Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to the NDP opposition motion. As members certainly know, the subjects mentioned in this motion have always been very important to the Bloc Québécois. I am referring to the problems related to employment insurance, poverty and training. We cannot sit by and say nothing about the Conservative government's obvious incompetence in these areas.
I would like to start with the issue of employment insurance, and more specifically, the people who depend on this plan. As its name suggests, employment insurance is supposed to be an insurance than enables contributors to receive an income when they lose their job. That sounds good. The problem is that the plan has been completely distorted and diverted from its original goal.
For example, the claimant-contributor ratio went from nearly 80% in 1990 to 46.1% today. This means that less than half of those who contribute to employment insurance qualify to receive benefits. Did this Conservative government do anything for the unemployed or for these people who are losing their jobs? Absolutely not.
At the weekly meetings of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, on which I sit, I have even heard Conservatives say that people who lose their jobs in Quebec or elsewhere can simply move to Alberta. I understand the principle of labour mobility, but it is not as simple as that. People cannot be uprooted that easily.
I would like to remind the members opposite that with Bills C-269 and C-357, we in the Bloc Québécois came up with real solutions to help people who lose their jobs. The first bill proposed to improve the employment insurance system, while the second called for the creation of the independent employment insurance fund. The government chose to reject these bills out of hand. What did it do instead? It proposed in the most recent budget to create a crown corporation, the employment insurance financing board.
We have asked questions about this board, and our understanding is that the board's only role will be to adjust the employment insurance contribution rate. The minister himself has confirmed the board's minimal role. This morning, at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, one witness mentioned that a 15¢ decrease in contributions would mean approximately $30 more for workers at the end of the year. What a nice gift. This is not exactly what you would call a big help.
The crux of the problem remains. The government has made no provision to improve the employment insurance system and ensure that people who lose their jobs have some income while they are going through a rough time. The Conservative government should have acted. If they do not want to help the unemployed, the Conservatives deserve to be unemployed themselves.
Industries are still in crisis in Quebec. Lumber producers and manufacturers have been affected, even in the ridings represented by Conservative members. Yet the government has not lifted a finger, preferring to help Alberta and cozy up to its friends to the south, the Americans, Mr. Bush's friends.
The manufacturing crisis has had a devastating effect on the Eastern Townships, and it is not over yet. This week, we found out that one of our region's finest, Shermag, has placed itself under the protection of the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. Shermag was hit hard by Asian competition and the rising dollar. Between 2005 and 2007, the company closed three plants in my riding, one in Scotstown, one in Cookshire-Eaton and one in Dudswell, which cost our small communities hundreds of jobs.
I mentioned Shermag, but I could just as easily have talked about other Quebec plants and factories that have closed. I do not want to go on and on about the manufacturing crisis, because that is not the purpose of today's motion. I want to get to the point, which is the human side of things.
In 2003, there were about 42,000 industrial jobs in the Eastern Townships. Now there are only about 25,000 left. The manufacturing crisis cost us 17,000 good jobs in a region with a population of 300,000. Those jobs paid at least $20 or $22 per hour. Quebec workers—should they even qualify—are too proud to sit at home, happily taking advantage of the employment insurance program. Workers in the Eastern Townships rolled up their sleeves and found other jobs—jobs that most often paid less than half of what they had been earning before.
This has been a huge loss for these people and for the economy of the Eastern Townships. In four years, we lost 35% of our industrial jobs. This is a real catastrophe. Workers who lose their jobs have to deal with an employment insurance program that does not insure them. Whether they want to or not, they have to take whatever job they can get, even if it is a part-time job for low pay.
It is easy to see what I am getting at. When people's wages drop by $5, $10 or $15 per hour, buying power goes down and poverty goes up. Yet, with its laissez-faire ideology, this government has made it clear that it is not really interested in helping people who really need help.
To refresh our memories, I could mention that the Conservatives cut the women’s program. They also slashed programs for minorities and they are still refusing to refund money owed to seniors for the guaranteed income supplement. On the other hand, however, they did not hesitate to give tax credits of almost $1 billion a year to the oil companies and corporations, which, as we all know in this House, are “living in the most appalling misery and destitution.”
This week, we learned that the individual purchasing power of Quebeckers has increased by $53 in 25 years. That is another proof of the inaction of governments, both Conservative and Liberal, we must insist. Fifty-three dollars amounts to one dollar a week this year, but in this case it was spread over 25 years.
From the same set of statistics, we learned that the salaries of low income workers decreased by 20% during the same period. Meanwhile, the incomes of the richest people increased by 16%, and the number of rich people also grew. Moreover, despite the efforts made over 25 years, it appears that poverty has not been reduced.
Here are some examples of the sad state of affairs. Nearly 900,000 Canadian children still live in low income families. We always say that the reason children are poor is because their parents are poor. The number of mothers in single-parent families who are trying to make ends meet is just as high as ever. Indeed, there is no shortage of examples and all communities are affected.
Before concluding, I would like to sum up the situation. It is very clear to me that the government has done nothing to save jobs in Quebec, to help our workers who are in trouble, to improve the employment insurance plan or to combat poverty. The results are negative. The gap between rich and poor is growing wider. Disposable income is stagnating. In other words, we are going nowhere and this government has no vision to offer; it has no plans or ideas to submit. It has only an outdated, backward, regressive and rigid ideology.
The Bloc has given the government an opportunity to act: to reform employment insurance, to help the most needy, to ensure that our industries remain open, and that our workers maintain their dignity and their income. The Conservatives have chosen to fold their arms and do nothing. They had the chance to govern on behalf of workers but they did not act on it.
I must say that I have never had a great deal of confidence in this government, but today it has really lost the confidence of this House. I am convinced it will also lose the confidence of the voters.