Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago, the minister said that, in Canada, the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. This was what she told La Presse about two weeks ago. We were looking forward to some sort of corrective action in the throne speech.
Today, 40% of elderly women living on their own are living below the poverty level. Our old age pension system leaves 40% of elderly women living below the poverty level, and the throne speech offered no solution.
Then there is EI, for which 40% of unemployed workers qualify. We showed in great detail how this was unacceptable, but the throne speech is silent on the topic.
Today, all Canada's resource regions are facing terrible situations. We argued for a full year against the intensity rule for seasonal workers, among others. In resource regions, 80% of workers are affected by this rule. After 20 weeks, benefits drop to 50%, after 40 weeks, to 53%, and after 100 weeks, to 50%. All our seasonal workers have reached that point.
I would have expected the new Minister of Human Resources Development to have won out over her more hardhearted Cabinet colleagues, but it seems not.
She stated that having a job is the best way to improve one's lot. That is true, but one must have a decent income. A good example of this can be found in the United States. The unemployment level is 4%, but a lot of people are worse off now than before even if they are working.
Here in Canada we have the same situation developing, because we wanted to have an employment insurance system similar to the Americans'. More and more people have work, the unemployment rate is dropping, but the bottom line is that overall family incomes have dropped. This is not an incentive to work, but a disincentive. It tells people “Even if you work, you will not qualify, or if you do qualify, we will not give you enough weeks of benefits”. This is a direct incentive to drop out of the system and to get paid under the table, and I expected that issue to be raised in the speech.
I will conclude with the matter of parental leave. If I have understood the minister correctly, she is going to wait for the third year report evaluating the employment insurance program before deciding whether she is going to make eligibility conditions easier for women. If she does indeed wait for the third year, I have just realized why the program would come into effect only in 2001. This means we will have another year of the program we criticized back in March 1999, when we asked her predecessor a question which prompted the answer “because there are fewer people being born, a lower birth rate, so there are no problems with maternity benefits”. We have proof that, despite a 4.6% drop in the birth rate, there were 7.4% fewer recipients. There was also a 7% drop in the amount paid out.
Cannot the minister commit today to stating that the rules for eligibility, which have nothing to do with extending the length of parental leave, could very easily take effect now?