Mr. Speaker, my turn has come to speak on Bill C-31, and I will be better able to concentrate on my speech as soon as I have some quiet.
This bill is aimed at privatizing certain services and gives the government the opportunity to dispose of rail stock. It makes minor changes to the old age pension-until the real thing comes along in five years-provides for the Canada social transfer, in other words it combines three transfer programs to the provinces into one. Of course, it will be transferring cuts to them at the same time. It gives more power to the Minister of Industry and it modifies the Student Loans Act. But mainly, the bill enables the Minister of Finance to give $963 million in compensation to the Atlantic provinces in exchange for harmonization of the GST.
My colleague, the finance critic for the Bloc Quebecois, has addressed this at length, so I shall concentrate my remarks mainly on unemployment insurance.
So Friday has arrived, the end of the week, and what a week we have had here in the House. A rather special week, since the government imposed two gag orders, the first on Bill C-31, on which we are speaking today, and the second on the committee stage of Bill C-12 on unemployment insurance, in the human resources development committee. But Bill C-31 also addresses unemployment insurance.
It is a bit odd. With this approach, the government could be said to be wearing both a belt and suspenders. In other words, the amendments to the unemployment insurance plan are in two bills that are being considered at the same time. Different.
Furthermore, Bill C-31 is worse than Bill C-12 in that its effect is retroactive to January 1, 1996. People should be reminded that, while we are being gagged and while the time spent by the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development in consideration of this bill is being limited, as it was this past week, here we are passing another bill containing two measures: the reduction in the ceiling on insurable earnings to $39,000 and its effect being made retroactive to January 1, 1996. This is quite something. They are not taking any chances. Perhaps they are afraid of protests against this bill in the Senate, the House or somewhere outside Parliament. They are not running any risks; they are going at the unemployed with two bills.
Worse yet, there was contempt of the House this week. This is why I called this the week of the gag. I am not talking about yawning but about being gagged. I am talking about being very wide awake and being gagged. We were very much awake in opposition, even if we did go to bed very late, even going without sleep Tuesday night, because we tried to convince the government and the whip opposite that it did not make sense, at the stage of considering the bill clause by clause, to allow only five minutes per clause.
What is more, I showed that clause 5 alone-my only example-took 12 minutes to read. So, with the time limit the government wanted to impose this week, it was not even possible to read the clauses. It was not permitted. It was impossible. So, as you can imagine, there was no time for answers to our questions, and we could not complain, obviously. So, they pushed it through. The government, for the second time in this Parliament, is setting time limits with this bill against unemployment insurance, as it did with
the bill sending railway employees back to work, where we sat here on a weekend.
What is worse, they are so contemptuous that, on January 1, they issued an employer's guide, a job statement I have in my hands, asking that contributions be made on the basis of $39,000 instead of $42,400. Employers were advised to comply since a bill to that effect would be passed. They said one bill, not two. So this measure has already been implemented.
We know that this measure, which would reduce maximum insurable earnings from $42,400 to $39,000, represents an amount of $900 million that the government agreed to forgo on a retroactive basis. I wonder what kind of game they are playing.
Then they accuse us of wasting the government's money because we want to take our time to study the clauses. The government, for its part, can give a present to business and to people making more than $39,000 to make them more receptive to its bill. Meanwhile, people who did not have to pay premiums before will now have to, including those working less than 15 hours a week, whose contributions represent another $900 million.
This is the exact opposite of Robin Hood, who tried to help the poor by robbing the rich-although the means might not have been the most appropriate. The government, however, gives to the rich so it can take more from the poor. What is the world coming to? This is a week of muzzling; nothing makes sense any more.
They send this to employers, thus showing their contempt for Parliament.
I will not say much about the GST. As we know, the Prime Minister does not want to acknowledge the statements he made about the GST, although the Minister of Finance admitted that they indeed made a mistake, that they did promise to kill the GST but that it was not feasible. I am not talking about the red book, but about the Prime Minister's statements.
The Prime Minister refuses to acknowledge his comments, but he may recognize the letter he sent Mouvement action-chômage on March 26, 1993. I would like to read it, as it is not very long:
Thank you for your fax expressing your opposition to the legislative measures taken by the government-the Tory government and former minister Valcourt-to amend the unemployment insurance plan.
I can assure you that the Liberal Party shares your concern about this attack against the unemployed. We do not believe either that the recent superficial amendments will change the fundamentally unfair nature of these measures.
Our country is still in the throes of the worst economic crisis it has gone through since the thirties.
I will skip the next paragraph as it contains figures.
Given how serious the crisis is, the Liberals have urged the government-the Conservative government-to take steps to stimulate the economy and create jobs. Yet, the Minister of Finance says not only that he will renew the same fiscal, monetary and trade policies that have plunged us into this recession, but that he will go after the unemployed in order to reduce government spending.
The Liberal Party is appalled by these measures. Obviously, by reducing benefits and further penalizing those who leave their jobs voluntarily, the government shows very little concern for the victims of the economic crisis. Instead of getting to the heart of the problem, it goes after the unemployed. These measures will have a disturbing impact, for they will discourage workers from reporting harassment cases and unacceptable conditions in the workplace.
Finally, you can be assured that the Liberals will continue to call on the government-the Conservative government-to withdraw this unfair bill. As Leader of the Opposition, I appreciate your taking the trouble of sharing your views on this matter with me.
Leader of the Opposition.
This is not a statement but a letter. I will not repeat it. Now, through Bill C-31, and especially Bill C-12, the government will reduce UI benefits even further. People will no longer qualify.
In conclusion-you are indicating my time is up, but I know you are not trying to muzzle me-I deplore this week of muzzling. It is the end of the honeymoon and the beginning of the end for this Liberal government.