Mr. Speaker, here we are back in Parliament in the fall, again speaking about employment insurance. It is almost as if we never left.
Much has happened over the summer but little has changed. We still have a Conservative government that puts politics before people, that does not see EI as the fundamental and critical part of our social infrastructure that is so necessary at a time of difficulty, but rather a government that sees EI as a political tool, a blunt instrument to divide Canadians, to divide Parliament, as part of a strategic ploy hatched to distribute false and misleading information to Canadians.
This is a government that uses false statistics and never allows facts or truth to get in the way of its goal to divide this country. These are the traits, indeed, this is the character of the government. Employment insurance is but one example.
Today we look at the work of my colleague, the distinguished member for Chambly—Borduas in Bill C-308, who today introduced his bill in this Parliament and is worthy of consideration. One of the most important things in his bill is the issue of a 360-hour national standard for eligibility. This is something that has had a lot of attention, not just from members of the House but from people across the country.
Let me just give a couple of quotes from people who might be recognized across Canada.
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell said in August, “What we’re really saying is Canadian workers, whether they live in the Maritimes, the West or North or Ontario, we should treat them the same way”.
Brad Wall, Premier of Saskatchewan, said “Instead of 50-plus different treatments for the number of qualifying hours, we need to dramatically reduce that”.
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said, “An unemployed family, whether they live in Nova Scotia, Quebec or Alberta, are equally unemployed”.
The TD Bank, in July, said, “The truth of the matter is that during an economic downturn, it is no easier to find a job in a region with lower prevailing unemployment than in one with a higher unemployment rate”.
Pierre Fortin, economics professor, said of the Leader of the Opposition that his proposal of 360 hours was not a problem. It was just and it was fair.
The Star Phoenix in Saskatoon said, “Clearly, EI services should be equally applied across the country. Isn't that what being a nation is all about”?
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, who my colleague, the parliamentary secretary referred to, said:
A measure to improve the equity of the EI system that would be consistent with longer-term smart policy aimed at improving labour mobility and flexibility would be to immediately and permanently make the duration of, and access to, benefits equal--
How about this one: “An unemployed worker is an unemployed worker and deserves to be treated the same, regardless of region of residence. We will urge the immediate elimination of discriminatory EI elements such as regional entrance requirements”. This was said in the Reform Party of Canada platform statement authored by the now Prime Minister of this country. Let me repeat the last bit, “We will urge the immediate elimination of discriminatory EI elements such as regional entrance requirements”.
Here we are. We resume Parliament more or less where we left it off in June. As the session ended last spring, we all remember that we were on the verge of an election. It was averted when our leader and the Prime Minister agreed to a joint committee that would spend the summer looking at improvements to EI, specifically two things: regional fairness, which was our issue, and the Prime Minister added the issue of the self-employed. That was the proposal from the Conservatives, part of which they had promised in the last election but had not acted upon.
We had these meetings. I was there along with my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Kevin Chan from our leader's office, and three members of the opposition. The meetings were difficulty but I do not suppose that this particularly relevant. People do not care how we spend our summer time.
The bottom line is that the Conservative members of this committee stalled, delayed and brought nothing to the table, absolutely nothing serious. I do not believe this was unintentional. The Conservative members broke confidential protocols. It had been decided that there would be certain protocols about confidentiality. At almost every turn the Conservative members prevented departmental officials from giving information that we had all agreed to, including the Conservative members. That is unbelievable.
The Conservative members leaked a document that they themselves indicated should not be leaked. I am looking at it. It says “Employment insurance working group--not for distribution”. The members brought that to a meeting. The only problem was, it was already given to the media. Why would the Conservative members do that?
Mr. Speaker, I can see you are shocked. The Conservative members did it because there was false and misleading information in that document. They increased the cost of the Liberal proposal for regional fairness by over 400%, not a little bit.
I took the decision to ask the Parliamentary Budget Officer, an independent officer of this House, to review the government numbers. We now know the result of that.
The PBO, appointed by the government, came back and said, yes, the government inflated the cost and, in fact, indicated that the actual cost of our 360-hour temporary proposal was slightly under the cost proposed by the Liberals.
This is some of what the Parliamentary Budget Officer said in his report:
The government's total cost estimate overstates the cost of the proposed 360-hour national standard. The Parliamentary Budget Officer believes that the government's dynamic cost estimate is flawed. More important, the PBO also believes that only the static costs should be considered in costing the proposal, given the structure of the program and that the proposed change to the EI system is in effect for one year only. This is the independent officer of this House and this is what he came back with.
The response from the government was that it did not change anything. The government first ignored it, then continued to mislead and still used, as recently as Friday, the $4 billion, even though everybody knows that it was discredited.
That is how the summer went.
I was asked many times by people across the country, including people in my own caucus and in my riding, “Why do you keep going to these meetings? You know that the Conservatives are not serious. They have not presented anything. Why would you keep going back?” We went to every scheduled meeting, to try to find a consensus.
Canadians have more important things on their minds than to follow what is happening with an employment insurance working group. However, to the extent that they paid attention, who could blame them for saying that that was just an extension of a dysfunctional Parliament? Who could blame them for saying, “You have just dragged question period throughout the summer. You guys can't get along in the House of Commons and you can't get along in the summer”? Who could blame them for saying, “He said this and she said that; you're all equally to blame”?
We tried to make it work. We went to those committees to try to make those committees work. Yes, we had an opening position, supported by many people across this country: economists, labour leaders, anti-poverty groups, even business people, and premiers of provinces who have many representatives on the other side of this House. We had that position, we presented it, and we all agreed that we would go away and get that costed. When the number came back, it was distorted.
However, beyond that, we also asked other questions. These are the questions we tabled to the group on July 23.
What is the current deficit in this year's EI account?
What are the components of that deficit? There was no answer.
How many Canadians have seen increased access to EI by region?
What would be the incremental cost of having a 360-hour national standard for eligibility?
We also asked, at that same meeting in July, what would be the cost of a 395-hour standard and a 420-hour standard?
We asked, how many Canadians draw benefits for the maximum duration?
What percentage of claimants are expected to draw the maximum weeks? Perhaps extending benefits further is a very sensible thing.
We did not get answers to all of those questions.
We also asked, in areas where the unemployment changes the eligibility criteria, how does the time lag between job loss of people becoming eligible for benefits go into the issue of a three-month average versus a one-month average to determine eligibility?
We asked all those questions.
We followed the protocols of the working group. We established the working group, we established protocols, we followed those protocols, and we expected answers. We were told we would get answers.
At the last meeting of the group, the minister told us that he told the department not to even bother with that, not to even bother with the stuff that we all agreed with.
Many of us in this House come from backgrounds in business or labour organizations or other non-for-profit organizations. We do negotiations as a way of doing business to make perfect not be the enemy of better. However, we all know, whether we are in labour or management or any other organization, it takes two to make something happen.
Employment insurance to the government is a ploy. It is part of the game of politics.
Here today, as Parliament resumes in the fall, we are where we left off in the spring, and for the government the games continue.