Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to the amendment to the motion proposed by my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst with respect to workers in seasonal industries.
The nature of this amendment, which seeks to substitute the immediate action component of Motion No. 222, helps all of us understand exactly what the government is trying to do. It is trying to delay further and this delay is dangerous. This amendment to review employment insurance benefits for seasonal workers is yet another cheap stalling tactic by the Liberal government.
The motion proposes immediate action. We have been asking for that for a very long time as have seasonal workers. Even the delegates to the Liberal convention know it is right. They introduced a resolution calling on the government to remove intensity provisions which claw back benefits for seasonal workers who repeatedly draw employment insurance.
The board of referees of employment insurance in Sydney also know it, especially when they are forced to deny appeals by workers even though they “feel the claimant and many more like her are being penalized by section 15 of the EI Act and would like the powers that be to have a serious look at the act and some kind of restructuring in the near future”.
It is pretty clear to me and everybody except the government to understand that many seasonal workers are seasonal workers not by choice but because the very nature of their work is seasonal. In other words, the cycle which causes seasonal workers to apply numerous times for EI benefits is not the choice of the workers. It is a part of their working conditions.
Seasonal workers, their families and their children cannot wait for the government to figure out that it is only their work that is seasonal. Their needs for housing, food and clothing is not seasonal. The need to get by, day by day, with dignity is not seasonal. It is a basic right.
In my part of the country, looking at the most recent stats available from Statistics Canada, we can see that seasonal employment causes huge changes in the monthly unemployment rate where it has been as high as 20.6% in January 1999 down to 14.1% in August. By December 1999 the unemployment rate in Cape Breton had climbed back to over 20%. In our region where many workers depend on seasonal industries, even our lowest monthly unemployment rate is still much higher than the national average.
By cutting benefits to seasonal workers, the government is directly reducing the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of people who are employed in seasonal industries in this country.
In my riding of Bras d'Or—Cape Breton, there are many people who depend on seasonal employment. Any Liberal who crosses the Canso tells anybody who will listen that it will be tourism that will save the economy of the island, that it will be tourism that will provide employment for all. Tourism is a seasonal industry.
It is my colleagues and I in the NDP who recognize that although tourism might provide a much needed push to the economy, if EI benefits for seasonal workers are not restored immediately the net gain will not be as big as the Liberals would like Cape Bretoners to believe. On one hand, it pushes for an industry that will provide seasonal work, but with the other it takes away the dignity that those workers deserve. The government should be ashamed of its attempts to sneak out the back door of its responsibility to encourage and promote economic development in Cape Breton.
Seasonal workers are not some marginal part of the workforce. They are an integral part of the workforce and they deserve to be treated with dignity. Most of the seasonal workers who have been affected by the cuts live in rural regions of the country. It is the rural regions that have really been suffering under the Liberal government's slash and burn tactics over the last few years and they are certainly not the beneficiaries of last month's budget tax cuts.
We must stop the marginalization of seasonal workers and we must stop it now. We should not need a lengthy review before benefits are restored to seasonal workers. I know I do not need that. We need to restore those benefits now.
Do we need to have a debate about the problems that seasonal workers face? Yes. Do we need to examine these problems indepth and create long term plans to reduce the recurring cycle of unemployment that seasonal workers face? Yes. Do we need to delay restoring Employment Insurance benefits by reviewing benefits? No. We need to restore benefits now. We need to commit ourselves to an extended debate here in the House and across the country in communities where people depend on seasonal employment. I would not disagree with the principle that the amendment in Motion No. 222 proposes, that is that we need to review EI benefits to seasonal workers, but first we need to restore benefits.
Seasonal workers will not be fooled by any attempts the government makes to increase its popularity in time for an election. The Liberal government's record shows that it deserted seasonal workers. The Liberals should be more concerned with rectifying an unjust and discriminatory policy than improving their lot at the polls.
It is through support of Motion No. 222 without the amendment, so that benefits to seasonal workers are restored immediately. The Liberals have a chance to improve their record. Who knows what it will do for them in the polls? Frankly, who cares?
The important thing is ensuring year round quality of life for all Canadians. Therefore I move:
That the amendment be amended by adding the following words after the word “review”, “in country wide-public hearings”.