Mr. Speaker, as usual the member for Calgary asks excellent questions and I want to address each of them.
First, we have to be very careful with respect to the principle of insurance as it applies to employment insurance. I have spoken to people who are involved in the insurance business. For example, I do not know of anyone who has bought death insurance. Agents usually try to sell it as life insurance. They do not sell sickness insurance. They sell it as health insurance. All of my adult life I have had term insurance. I hope the hon. member for Calgary will understand why I am glad no one has collected on it yet.
We have to be extremely careful because insurance can have different functions. There has to be a sharing. People who have full time jobs and long attachments to a job are probably extremely pleased that they have never had to go to the employment insurance system for support.
We have to be extremely cautious when we make the changes to retain equity and fairness. People told me on the weekend that they were prepared to change places with people who felt there was too much unemployment insurance money going into certain parts of the country. They would exchange the unemployment insurance cheques for the full time jobs that existed in certain parts of the country, for example, in the automobile industry in Ontario. I say that knowing my friend is from the great province of Alberta. There is always a need to try to keep some balance.
I agree we have to look at the surplus. The hon. member asked what the amount is now. We have just come out of a deficit position. We have been running a surplus on current account but there was an existing deficit in the UI fund. In the last few months, probably since December, we have moved into a surplus position. The budget documents indicate that we may get to approximately $9 billion to $10 billion in a couple of years.
I do not think there is any doubt that the Minister of Finance would be prepared to tell my hon. friend that there is a level at which the surplus has to be controlled. I will indicate my interest as well. The member would know that the surplus is merely a myth in the sense that it is a liability the government has when it uses it in the CRF because it is a debt owed to the employment insurance fund.
Although it is useful in managing the deficit to some extent, in the final analysis it will have to be used to protect against a downturn in the economy. We want to avoid the kind of scenario we had a few years ago when the country was in a recession and premiums were going up when companies and individuals were least able to pay them. I take my hon. friend's comments seriously. We have to look at where we are going to put a ceiling on the surplus.
To answer another point he made, I do think the right way to go about it will be to make some dramatic changes in the premium rate because it is a payroll tax. It is a disincentive. We can address that in the next 18 months if we continue on the present trend of an increasing amount in the reserve. Jobs are also being created in the private sector that will allow for premiums to be adjusted downward.