Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the motion brought forward by my friend, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.
It is a very serious and very important issue, particularly for maritime communities, such as the Gaspé Peninsula, where I come from. The Gaspé Peninsula is a resource region where forestry and fishing are important sectors. These two resources alone indicate that we very much have to follow the seasons. It is not our fault. We are trying to diversify our economy.
I would like to have what it takes to diversify our economy, but even if 5,000 or 10,000 jobs were created tomorrow in the Gaspé Peninsula—and I am talking about manna from heaven that would give us 10,000 permanent jobs, 52 weeks a year—that would not change the fact that it is not easy to fish for lobster when the ice is three feet thick on the bay in front of my home. There are differences that people must understand.
I read the speeches of those who spoke previously. They talked about dignity. When we are reduced to asking the members opposite to recognize there is dignity in doing what the people we represent do as an occupation, something is very wrong.
Every normal person should understand that fishing and logging have their place. Fishing is about feeding people. Logging is about providing people with building materials. So, by definition, these are noble trades.
I do not understand why it is these seasonal trades that have suffered the most from this reform. I can understand that it is frustrating for certain people who have the opportunity of working all year round and who, on top of that, live in a province that is a little richer, Ontario, not to mention any names.
I will try to illustrate my point briefly because time flies. Let us take the same technique used for fishermen, for example, and apply it to the members of the House. Let us say that the government decides, in Cabinet, to pay us weekly wages instead of monthly or annual salaries as it does now.
As long as parliament is sitting, there is no problem, we would get paid. But if, after passing such legislation—because there are many stages in amending the Employment Insurance Act—the government decided to reduce the number of months during which we are now working—10 months at present—by two months the first year, and by two other months every year thereafter, until we ended up working no more than two months a year—I know this is an exaggeration, but it is exactly what happened to the fishermen; their pay was cut—what would the members opposite say if their salary was taken from them in that way?
They would say that it is unfair. They would say “We have been elected as members of parliament. We cannot accept another job. It is illegal. All we have left is the two months the government lets us sit”. When I left the House of Commons, I would not be allowed to sell my services to help the fishers or the other persons in my community; it would be illegal because I am a member of parliament. So I have an occupational impediment.
Can people understand that when one is, let us say, a lobster fisher, one must follow the rules set by the government according to biological data. It is said that the lobster fishing cycle cannot exceed 10 weeks and that is a verifiable fact. But the government sets the rules.
I hear members saying “let them go catch something else”. That is impossible, because the same government imposed a moratorium on groundfish. “Well, then, let them catch something else, herring”. Fine, but for that, one has to have the right license. So, the government that creates impediments is the one telling us to go do something else. Unfortunately, that is impossible.
Are we prepared to outlaw eating lobster in Canada and to say that from now on there will be no more lobster fishery? Are Canadians prepared to do that?
Some will say that I am exaggerating, but I am not, really. When we look at the fishing industry, of course, it takes a fisher and his helper in a boat. That is one thing. People will say “They are going to work for 10 weeks”. But the fisher who leaves at 3 a.m. and comes back in the afternoon is looking forward to taking his boots off, as we say back home. He needs a rest. So, somebody else handles and unloads his lobster. Somebody else will process the lobsters in the plant before it ends up on your plate, in your favourite restaurant or in your nice comfortable home.
If these people move to the city in search of work, who will process the lobsters for your consumption?
There is a chance workers might not get the number of hours needed to qualify for employment insurance.
What I just showed is that the ten week rule is too restrictive. In some fisheries, people manage to get by. I will name another fishery, the crab fishery, which is even more dicey in terms of the moulting cycle of the species.
Some years, the fishing season does not even last six weeks. When the fishermen go out to sea in the spring, how are they do know whether mother nature will cause the waters to warm up fast and the great white to moult sooner. Therefore, in areas with an unemployment rate over 13%, plant workers need 420 hours if they have already qualified. It can be difficult to work 420 hours in six weeks. If one works 40 hours a week, that is a total of 240 hours. That is not enough to meet the 420 hour requirement.
When she gave an explanation a few moments ago, the parliamentary secretary said that the number of hours can be a good thing. Let us not forget that it always depends on the unemployment rate in a particular region. If the unemployment rate in my region exceeds 13%, I will have to work 420 hours; if it is 12%, I will have to work 455 hours, and so on.
Let us take the example of someone working as a crab fisher near an urban centre like Rimouski. Members will say that that person has an occupation and should get the same thing as the others. But no. If the unemployment rate in the Rimouski area is around 10%, it may take 680 hours for that person to become eligible.
That means that we could see certain categories of occupations disappear in certain regions. That is why I made that proposal, to give people food for thought. If we no longer want this to be covered by the employment insurance program, why not define what a seasonal occupation is and then try to find an appropriate program? Otherwise, we will have to say that we are willing to see those occupations disappear.
I will make another proposal. While we determine which jobs are seasonal ones, we should consider which tools we can offer to these fishers who will have to learn to live on six weeks of work with no employment insurance if they no longer qualify.
Would the government consider prohibiting any imports of crustaceans or of goods now produced in Canada? No one would be allowed to import these products and Canadians would have to pay big money to get these products from our fishers, because we have not supported them. This is conceivable. Is the government prepared to do that? But it says “No, this is free trade, this is globalization”.
Is the Canadian government saying that, because of globalization, fishers in the Gaspe Peninsula will be paid the same as Filipino fishermen, who live in a warm, sunny country and who can get by on little food because they do not have to contend with a northern climate? They are paid $15 a week. Do members know how much it costs to shop for groceries now? A litre of milk costs the same in Hull as it does in Gaspé. In that sense, why would people in the Gaspe not be entitled to the same amount?
In short, I urge the House to take a serious look at the hon. member's proposal, and I invite members opposite, particularly those from Ontario, to accept to share the wealth with those who helped build this country, at least as long as we are still part of it.