Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying that I rise to support Bill C-218 proposed by my colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Hubert.
The purpose of this bill is to exclude, from the definition of excepted employment, employment where the employer and employee are not dealing with each other at arm's length.
Contrary to what the government's spokespersons claim, we must not wait for a global reform of the legislation to act. We must immediately correct this injustice created by the previous Conservative government, which excluded spouses from being eligible to UI benefits. We know that this same government not only did not want to correct this injustice but went so far as to extend the scope of that provision. Indeed, it is no longer only spouses which are excluded, but all those who are not dealing with their employer at arm's length.
I mentioned on several occasions in this House that the unemployment rate in my riding is very high. Chicoutimi and the Lower Saguenay region have often had the highest level of unemployment in the country, a distinction which they could gladly do without, believe me.
In spite of the new government in Ottawa and the promises made during the last federal election campaign, the situation remains the same. Unemployment is still very high and our young people keep moving to large urban centres.
It is not a happy event for people when they have to claim UI benefits. I do not know anyone who is happy to become a UI claimant and only get 55 per cent of his or her regular income. But it is even worse to be totally excluded for the reason that you are not dealing at arm's length with your employer. If you have worked for your parents, or if you are working for your spouse, you are perceived as a potential abuser and an inquiry is
conducted to see if your employment is insurable. These workers regularly show up in our riding offices.
Understandably, they cannot figure out why their UI claim ends up at Revenue Canada, Taxation, for an inquiry. All this for the simple reason that these people worked for their parents or their spouse. In the majority of cases, the UI office does not tell people about this when they first submit their claim. Only once their file is transferred to Revenue Canada, some three weeks later, are these people told that officers from that department will conduct an inquiry, at the conclusion of which they will finally know whether or not they are eligible for UI benefits.
Revenue Canada takes three months to determine the eligibility of a claimant. When you are waiting for money to buy the groceries and pay the rent, let me tell you that three months can seem like a long time. This procedure penalizes taxpayers in Saguenay, in Quebec, and in Canada in two ways. Quebec City processes the claims for my region. We just got Revenue Canada officials to sign their decisions so that taxpayers who wish to discuss their file can do so. Of course, these taxpayers have to pay all the costs they incur to contact these officials.
Let me review briefly how these civil servants work. They have pretty extensive investigative powers and can ask to see the company's accounting books, ledgers, minutes of meetings, copies of cheques, and much more. They audit bank accounts and check with the suppliers. They are looking for people who cheat the system. What else would you call it? At least that is what the people under investigation believe.
As often as not, we are dealing with very small businesses, family businesses whose owners hire their immediate family members. We often hear: "Charity begins at home". How many businesspeople among those who made it big started their businesses in their basement or garage with only their spouse or their sons and daughters as employees? There are a great number of success stories. Let me give you two examples everyone has heard about.
First, there is the Louis Garneau company, and closer to my riding, the Chlorophylle corporation, two businesses which are now renowned all over the world. But before they can become this famous, a good number of our businesses operate on a seasonal basis, which means that their employees must apply for UI benefits. That is when the fun begins and the investigation gets under way.
Think about all the people who are discouraged by the system. If Revenue Canada finds that your employment is not insurable, you must file an appeal. That means another delay, another 90-day waiting period, not to mention all the costs you will have to incur for postage and long distance calls, for example. During the summer, I saw in my riding office a couple who were about to appear before the Tax Court of Canada. Although they had legal opinions to support them, the couple decided not to appear before this new court, because they were tired and discouraged. They did not have the strength or the money to fight any more, unlike Revenue Canada which can afford lawyers.
So, these people gave up. I sincerely believe that we have to support the bill introduced by the hon. member for Saint-Hubert if we want several of our family businesses to survive. God knows we need these businesses to fight the disastrous unemployment situation. Although everybody decries the situation, few suit their actions to their words. We must ensure that the people who still have the desire to achieve something, to create their own job, can survive.