Mr. Speaker, I will do my best in ten minutes.
Bill C-17, an Act to implement certain provisions of the budget, reveals this government's true identity. Liberal government members succeeded in getting elected by denouncing the unfair policies of the Conservative government which widened the gap between rich and poor, as well as the gap between anglophones and francophones. A study released this week showed this to be the case everywhere, except in Quebec.
However, once again we see today how the public's hopes for justice, dignity and equity have been blithely crushed by politicians who, when in opposition, denounced others for doing exactly what they are now guilty of.
Once again, the government is attacking the least fortunate in society. A recent analysis carried out by three experts from the economics department at the University of Quebec at Montreal showed that 60 per cent of the cuts to the federal deficit announced in this budget will be borne by Canada's unemployed. This is totally unfair since the government will be forcing the least fortunate to bear a bigger share of the burden of putting the nation's finances in order.
Lowering the number of weeks of benefit entitlement while at the same time increasing the number of weeks of work needed for benefit entitlement does nothing to address the problem of those who defraud or take advantage of the system. What this measure does above all is attack the vast majority of unemployed workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who must now face increasingly harsh economic conditions.
This unravelling of the social safety net on which workers depend will also affect regions and provinces already hard hit by the recession. By taking this action, the Minister of Finance is getting the provinces to foot the bill by forcing the unemployed onto social assistance sooner than necessary.
According to the figures provided by the Department of Human Resources, the federal cutbacks mean that the Government of Quebec will have to spend an additional $65 million to
$135 million on social assistance. Benefits paid to Quebec's unemployed in 1994-95 will be cut by a total of $735 million.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Finance still claims to promote job creation. How can he indulge such fantasies when he is about to take more money out of the pockets of a large group of consumers in this country, the unemployed?
Although it makes no sense at all, the Liberal government continues to apply the same policy as the Conservatives, in other words, it prefers to attack the unemployed instead of creating jobs. So far, the present and previous governments' mindless cuts in unemployment insurance have produced very unsatisfactory results. In 1989, 1 million Canadians were unemployed. In 1993, there were 1.6 million, an increase of 60 per cent.
On the subject of job creation, I think we must realize it will take more than a good old fashioned infrastructures program to improve the employment situation. Although this program invests federal funds, it also involves additional expenditures by the provinces and municipalities. In most cases, this money will have to be borrowed, which means additional debt.
In this scenario, I think reducing the number of insurable weeks will have no effect at all. In fact, this reduction will come down harder on regions and provinces where the unemployment rate is high, in other words, Quebec and the Maritime provinces. This measure will affect six regions out of thirteen in Quebec and seven out of thirteen in the Maritimes. The proposed amendments will not only affect whole regions, they will also have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable people in this group, and I am referring to claimants who work only for short periods. Unfortunately, the majority of workers in this category are young people.
In Quebec, youth unemployment is around 20 per cent, involving about 137,000 unemployed in this age group. The real problem, in their case and in the case of other labour market "rejects" is not that they have no incentive to work because unemployment benefits are too generous, but that there are no jobs available.
Here we have a perfect example of a government saying one thing and doing another. On the one hand, we have the government stating in its official discourse that the gap between the poor and the rich must be bridged and, on the other hand, implementing measures which shamelessly make the less fortunate bear the brunt of the federal deficit.
It is more obvious than ever today that this ship is sinking. Constant infringment upon provincial jurisdictions, particularly with respect to job training, has led the federal system to the brink of bankruptcy. And now the supporters of this system want the most vulnerable segment of our society to bear the brunt of a misguided policy of infringement, which prompts more and more Quebecers to say it may be high time we get out of that system.
It has become nothing more than a vast and expensive smoke screen for the financial abyss the Liberal government is leading us to. Much would need to be done in terms of administrative management and even about the way ministers carry out their duties.
As reported last Saturday in Le Soleil , following the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs' example, the Minister of Human Resources Development also used a government jet, at a cost estimated, using the Auditor General's method of calculation, at $117,900, to go and talk about cuts in compensation to fishermen in Quebec and the Maritimes.
The minister has a lot of nerve to try to make the people of Quebec and Canada believe that they are going to be consulted concerning social programs reform. This is the kind of consultation I do not hesitate to call a sham because the minister did not even wait for the report to be tabled, which it was today, to start making cuts in the unemployment insurance system.
As we speak, the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development is releasing its report on the first phase of the consultations it has held on social programs. But by proposing, as it did, the adoption of Bill C-17, which deals mainly with cuts to the unemployment insurance system, that is to say one of the most important elements of our social programs, the government is actually going ahead and making cuts in that area without even waiting for the report from its own committee. What message is it looking to send to the public for the second phase of the consultation process?
The minister did not wait either for the rapport of a study group which held similar consultations in all provinces at the same time as the committee. I myself attended last Tuesday in Montreal a meeting organized for community organizations by the coalition of organizations for the development of employability, acting under a mandate only three weeks old.
Most of the organizations said that the time is too short; they did not have time to prepare, but were coming anyway; they have experiences to share; they will tell you what they think of it; employment should be the priority; maintain the level of social programs. But we did not expect this: the government consults but meanwhile takes measures attacking the most disadvantaged.
The second phase of consultations is approaching. I am a member of the human resources committee; the report is to come out in September. I think that it would have been wise under the circumstances-with a less improvised, less rushed consultation, with more serious briefs presented, further to the
options announced by the minister himself-to wait for the report from this consultation before passing Bill C-17.
No, when it comes to attacking the poorest people in our society, the Liberal government is in a hurry. To help those who need jobs, they propose measures and studies and suggest that those people wait for the result of these studies. They say one thing about jobs and another about cuts.