Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a very serious issue that is a concern for many people, not only in my riding, Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, but also right across the Atlantic region and the country.
Workers who depend on seasonal industry are found not only in the riding of Beauséjour-Petitcodiac but anywhere in Canada where the main industry is seasonal.
In 1996, the Liberal government decided to make changes to employment insurance plan, while knowing that HRDC had a document showing that, just as an example, 75% of seasonal workers in New Brunswick lived on less than $10,000 a year. Still, the government attacked these workers, even though they had been saying day in and day out that they opposed the changes. When I led the coalition against the cuts to employment insurance in New Brunswick, we told the government what impacts the cuts would have.
I came to meet with the former human resources development minister and present her with a petition containing 17,000 names. These people were saying that the cuts were going to hurt them badly, that they represented discrimination against seasonal workers and were therefore unacceptable, and that the poorest of the poor would be the ones paying for the deficit.
But the Prime Minister, who came to get elected in the riding of Beauséjour, turned around and said “I visited the area and people there are all drunk in taverns, while collecting UI benefits”. The people of Beauséjour—Petitcodiac responded to that comment on June 2, 1997.
People from my area have had enough of being laughed at, denigrated and called lazy. The Prime Minister of Canada said it and the Canadian Alliance said it again just now, everyone in the Atlantic provinces is lazy and does not want to work.
I have one thing to say to the members of the Liberal Party and the Canadian Alliance: people from my area are hardworking, they are educated and they work very hard. When there is work, they work. They have no problem with working, except that work in our area is seasonal. Nobody wakes up in the morning saying “I want to be a seasonal worker”. It is the nature of the industry to be seasonal.
Canada must understand that, Ontario must understand that, Alberta must understand that, the government must understand that. The members of the Canadian Alliance must absolutely understand that people in my area are not lazy.
I myself worked in the seasonal industry, and I can assure the House that nobody can call me lazy, far from it. I am tired of hearing this sort of thing. I am tired of hearing that the people in my community are all lazy.
Who are known as hardworking people in western Canada? Who are considered relentless workers, people who work seven days a week? The people from Atlantic Canada who have to leave their communities to find work. Our young university graduates who have to leave their communities and their families to go and work in western Canada.
That is not what Canada is about. That is not what our party wants. Our priority is to ensure that everybody has equal opportunity to be gainfully employed all year round. As people in my region would say “We would easily trade our EI benefits for a full time job. Any time. No problem”.
The problem is, we have a government that is attacking the worker instead of the problem, and that is not right.
A couple of weeks before a federal election and the Prime Minister comes in and says “Oops”. The Minister of HRDC said herself that it was a punitive measure. Ça punissait les travailleurs. If it does punish the workers why did it take the Liberals four years—two weeks before an election call—to say that they made a mistake? Can they fix all the problems they have caused in those communities over the last four years? How many family break-ups have there been? How many kids have been forced into the school breakfast program because their parents can no longer feed them because of the cuts to EI? How many parents have been forced to go to food banks because of the cuts to EI?
Can anyone imagine being a single parent making $10,000 a year and having the Liberal government take part of that money away? According to a member of the reform alliance party, $10,000 is a comfortable salary. I would like to see that member try to live on $10,000 a year. I think she would change her mind. Perhaps what she needs is to end up living on $10,000 a year. Then she would understand what it means.
The Alliance members are saying that they are going to govern this country. I doubt it. I doubt very much if Canadians will accept the kinds of comments made in the House by the reform alliance members.