by crossing the floor.
It is disgraceful. The minister who voted for the bill and believed in its objective changed her mind. She now believes that royal recommendations cannot be given, that we cannot help workers.
It is sad to see how the Liberals operate. When there were problems in the eastern part of New Brunswick, the hon. member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac asked me personally to come to the assistance of people in the southeast of the province who were having problems. Everybody agreed that they should be helped.
However, when comes the time to vote in the House, they do not respect their own name and they are not courageous enough to vote for what they believe in. They even lied to us. Shame.
Back home, the unemployment rate tops 20%, because people have never received any help from the Liberals, who were elected for 100 years. If people in our ridings threw the Liberals out, there must be a reason. There has to be a reason, also, why the Conservatives would stand no chance of getting elected in our ridings, given their mindset. They are unable to acknowledge the fact that work is seasonal in some regions.
When I was in Forestville, in Quebec, on the North Shore, 2,500 people took to the streets and they were not just workers. There were also store owners. There were even priests, and I thought it was great when they said that it was no longer a political story, but a human story, and that it was about time that people rallied in the streets and marched to protest decisions by the federal government.
Today, in my opinion, the Liberals should be ashamed to grab $48 billion—that belongs to folks who have lost their job—when today in Canada, there are 800,000 people who do not qualify for employment insurance benefits, but pay the premiums.
Only 32% of the women who contribute to employment insurance qualify for benefits. They are the ones who were most affected. How can the government not recognize that?
Yes, this is insurance for when a person loses his job. This is insurance that lets people in today's labour force take parental leave, for example. Forty or fifty years ago, only five percent of Canadian women were working. That is no longer the case. We have to recognize the reality of today's labour market, and we have to adjust to this market, not do what the Liberals did.
In 1986, when the Auditor General, under Brian Mulroney's Conservative government, suggested that the employment insurance account be part of general revenues, the Liberals were in the opposition and they opposed the idea.
In 1989, my predecessor himself told New Brunswickers to fight against any change to employment insurance, because it would spell disaster for New Brunswick.
Jean Chrétien himself wrote a letter to the people of Rivière-du-Loup, to a group of people receiving employment insurance,and told them, “It is the Conservatives' fault, because they do not look after economic development, they are targeting the wrong people, they are targeting workers”.
When this same government boasted about using the money in the employment insurance account to pay down the debt and achieve zero deficits, it showed that did not care about those who no longer had access to employment insurance.
The Liberals did the same thing as the Conservatives and that is shameful. But I think people will remember. However the idea is not just to remember. The Liberals should know that there are 1.4 million children in Canada who are hungry. It is their fault, because when they cut employment insurance benefits for working men and women who lose their jobs, they worsened poverty in this country. They had better not boast about being a good government because of today's surpluses.
I am asking in all sincerity that changes be made to the employment insurance program for the well-being of workers, families and children in this country.