Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Mississauga South for his final comments. I think we can get into some of the issues a little deeper regarding the system as it applies in Quebec.
The member should know that in the Quebec system it is mandatory, whereas this is an optional program that the government has brought in. That will lead us to some other issues about whether or not this particular system can in fact be self-financing and whether or not down the road the government may have to make this program mandatory for self-employed individuals because part of the process of making it optional allows a certain amount of selecting against the program.
If that were to happen and people selected against the program, they would only sign in when they knew in fact they were going to be making a claim. On that basis, the program will definitely lose money and will not be able to run on a break-even basis by any means. At a future point, the government may have to look at making the program mandatory.
At this point in time, I am happy the legislation has reached this point. I admit that the idea of this particular legislation was part of the NDP campaign in the last election, as well as part of the Conservative campaign, so the timing could not be better for the two parties to create a piece of legislation that both of their constituencies appreciated and wanted, and bringing it to the fore.
There has been an explosion of self-employed people in this country over the last number of years. Many of us grew up at a time when self-employed individuals were rather rare. When I was going to school, I do not recall many self-employed people at all. Almost everybody I knew worked on the railways. There were farmers, who are definitely self-employed, but compared to the number of self-employed people now, there was no comparison whatsoever.
As of 2008, there are some 2.6 million Canadians reporting income from self-employment, and for a large majority of them it is the sole source of the income. The share of self-employed in the labour force now has been relatively stable over the past decade at 15% and I dispute that figure. I am not certain that is the case and believe that in fact the number of self-employed people actually increases year by year.
People have this romantic idea that if they become self-employed, they become their own boss, and they can deduct all of the expenses they incur while attempting to earn income. And that in actual fact they will throw off the chains associated with a wage job and will be better off for it. The statistics are rather grim.
The fact of the matter is that a very large percentage of small businesses fail within the first five years. Those that continue beyond the five-year mark, many of them into the 10- or 20-year mark, if they are still in existence, basically live hand to mouth, just meeting their expenses.
The bottom line is that by and large they do it because that is what they are used to doing or because they find what they are doing self-fulfilling. Perhaps they have that optimism that things will get better, just as the farmers of this country are optimistic that there will always be a better year to come, that next year will be better than this year. That is a large group of self-employed people in this country.
There is another group. I do not know what percentage of the total 2.6 million people it might be. It is a substantial group of people who have become self-employed not by their own choice. They became self-employed because their companies went bankrupt or their companies left town, moved to Mexico, and left them here. They had no choice but to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, as the right-wing Conservatives are always prone to say. They have become self-employed.
There are other people who have, by mutual agreement, become self-employed. After working for a company for a period of time, they have decided to retire from the company, but they return and work for that company in a self-employed capacity.
The income tax department accepts that as long as they are earning income from more than one employer. They have to find another one or two people to pay them. They cannot be taking direction from any one employer. They need a contract drawn up to indicate that they are truly self-employed people, that they are serving more than one client, and that they are not taking direction from the client. On that basis, they are able to deduct their expenses.
The tax department, of course, is very suspicious about arrangements like that. It is very vigilant and watches very closely that people are not simply leaving their employment because of an agreement with the employer that it will keep paying them and they will keep doing the same job. In that way the employer would escape paying the benefits and they would be self-employed and would be able to deduct all their expenses for travel, for their basement office and for all sorts of other things.
The picture I am painting here is that these self-employed people are not the millionaires that a lot of people think they are. Just because they are tagged as self-employed does not mean they are earning double the money of salaried employees. In some cases, they are earning less. These people have had a tough time of it. Now, they have to go out and make a go of it for themselves.
What these people find out is that they are not eligible for a lot of the benefits they were getting as salaried employees. They may have had a pension plan. They may have had a group plan. They were covered under workers compensation. They were covered under the EI system which gave them benefits. Now they find themselves without these benefits. That is why the business organizations have been lobbying the political parties. I personally have not been lobbied, but I know there has been a lot of lobbying going on to try to convince the parties to get onside with this particular issue.
Once again, we are not offering full EI benefits here. We are only offering the extra benefits, the compassionate care benefits, the maternity benefits, the parental adoption benefits, the sickness benefits. Those benefits are the only ones that are being offered under this program.
I know my office will be getting phone calls from self-employed people over the next number of weeks saying that they heard or read my speech in Parliament and when can they apply for their employment insurance benefits. Of course that is not part of this system.
Furthermore, it is not a mandatory program. We know that Quebec has extremely good programs. I am very proud of Quebec for having anti-scab legislation since the days of René Lévesque. It has a day care system for $7 a day. It is the best in the country. It is no surprise to me that Quebeckers have some of these compassionate care benefits provided by their province. Those are mandatory benefits. They are required. Everyone in the province is required to contribute.
