Mr. Speaker, congratulations for properly identifying my riding, which comprises four regional county municipalities.
I am happy to rise to speak to the motion of the member for St. John's East, which provides:
That, in the opinion of this House, a special committee should be established to study the severe unemployment problem in Newfoundland and Labrador.
I think we can see what the hon. member is trying to o, which is to draw the attention of the House to the unemployment problems in his region. This is fully justified.
When we take a closer look, we might ask ourselves whether the unemployment problem in Canada is not much greater than that. When we look at eastern Quebec—particularly the Lower St. Lawrence and the Gaspé, which are of concern to me—all of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and not only issues of areas but of categories, such as young people or older workers aged 50 or 55, who are affected by technological change in business, we realize it is perhaps not a special committee on employment that we need in Canada, but a national priority on the part of the Canadian government.
We heard over and over again about the need to reduce the deficit for four years, and everyone agreed that this was true. Now, the number one problem in Canada is unemployment. We have this situation where there are no jobs for unemployed workers, either because they do not meet job requirements or because there are simply too few jobs to go around because, in our society, productivity gains often end up in the pockets of the very wealthy and seldom in the hands of people who could use this money to create employment.
I am inclined to say that the good will displayed by the hon. member needs to be spread around. The unemployment situation in Canada is not the result of natural law. It must be remembered that, in the late 19th century, the Atlantic region was an autonomous region.
Is it the result of power struggles then? I think so. Just think of how Canada was built. Twenty-five or 30 years ago, there was a very clear understanding in Canada. Ontario was to be developed to be the home of the manufacturing industry and related jobs. As for the people in the maritimes and Quebec, who supplied the natural resources, since they could not be given jobs year round for lack of an appropriate regional diversification policy, they were given transfer payments. This worked pretty well until the tap was turned off.
Things are topsy turvey in this country. Instead of diversifying economic activities in the regions that depended on natural resources and then imposing stricter standards, if necessary, it was decided to impose stricter standards and not to diversify the regional economy.
This led to the results that we know. We are on the verge of a social disaster. There are people in our ridings who do not have the proper training for the available jobs, who are looking for work, and who are unhappy. They can no longer work enough weeks to qualify for employment insurance benefits to last until their next job. They have to go through the spring gap, a period of 10 or 15 weeks without any income.
What can we do to correct this situation? First, there must be a clear and specific political commitment on the part of the federal government to the effect that it will indeed make the fight against unemployment a priority.
Recommendations are being made in that regard. Let us not forget that two weeks ago the human resources development committee of this House passed a resolution to say to the finance committee and the Minister of Finance that employment and employment insurance must be given priority in the next budget. A majority of opposition members prevailed, so that the human resources development committee will have to convey this message to the finance committee. This step must lead to concrete measures.
Unfortunately, the proposal before us today is not a votable item. I would like to see many more motions on which members could vote. We could have amended it, based on the human resources committee's recommendation, and arranged to have Parliament require the federal government's priority for the coming year, when it concocts its budget, to be the reduction of unemployment.
If that choice were made, if that were put on the table, it would automatically result in the need to develop policies to diversify our regional economies. It would mean that, since priority was being given to employment throughout Canada, there would be a way of seeing that forestry workers who no longer had work in the forests could find jobs in wood processing. We should have programs to help companies develop these new products that can be sold on the American and European markets, and elsewhere.
This means that, in the dairy sector, we could place greater emphasis on exporting our milk, creating new products and developing specialty niches. It means that, in the tourism sector, we could overhaul the program the federal government has just created.
It has just created a $500 million fund to help major tourist centres compete better internationally. This is very interesting where centres already exist, such as at Mont-Tremblant.
As a member representing a region where the tourism industry is still growing, where there are not necessarily any existing infrastructures, I can tell you that what we need are more flexible programs that will meet these regions' needs.
If the federal government gave priority to jobs, a motion like this one today would not be necessary because that is what would be required on a government-wide basis. This would mean that when the government's procurement policies are developed, there would be an assessment to ensure that the impacts are desirable, sufficient and in keeping with the taxes paid by each region of Canada.
Tomorrow morning, if we did a profile on that, if we went around the national capital, around Ontario, we would see that they are not doing too badly when it comes to having their share of these programs. If you come in our area, try to have one of your small or medium size firms register with the computerized bidding system and see if it will succeed in obtaining a contract from the Department of National Defence. It is quite an experience because, often, there are already many contracts, many people who have been tendering for two, three, ten, twenty or thirty years. It is the person who will get the contract who ends up drafting the call for tenders. It is much easier, in such cases, to get the contract.
It is actions such as these, in all areas, that the government should be promoting. For that to happen , there must be a commitment from the Prime Minister, from the government, saying that yes, our priority will be the fight against unemployment; yes, in ten years, we will assess Quebeckers, Canadians, and we will see where we are at that time.
We must evaluate how we are utilizing our human resources as quickly as possible during this mandate. Are we making full use of the potential our young people have to offer? Are we making full use of the potential of people in their thirties who can only rely on one contract at a time? This is another aspect of the unemployment issue. We must also look at how other types of income can be provided to people who do not now have sufficient annual income from their jobs.
Two weeks ago, we learned that the number of self-employed workers was increasing dramatically in Quebec and in Canada. More and more people are creating their own jobs, they do not have an employer, and they are not eligible for employment insurance.
Why can we not innovate and allow these people to become eligible? In this way, they would have a chance to continue working in these areas, to develop their entrepreneurial skills and also to benefit a little from a social security net that would protect them from a lack of jobs or a lack of contracts.
This motion was tabled in a good faith and deals with a problem found in the regions that the member mentions. But this is also a problem that exists thoughout Canada.
I would like to add that people from western Canada should refrain from passing judgment on how people from eastern Canada or elsewhere did things. What we are doing today could be done to look at all kinds of ways. The grain transportation subsidies, which existed for some years in the west, could be looked at for instance. I do not think they should judge. What needs to be looked at instead is how to ensure that each government, as long as we are still part of the system, has a proper mastery of its tools, how we could have a government machine that responds more quickly to requests.
I will conclude with this point. As long as the federal government brings in such things as the youth strategy, which parallels similar programs already in place in a province, and forces young entrepreneurs to go knocking on two separate doors for a solution to their problems, we are not on the right track. The right track, and this is perfectly clear, requires areas of jurisdiction to be clear, economic markets to be wide open, and we must show confidence in the potential of the people in our regions.
Ottawa is not where the solutions to unemployment lie, they are in each of the regions of Quebec and of Canada. People must be able to lay these solutions out on the table and have them heard, they must be made a priority, and we must be assessed according to the way we respond to that priority. This is the challenge we are giving to the present government.