Mr. Speaker, I strongly object to the motion before us. First of all, for the people watching or listening to us, I should explain what this motion means. It would allow a minister, during the first 30 sitting days of this session, to restore a bill to the same legislative stage it had reached at the time of prorogation simply by making a statement at the first reading stage of the bill. This bill must be exactly in the same form as it was during the last session.
For someone who is not familiar with House proceedings, this may sound like normal procedure but we cannot find any precedents for such a motion. Since 1938, there has been only one example of such a motion: in 1991, the Tory government tabled a motion for debate on March 28 and then imposed closure on May 29.
Before 1991, parliamentary tradition dictated that such a motion be agreed to with the unanimous consent of the House. The Liberals, who were then in opposition, strongly denounced that motion as irregular and undemocratic.
According to parliamentary tradition, when the government puts an end to a session, it usually means that it has achieved its goals. If some bills die on the Order Paper, the government has only itself to blame. A new session means that it must submit new bills to the House of Commons to be examined right from the start.
We are asking government members to object to it if they want to be consistent with what they said in 1991, when they denounced this process in very strong terms.
If they ever decided to vote in favour of this motion, we would end up with bills such as the one on employment insurance-whose number I cannot recall-which would have come before the House only at the report and third reading stages. They are bypassing all the usual legislative stages, as I recall that the employment insurance bill did not go through second reading in the usual way. The government used a parliamentary tactic that also bypassed the usual procedure.
At second reading, all members were not allowed to express their views as they should on such an important bill; instead, we in the opposition had to make do with six times ten minutes. This is absolutely disgraceful, especially considering the absolutely ridiculous amount of time we were given to inform the public about the details of former Bill C-111-whose new number we are not about find out, I hope-because that is what serving in Parliament is about.
What is the use of readings, of broadcasting readings, if not to inform the public? The public has not received all the information it should have been provided with regarding this bill on employment insurance.
The government interfered with the normal second reading process. When people protested vehemently, supported by their bishops in the Gaspé Peninsula and by their Churches in other parts of Canada, instead of abiding by parliamentary procedure and withdrawing the bill, or letting it die on the Order Paper and introducing a revised bill, as requested by any and every one who cares about the ordinary people of Canada, this government impertinently seeks to bring the bill back before the House, during the second session of this Parliament, while skipping all other stages.
This is my first experience as a member of Parliament, and I thought that the House of Commons of Canada provided a certain decorum, certain democratic guarantees and a forum where the people could inform themselves and their representatives, in the opposition that is, could raise in public-and be given the time they need to make their point-the serious problems posed by various bills.
I am forced to realize that this is a far cry from how I thought the British parliamentary system was used in Canada. This government motion goes farther than anything before. This government motion is, to put it bluntly, antidemocratic. It is unusual and, as such, problematic.
That is why, as energetically as we can, we urge the government not to proceed according to this motion, but rather according to the parliamentary spirit, which provides that, within the course of any given session, a certain procedure shall be followed after a bill has been read for the first time, that allows the opposition to play its role.
Let us not forget that, unless the opposition is free and able to express its views, there can be no democratic process. The role of the opposition is a fundamental one, and a crucial one as well. And when we find ourselves in a situation like this, with a bill as fundamentally important to ordinary people as the employment insurance bill, that will go to committee without having undergone proper consideration at second reading and come back before this House only for committee report and third reading, we are dealing with highly unusual procedures, which are totally unacceptable. Ordinary citizens are not properly served, or else this is a drastic and serious change in parliamentary proceedure in the House of Commons.
Numerous rallies were held in various Canadian provinces, including Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, by people who are disgusted with the major changes included in a bill that was supposed to have died on the Order Paper, but that will now be referred to committee if the government passes its legislation.
People are concerned; they do not know what to do. Unemployment insurance is the only security for millions of Canadians and Quebecers. There are some who do not understand that, because they have financial security; they have money and a steady job. But for all the others, unemployment insurance is the only security they have. And I could add that it takes them a long time to get that security, often a full six weeks. However, few people can save enough to survive six weeks with no income, but it is possible to somehow manage, if one knows that one will at least get a minimum income.