What we have here is a voluntary system. People do not have to sign up. If they want to try the system out and they are residents of Quebec, they can sign up. If they do not think that they are going to benefit from the program, they do not sign up.
Anywhere in the country, self-employed people can look to the private insurance market for these sorts of benefits. Let me say that I have not met a life insurance agent yet who was not very eager to sell people products. If there is a way for them to find out how to do it, they will certainly do it. A lot of self-employed people now go to Blue Cross and buy benefits for their families. Maybe 10 or 15 years ago they could not do that. It just was not available because insurance companies were only interested in large groups of 50 or 100 before they would give quotes on benefits. That is the only way the insurance company could actually make money because it needed a large pool from which to work.
Over time we have seen that the market has segmented itself and there are companies that are available to give quotes on groups of 10 people, and then groups of 5 people. The reality is that the rates are a lot higher because once again, they do not have the pool to work with.
They also know that, particularly when it comes to dental plans, the companies get selected against. People join the plan when their teeth are not in good shape and of course they hit the plan big time the first year. The group plan can sustain that when there are 500 employees. They can take on new employees. They can pay for all these dental benefits in the first year. Once they are paid, they are done, so they will recoup their costs over the next 10 years that the people are in the plan. That is known as selecting against the company. If a woman knows she is going to become pregnant and she signs up for the program, automatically the company knows it is going to be paying out the benefits. A company cannot possibly make money in a system like that.
That is why I found it just amazing that somehow the government thinks it is going to be able to have a voluntary program where it is going to get selected against on a constant basis, and then if people do not draw the benefits, they can get out of the system, otherwise they have to stay in forever. A lot of companies are not going to last forever.
I do not know what the uptake is going to be in the first place, but let us say it is reasonable. We are going to find that the system is going to lose money and they are going to have a make a decision after two or three years to go with a mandatory program.
The Liberal critic is closer to the truth here than maybe even she knows. She was talking about her experiences at committee. The committee had an actuary come in and the members questioned the actuary.
I have not been able to get information from the government about what its projections are. One would think if the Conservatives are bringing in a government program they would have projections about how many people they expect to uptake on the program and the rollout of the program. I asked them questions and I could get no answers from them.
It sounds as though they are operating on a wing and a prayer. They are going to roll out this program with lots of advertising and get as much bang for the buck as they can. They will tell people it will be good old Conservative economics, sort of Grant Devine economics, that this system is going to be self-sustaining when they know that is not what is going to happen. They are going to get selected against in the early stages big time. They are going to have losses. Then they are going to have to come around and say they will have to make it mandatory and that is something that will be dealt with when the time comes.
The point is it is a good program. It is a good idea and we have to ease our way into it. That is why I suggest that the Bloc should have a little more patience on this issue as well, because once again, it is voluntary. There is no one saying that people in Quebec have to buy into the program.
Why should the Bloc say as a party that others cannot do it, that the Bloc is not going to give others the option at all? The Bloc members should be saying that they recommend that people not do it because the premiums are too high or whatever the reasons there are and try to make improvements to the program. That would be the most sensible thing to do rather than to say they just do not like what they see of it so far and they will be voting against it because they do not even want to give people the option and they feel there are not enough redeeming features to the program that it cannot be changed. I do not think that is necessarily the best approach, but once again, I am not in charge of the Bloc.
The fact of the matter is there is a good system in Quebec. We admit that. The Quebec government is on the ball there as it is with a lot of other social issues. It has brought in a system that works well for Quebeckers.
My notes say with regard to Quebec that there is an adjustment made for the fact that since 2006, the Quebec parental insurance plan, QPIP, provides maternity, paternity, parental and adoption benefits available to all workers, salaried or self-employed. Participation is mandatory. There is no voluntary participation at all on these programs. With this measure Quebec's self-employed will be eligible to opt in to claim sickness and compassionate care benefits that are currently unavailable through the QPIP. QPIP offers some of the benefits, but not all of them. Quebec's self-employed who opt in would pay the same premium rate as Quebec paid workers, 1.36% in 2010 which is reduced to account for the existence of the QPIP.
That tells me there is an adjustment. If that is not true, then I certainly apologize to the members for misrepresenting those facts. I want to be on their side on this issue. I think the Bloc members should be giving this program a proper hearing. It will not be good for the Bloc's political prospects in Quebec when the other parties start sending out materials to the artists in Quebec saying that the Bloc had an option to give these benefits and it said no. What are the self-employed real estate agents in Quebec going to say when they get their letter from the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party saying there was a program that agents could have participated in, but no, it was taken away by the Bloc MPs who voted against it. We all know what the Conservatives are doing with their ten percenters and how they personalize them. I can just imagine what sort of write-ups we are going to see on this program.
I have to tell the government members that what goes around comes around. We can come up with some really good ten percenters on their vote against the air passengers' bill of rights. They are going to look every bit as good in their ridings as those gun registry—