Good afternoon and thank you.
It is my pleasure to testify today on behalf of the FTQ. For those who are unaware, the FTQ represents 500,000 workers in Quebec, of whom two thirds come from the private sector. In Quebec, the private sector has been in recession since 2003. The official recession began in 2008, but we have been experiencing its effects for several years. As you will see, that has repercussions on us and on our opinion of Bill C-50.
As to the content of the bill, two main impressions arise. I echo the remarks of my colleague, Mr. Pierre Céré. Two things strike us: first, the inadequacy of the measures proposed to solve the problems we are facing, and second, the arbitrary, even discriminatory and certainly bureaucratic nature of what is proposed. Allow me to give you more details.
For several years, we have stressed the fact that the employment insurance program is no longer fulfilling its role as a safety net. In the 1990s, there were reforms that amounted to overkill, if I may use the expression. They went too far. That left, and continues to leave, whole sectors of our workforce, men and women alike, without life jackets.
The most vulnerable on the labour market, in fact, are precisely those without life jackets. As the recession began, our employment insurance system was one of the least generous in the OECD. As the recession loomed, we even said that we were in favour of temporary, but generous, measures intended to curb it. What we have are temporary, but not at all convincing, measures that are going to leave a lot of people in difficulty.
I will not use the word “scandal”, but, to be polite, let us just say that it seems to us like an anomaly. Extending the period of employment in insurance benefits is the macroeconomic measure that will have the most impact. No other measure comes close. Every economist studying multiplier effects will tell you that. So we thought we had a right to expect a program with some muscle. We are still waiting.
The OECD has given us its most recent forecasts. As in every recession, the unemployment rate is expected to remain quite high for one, two, perhaps even three years after the recession is officially over—as happened through the 1990s. For us, this is a source of concern.
In our view, any reform should have had, and still should have, a single eligibility level of 360 hours. We know what impact that would have; it has been measured. You have heard the testimony. It would cost about $1.2 billion for 165,000 unemployed. In the circumstances, we think that this is what should be done.
Now let us talk about these measures. I will not go into detail because I feel that Mr. Céré has described our problem well. One of the provisions that causes us a great deal of difficulty is the one that will put people into either the deserving or the undeserving camp. Being laid off is not some sin that requires penance. It is the result of an economic condition. In our view, the government is on the wrong track and is going to cause a lot of frustration as a result. Be warned: people who feel that they have a right to benefits and do not get them are going to be telephoning you. We guarantee it. I work in the union movement and I can tell you that when our members expect something that they do not get, they let us know about it. I am telling you to look out.
For several years, manufacturing job losses in Quebec have been substantial. The figure 125,000 is mentioned, not counting temporary layoffs. Naturally, the temporary layoffs affect eligibility for the program that you are now cooking up. That worries us. We would like better figures. Everyone would. But we do not have them. We are puzzled, especially when we hear the figure of potentially 190,000 people receiving benefits.
We also have other questions. We were always told that it would be difficult to get Revenue Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada together but now it seems to have become doable. That system already poses administration problems and you are going to increase them tenfold. You must not underestimate what this could mean.
There are other problems. If you really resort to legislative means and if this process is of some use, we would like you to consider our proposals as amendments and to duly process them. If that is not the case, we wonder why you did not choose to use pilot projects which would be much less awkward and would allow you to help people tomorrow morning.
I will conclude with that. If you have questions, I would be happy to answer them. Thank you.