Mr. Speaker, I am both pleased and proud to second the motion by our leader to have the Minister of Human Resources withdraw the bill now numbered C-12.
During Question Period, the minister informed us that, during the work to be done, in the coming months, he would call for constructive proposals but would brook no criticism. I have news for him. He will have to listen to criticism, because the only constructive proposal he could make, in committee and in the House, to help those who really need an unemployment insurance program, would be that there be no cuts.
Why did the Minister of Finance, in order to achieve his objectives, decide to cut 10 per cent more from unemployment insurance? Why in this country does it have to be those who need UI benefits between jobs who service the debt? Do they have some special responsibility for coming up not with hundreds, but thousands of dollars as a rule? Why is it that a young person, a woman re-entering the labour market, an immigrant, or someone who had to stop working because of illness and is re-entering the labour market should not be entitled to unemployment insurance under reasonable conditions?
They are required to have worked 910 hours, or 26 35-hour weeks. Anyone the slightly bit familiar with the labour market will know how difficult it is to find right from the start a job that provides 35 hours a week for 26 weeks in a row, not to mention a first job in the case of someone re-entering or entering the labour market.
This is the kind of cut provided for by the bill. The question applies to everybody targeted by this bill. And I will ask it again: Why is it that, in Canada, the additional $1.9 billion in budget cuts, or the interests on the debt, should be paid for by the unemployed? Somebody will have to pay.
The Minister of Human Resources Development had better not say: "Suggest an itty bitty reform. What might suit your fancy?" We do not want to have to chose among those who are going to be deprived even more of already meagre resources.
Do you know that of all the OECD countries, Canada is one of those lagging behind with regard to social expenditures? This, according to the latest statistics I found in a 1994 OECD document using 1990 figures, that is before what I would describe as the drastic cuts made cumulatively by our conservative and liberal governments. Already, Canada was behind New Zealand, a country everybody is looking at with fear, according to their point of view, mine anyway.
Although Canada has nothing to brag about in terms of social spending, it has decided to make the unemployed pay for what it calls an additional deficit reduction effort. Millions of people are affected. Even if we fail to do our job and mobilize in sufficient numbers to prevent the minister from going a little crazy, he should at least be forced to withdraw his bill because it cannot be properly redrafted. There are just too many major changes compared to the legislation now in effect.
If we fail to mobilize, Canada will let the burden of the debt and the interest on it fall on those who are least able to afford it.
However, if the minister agreed that the system's effectiveness is just as important and that the UI plan should not be cut any further but that we should sit down with businesses and organizations in order to get the most out of the money invested, he would be taking a step in the right direction, and we would have proposals to make.
The current situation is totally unacceptable not only because of the millions of people who will be affected but also because of the social and economic impact of these cuts.
We will never say it often enough: since the Liberals, who were tearing up their shirts over the two cuts made by the Tories-which, compared to the cuts made or proposed by the Liberals, were rather minor-came to office, they have deprived the Quebec economy of $735 million a year for 1995-96, 1996-97 and every subsequent year.
How much was cut in the Atlantic provinces? Funding has been cut by $640 million each and every year starting in 1995-96. This bill adds to these cuts, these reduced benefits, this shortfall in money required to pay rent, to buy groceries, to feed the children, to provide ordinary people with an ordinary standard of living.
This new bill adds $630 in cuts to Quebec and, according to the minister's own figures, $344 million in cuts to the Atlantic provinces, for a total-and this will be this Liberal government's legacy-of $1.375 billion per year in UI cuts by the time the program ends in the year 2000. It will be $974 million in the Atlantic provinces, whose economy is flourishing, as we all know.
Earlier, a minister asked if the opposition thought the $300 million allocated over a three-year period to assist with implementing the system is small change. My answer is: that is right. Indeed, as far as the Atlantic provinces are concerned, I fail to see the connection between taking $974 million out of the local economy every year and the fact that the provinces would receive 40 per cent of $300 million over three years. It is really not the same thing.
You know, in a region, when a business that used to pay $5 million in wages closes down, one wonders how this will affect the local economy. So, when I learn that the Atlantic provinces will receive $975 million less every year, I dare say that the government did not weigh the economic impact, or the social impact, of its decision. What are those individuals who will have to do without UI benefits because they do not qualify or are being cut off supposed to do?
They will spend less, naturally. That is an economic impact in itself, a radical impact. But they will need a minimum of money. They may turn to their parents for assistance, for a while, turn to their friends, for a while, live off their savings, for a while, but eventually, they will be forced onto welfare. Someone must always pay the price; in this case, it will be the individuals and their families. And it will not be those who are the wealthiest or who are best able to pay the price, and the same is true of the provinces.
If all those who worked seriously on this bill came out and said that the government should withdraw the bill and start over, they would be right. The whole UI system, which was built over many years and, to a great extent, by the federal Liberals, in their early days-let us call this period phase one-this whole building is now being blown away.
It was blown up, like in the movies. The building was blown up and then the government started all over again. There is still a pillar here and there. Therefore, it is difficult in these conditions to say: "We will make an amendment here or there". It is unfortunate that the government does not listen more.
This bill will be harmful to the country's economic and social life. It will hurt. It puts Canada into a mould which, based on what I have seen, a large number of Canadians do not want. This is a fact. So, I ask again: why set these additional $1.9 billion cuts as a deficit-related objective? Why do it on the backs of those people?
Instead, why not ask how to make the program more effective, how to help those regions where there is concern that people will end up relying on UI benefits? There is indeed a real danger, but the real issue is: how can we change current economic conditions?
When I first joined the human resources development committee, some senior officials showed us the findings of their research on how the unemployment insurance program was used in the various provinces. I guess I am not allowed to show these findings here, but it would be interesting for all Canadians to see these documents, since the two successive reforms are explained through the use of graphs.
In fact, it is an open secret that the eastern provinces, starting with Quebec-but not as much nowadays-and mostly the Atlantic provinces, "get more" from the unemployment insurance system than they put in, especially because of seasonal work and of the ups and downs of the economy. Throughout the world, the economy seems to be shifting from east to west. This is occurring in the United States and elsewhere.
There was a sort of redistribution, which had gained some acceptance, but which some economists have vehemently decried. However, the cuts made under this accelerated decrease in the redistribution process taking place through the unemployment insurance program, without the investments needed to create more jobs-and I am talking about the situation in the Maritimes, in Montreal, in the lower St. Lawrence district and in all the areas with a high unemployment rate-will result in the weakening of our social and economic fabric.
There is no short cut. None at all. The provinces are unable to take up all the slack. Families will not invest their savings. As we know, Canada has a serious debt problem. Savings have decreased. The people who are not yet getting their pension but will soon be are increasingly worried. With the unemployment rate remaining high, everyone is feeling insecure and quite worried. These cuts will only increase our sense of insecurity and make the work of those who fight crime even more difficult.
Canadians must face reality. This is the challenge here. The problem is not with the protesters who earn too much, or with Bob White who earns too much and organizes protests. That is not the problem.
The problem is that the minister does not seem to realize the long-term and very serious economic and social consequences the decisions he is about to make will have. So, when I see him get mad at the protesters, not to mention the prime minister who, in a very unfortunate incident, actually assaulted a man who was protesting against this so-called reform of the unemployment insurance system, I cannot help but feel sad. This is not the right way to do things.
The right way is to find out how we can, with the resources at our disposal, help to ensure the usefulness and social well-being of our fellow citizens. This is what a country should be about. This is why I want to build my own country.