Madam Speaker, we have finally made it. We still had not had the opportunity, four months after the introduction of the bill, to examine this issue in detail, but we will now be able to do so thanks to the Bloc amendments included in the first group of motions. How can the bill before us be entitled an Act respecting employment insurance in Canada, when all it provides for really is a lot of amendments to the Unemployment Insurance Act?
Let me try to explain. During the 1993 fall election, voters told us that they thought employment should be the first priority of the federal government. They wanted seasonal workers to have the opportunity to work during the winter, they wanted workers between 45 and 50 years of age affected by technological change to have access to other jobs thanks to productivity gains, and they wanted female workers to be able to make the most of their potential and skills.
The government took the message the Canadian voters sent it and turned it into what is now improperly called an Act respecting employment insurance in Canada. As we have heard this morning, some members believe that this bill will encourage people to work a bit longer. They started with a bill and said: "We will call it employment insurance". An employment insurance ought to help everyone get some work and help workers who lose their jobs find another one as soon as possible, so that their full potential is used.
Instead, what we have is a bill where workers who lose their jobs get their knuckles rapped, since they are told they will be encouraged to work longer, because if they do not, they will get no unemployment insurance. This is a punitive approach that is out of step with the current employment situation in Canada.
This title was given to the bill in answer to the public's expressed wish to make full use of human potential, but the bill is just a smoke screen, since its content has nothing to do with reality. The reality is that this reform bill offers no guarantees in terms of jobs. It also denies the workers the benefit of an income between jobs.
Unemployment insurance was established in 1935. I would like to quote what Prime Minister Bennett said about it in a speech: "A series of measures that are part of a comprehensive plan aimed at reducing the present social and economic inequities and at distributing more equitably the benefits of capitalism between the different groups in our society and the various regions will be submitted to you". This is the basis of the UI program as we know it today.
Now, let us look at the content of the employment insurance bill, to see if it still meets that goal. Canadians and Quebecers can be proud of that goal. Experts who appeared before the committee told
us that the UI program is the best program to stabilize the economy during a recession.
The amendments to the UI program being brought in by the government will do exactly the opposite: they will reduce this stabilizing effect and it will be a step backward that will eventually lead us to a situation similar to that of the Depression of the 1930s. The UI program was established at that time to help us overcome the crisis and to soften the effects of recessions. I will give some examples of the adverse effects of this bill.
The first thing that is not good for job creation is the lowering of maximum insurable earnings. We are encouraging businesses, big corporations in particular, by giving them a present, to hire people who can earn more than $39,000, who can do lots of overtime, because above $39,000 businesses will not pay premiums anymore. So given the choice between hiring someone at $39,000 and asking him to do more than $10,000 worth of overtime in one year and hiring a part time worker, what will the company choose? To realize economies of scale, the big corporation will say: "Instead of paying $10,000 to 10 part time employees, we will pay overtime instead, which will make for corresponding savings in terms of unemployment insurance premiums we will not have to pay".
When a gouvernment suggests such measures in a bill, it cannot call it employment insurance. In fact, it is an anti-employment bill. We cannot give such a title to a bill. At least, the government should have had the decency to consider it as a series of amendments to the Unemployment insurance Act, and let us determine whether or not they are in accordance with what the people want.
Another significant element is that everybody will have to pay premiums from now on, starting with the first hour of work. The principle of making everybody insurable can be interesting, but it means that many people, including students, will pay premiums.
We heard representations by restaurant owners associations, people who are responsible for McDonald's franchises and others, throughout Canada, and who cannot be accused of not trying to protect the economy. They told us it would have a major negative impact on student employment. Once again, there is a negative impact on employment. So, we cannot say it is an employment insurance bill.
The other element, maybe the most tragic one, at least in my riding, is the way they are killing regional economies. Next year, in my riding, the changes will take away $10 million from the economies of Kamouraska, Rivière-du-Loup, Témiscouata, Les Basques and the surrounding area. In Lower St. Lawrence, it will be $20 million.
And you would have me believe that those cuts will create employment? How could that be? How can the government guarantee that these savings will be used to create new jobs? There is no way it can because it is using the UI fund to supplement its budget. It is using it to show the world that Canada's deficit is not that high, but that does nothing for job creation. So, it is not an employment insurance bill but an anti-employment bill, a bill representing a step backwards for all unemployment insurance rules. I for one think it is unacceptable.
Another example of the negative impact of the so-called employment insurance bill, which is just an amendment of the Unemployment Insurance Act, is the rule prescribing 910 hours of work for new entrants to the labour force. Just think, previously, a new entrant needed 300 hours of work to be eligible, that is 20 weeks at 15 hours a week. From now on, it will be 910 hours.
What effect will that have on new entrants, on young people entering the labour market? After trying for a year to accumulate 910 hours, young people who just graduated from school in applied ecology, in animal health, in tourism, in recreation or in any other field related to seasonal industries will realize that this 910-hour requirement cannot be met. By imposing such a requirement, the federal government is encouraging those people to do clandestine work and is forcing them onto welfare.
Do you think you are encouraging high school, college or university students to work when you tell them that the job they will get after graduating will lead them straight to welfare? This situation is unacceptable, and it is totally misleading to say that this legislation is about employment insurance.
What should the government have done instead? It should have introduced a true reform and not seize this opportunity to tighten all eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance. For this to be a real employment insurance bill, the government should have included in it the right or the obligation to set a goal for reducing unemployment, just as it did for the reduction of the deficit. It said: "We will bring the deficit down to a certain percentage of the GDP". If the government really wanted to address the problem of unemployment, should it not have included in this bill a goal for reducing unemployment so that all government action could be geared toward this goal? There is no such thing in the bill.
Are there measures in the bill to encourage job-sharing? Are there employment oriented tax incentives? No. All the government has come up with is a technical committee to evaluate the effects of taxation on employment. Before you know it, we will be in the next recession and we will still not have found any solution, although we will have had the opportunity. If the object was to come up with an employment insurance bill, to define and produce rules such
that businesses are encouraged through taxation to keep employees, to train them, to ensure that they will continue to work for them rather than leave.
It should also have included incentives to reduce overtime. But the opposite is true, as I explained with respect to maximum insurable earnings. Here again, there is nothing favouring job creation, in particular by reducing overtime.
Another thing that could have been done was to increase the effectiveness of training. This means doing the right things in the right places. Why can the government not understand that people throughout Quebec are saying that the waste in this sector is outrageous, that the fact that both governments are operating in the same sector is unacceptable?
Madam Speaker, you are indicating to me that my time is up. I will conclude in one minute by saying that this bill is not an employment insurance bill, but a bill to amend the Unemployment Insurance Act, unfortunately for the worse, as the basic criteria are no longer even met. The result is that unemployment insurance is becoming a luxury in our society.