Mr. Speaker, the government has tabled two bills amending the Unemployment Insurance Act. It is trying to make it better, trying to improve it to make it something that holds hope for all Canadians. The government is trying to show Canadians that it is being responsible.
In my role as an opposition member and as an individual who has employed a lot of people and has seen how the unemployment insurance system works, I am sorry to report that upon evaluation of all the items, clauses and elements in the bill, basically the minister of human resources has taken a 12 or 15-year old idea, brought it to the surface and finally has his way. Instead of making it simple, he has proceeded to make it even more complicated, more confusing and more convoluted than the Income Tax Act. He has done nothing to make it sound and appear in language that people can understand. He had a choice between using the KISS method in accounting, keep it simple stupid, as opposed to what he has done.
I have a number of concerns about this. The minister had the opportunity to make unemployment insurance truly a program for which it was designed: an insurance program against the time when someone is unemployed. The payments should be equal between employer and employee. I do not know why the minister has allowed the practice to continue where an employer has to pay almost 1.4 times that of an employee. This is what kills jobs. This is why payroll taxes are called job killers. The minister has not listened to this.
If this were a true insurance program, there would be no need for the minister to use moneys from UI for five development tools; $800 million for targeted wage subsidies; targeted earnings supplements; self-employment; job creation partnerships; skills loans and
grants. This is nothing more and nothing less than a vote getting method of spending money. It is old style politics. It reeks of self-service, reeks of missing the point.
The money should go to reduce UI payments for both employer and employee instead of being used for these programs. Then if we want job training programs or to subsidize businesses to hire people, it should be a separate envelope and spending should be made visible instead of invisible.
We are giving the human resources development minister$19 billion to play with when all we are spending on UI benefits is $11 billion. All the other programs amount to approximately$3.1 billion and there is still a slush fund of about $5 billion left over. Why?
We could lower taxes, offer tax relief to the Canadian public through relief of payroll taxes. Employers and employees would be happy with that. But no, the minister wants to be king. The minister wants to hold out a carrot on a stick to say that he is going to help all the unemployed people.
I do not understand why there are different rates of payment across the country for people who collect benefits. Why did he not address that problem? In an area of high unemployment, 16 per cent or higher, why do people get more for staying there than if they moved to an area where there is low unemployment of 6 per cent or less, and get less money for staying there? People are not being asked to look for a job. They are being paid to stay put and are paid more money to stay put than to go and look for a new job. That does not solve the problem. It adds to it, just like the Minister of Finance keeps adding to our debt by setting targets which add to the problem instead of solving it.
The name change is serious. Changing the name from the unemployment insurance program to employment insurance program is really serious. What does that mean to the Canadian taxpayer? People are going to say that they paid into it and when they are unemployed they expect to get their money from unemployment insurance. Fine, they get it. Some people have abused the system and we are trying to weed them out.
If the name is changed to employment insurance people are going to think: "I am paying money into a program which will guarantee me a job if I lose my job". That is what employment means. The minister is toying with people's minds. He is toying with a name change which will have a serious impact. The people will be disappointed if they do not get what they want. It is ridiculous. Once again it is all about politics.
Why not address the problem and solve it? Let us use the unemployment insurance program as such. We should not use it for other things which will increase the costs and allow the minister to waste taxpayers' money. It should be used for the purposes for which it was intended: strictly for payment when people are unemployed.
Supposedly somewhere along the line the minister tested a trial balloon on a voucher system. If the provincial governments do not offer training the way an unemployed individual would like it, if they want to be retrained, if they want to receive an income supplement, if they want to become self-employed, if they want a loan or if they want to create a partnership, they can go to the federal government with the voucher and it will give the individual what they want. Does that not add to the problem? Is that not overlap and duplication of services? Is that not what we are trying to avoid with decentralization?
The Prime Minister promised the province of Quebec that he would transfer manpower training to it. With this bill he has not let go of the strings. He has not let Quebec take care of manpower training. With this bill he is still involved in job training. He is still looking after the training of the people of Quebec. That does not solve the problem. Once again it is adding to the problem. I do not see the difference between job training and manpower training. C'est la même chose, n'est-ce pas?
Where would we go? What would the hon. member for Calgary Centre do if he happened to be lucky enough to have the job of the Minister of Human Resources Development a couple of years from now? With all due respect to our current critic, the hon. member for Calgary Southeast who is looking forward to that job, I do not want it. However, if I had the job the first thing I would do would be to make it a true insurance program. I would establish matching funds for employers and employees, not accelerate the payments made by employers. That might create tax relief which might enable companies to hire more people.
The second thing I would do would be to have everyone pay the same rate, qualify the same way and receive the same amount of money wherever they are. I realize there are some differences. Perhaps in tougher areas they might be allowed an additional week of benefits, but that would be it. Everyone would receive the same benefits. That would make people move around the country to find jobs, rather than staying put, staying cushy and saying thank you very much.
I would also change job training. I would not have human resources development looking after job training. The hon. member for Calgary Centre would have the Minister of Industry look after job training, if in fact we wanted to offer job training to people and if in fact the industry was reluctant to provide opportunities for people to learn, to obtain jobs and to become skilled.
The government should get out of the business of being in business. It should lower government spending to the point where it is only collecting money to do the things which Canadians want. This is not a program which Canadians want; this is a program
which the human resources development minister and his bureaucrats want.
We are collecting $5 billion more than we need. It might be more than $5 billion because there are other programs we could abolish. We might be collecting $6 billion or $7 billion more than we need. That is why our taxes are so high.
It used to be that the bureaucrats in unemployment insurance who worked in the towns and cities across the land helped the people who were unemployed. They would look in the papers, they would get on the phone and they would find employment opportunities. There was a three-strike rule, which is something the minister has not addressed.
For example, a plumber is out of work and cannot get a job. He collects unemployment insurance. The agency in the old days when it wanted to help, would say: "We cannot get you a job in your trade right now, but there is an opportunity over here. Would you like to learn something new? Would you like to try something else?" The plumber would reply: "No. I want a plumber's job". The second time it was: "We have something over here working in a school. If you are on the spot and the pipe bursts you might be lucky". The reply was: "No, I don't want that". The third job they offered was paying relatively the same amount of money he was making or something close to it. Even if it was not close to it, they told him to take the job because he is the available person who has some skills they need.
Many jobs are going unfulfilled. We talk about our high unemployment levels but we never talk about the number of available jobs. We never correlate the two. I believe the three-strike rule should be reintroduced as well.