Everyone is urging the minister to withdraw this bill and conduct an in-depth review of its provisions, because it changes everything. It creates conditions whereby, for example, young people, newcomers to the labour market will have to work six months before being eligible for UI benefits, at a rate of 35 hours of work per week.
Everyone knows that these conditions are hard to meet for a woman who re-enters the labour force, for a new immigrant, for someone who has been sick for more than two years or who left the labour force, or for a young person entering the labour market. It is difficult to keep a first employment. Some do find a stable first job that pays well, but this is uncommon. In real life, this is a rare occurrence indeed.
What does that bill imply? It means that, from now on, in spite of having worked at one, two or three jobs, many people who have not managed to get six months of employment at an average of 35 hours per week will have to rely on their friends and family, or go on welfare. This is what it means. It means that, instead of entering the labour market and, given existing conditions, being able to count on some help to tide them over between jobs, people entering the workforce will immediately get the feeling that they are being ejected from it.
This bill contains some discriminatory measures. It also completely changes the old rules.
Unfortunately, we will have the opportunity to speak of it a great deal, and I am obliged to tell you that we in the Opposition want the government to listen to the Canadian coalition and to withdraw
this bill, or rather just leave it where it is. It does not need to be withdrawn because it is supposed to have died on the Order Paper. We do not want the government to resuscitate it in its current state, for it is a bill which bodes nothing but despair.
The government may well say: "But the demonstrations involved only a few thousand people here, a few thousand people there, another hundred somewhere else." But it cannot claim that this bill has not brought out crowds in opposition. Does the government not make any move unless it is facing a large enough crowd? Has it not itself studied the economic impact of the bill?
This bill, which died on the Order Paper and deserves to be allowed to rest in peace, was adding $640 million annually in unemployment insurance cuts for Quebec alone to the $735 million cut annually by the Liberals since 1994. In 1995-96 and 1996-97, there will be $735 million less for unemployment insurance benefits. If this bill were resuscitated artificially by Motion No. 1, it would impose an additional $640 million in cuts.
What does that translate into? It means $1,375,000,000 in Quebec alone in the year 2000. The Liberal government welcomes you to the year 2000, where if Quebec is still part of Canada-which I hope will not be the case-unemployment insurance will have been cut by $1,375,000,000.
And how much in the Atlantic provinces? This year $635 million, plus $344 million, to a total of $974 million less. What does that mean? It means $974 million less for groceries, rent, children' basic necessities. That is what those cuts represent. They affect what goes directly into the economy, not money used for speculative investments, but money injected directly into the economy.
Did the government even look at the economic impact of these cuts in disadvantaged regions, of which there are many in Quebec and in the Atlantic provinces? Did it even give this a thought? We have been shown studies of all sorts, but no economic impact studies have been done. The only thing it came up with, no doubt because it heard rumbling, was the figure of $300 million over three years, peanuts compared with the cuts I just mentioned.
So it is not surprising that the people in the disadvantaged regions rose up. It is not surprising that the bishops in the Gaspé rang the bells-a sort of alarm in the event of fire-because the ordinary folks will be finding themselves facing extremely hard times.
Why did the government not let the bill die on the Order Paper instead of resurrecting it? There is still time for the government to give it some thought.
It should not underestimate the anger and discontent of the ordinary people, who are facing cuts, who know there are more to
come and who have only this little bit of security. There was indeed abuse and a system in certain regions. But individuals are not at fault, the fault lies with the labour market, which is not providing the jobs it should. We should be going after it and not after the people who are eking out a living.
I implore the government not to bring back this bill. The best way would be for it to withdraw this anti-democratic and exceptional motion, which the hon. members opposite opposed with virulence in 1991, in conditions that were not so harsh as they are now. Their responsibility before history, Parliament and society will be heavy.