Mr. Speaker, I want to say a few words in support of the hon. member's motion. Two of my colleagues from New Brunswick have already spoken to this motion, and I want to say a few words on behalf of seasonal workers in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
First, let me make one thing absolutely crystal clear. The Liberal government's changes to the unemployment insurance system, the so-called employment insurance system, were and still are a direct attack on seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada in particular and in rural Canada in general.
The insurance system for the unemployed has been gutted. We are all very much aware of that. The changes to the UI system, the so-called reforms, introduced by the Liberals make it harder to qualify for benefits. When one does qualify, it is for fewer benefits and for a shorter period of time.
I can see why they dropped the word unemployment from the title of the new program. In 1989, 87% of Canada's unemployed qualified for benefits. Today only 36% of Canada's unemployed qualify for benefits in a system that has a multibillion dollar surplus.
It is no longer workers' insurance against becoming unemployed. It has become a system which has forced 50,000 Newfoundlanders to pull up stakes and move to other provinces in central and western Canada.
If people cannot or will not move from their home communities in rural Newfoundland, there is only one option. If work is not available, then they have to go on social assistance. For those who cannot move away it has become welfare insurance, not employment insurance.
In rural Newfoundland and many other places in Atlantic and rural Canada there are not many job options available. Most of the work which is available is seasonal work. At one time people could work seasonally, draw unemployment insurance and head out to look for jobs elsewhere. If they could not find jobs they would have the assurance of returning to their seasonal work when it became available.
Let me remind hon. members that it is not a crime to be a fisherman. It is not a crime to be a logger. It is not a crime to be a construction worker. These are trades that make valuable contributions to the people of Newfoundland and valuable contributions to the people of Canada. They should be recognized that way, but it has all changed.
If people are lucky enough to find seasonal work and they do qualify for EI benefits, then in all likelihood the benefits will not carry them to the point of returning to the seasonal work. People will live part of the year with no income at all. At that point they must deplete their savings. They probably have to turn to extended family for support and help, or they have to move away to find work. If that option is not available, they have to go on social assistance.
It would not sound so bad if the EI system were broke, depleted of benefits by the unemployed, but the system is not broke. It is awash with cash. The system is not broke, it is broken. It was deliberately broken by the governing Liberals. That was a piece of cold, calculated, social engineering on the part of the Liberals.
Their plan proved to be quite effective. Their strategy was to tighten up the EI system, making it impossible for someone to earn a livelihood at seasonal work, which would force the migration of Atlantic Canadians to areas of higher employment, and let welfare take care of the rest of the people who could not move or who would not move.
That piece of social engineering has cost my province about 10,000 people a year over the past few years. It has cost the Liberal Party all of its seats in Atlantic Canada. It will continue to cost the Liberal Party all of its seats in Atlantic Canada unless it does something about the EI system.
This piece of social engineering has cost the province of Newfoundland and Labrador $1 billion in lost EI revenues since the Liberals came to power in 1993. The city of St. John's, just to give a small indication of how it is spread out, is losing $78 million annually. My riding of St. John's East, which is comprised of the eastern part of the city of St. John's and the rural area along Conception Bay, is losing $50.2 million annually. St. John's West, where the Liberals hope to win the byelection on Monday, is losing $56.3 million annually.
Let us look at the riding of Burin—St. George's. Joining the Liberal side was supposed to be good for that riding. How much is it costing the people of Burin—St. George's in lost EI revenue? It is costing them $81.7 million a year.
These are not numbers to which only accountants can relate.
The people kicked out of the EI system have either moved away or they have had to go on social assistance. For the most part there was no new work in the area.
EI cheques, believe it or not, were not replaced by cheques from shiny, new, year-round factories. This money has simply gone from the local scene. It is sitting in the pot right here in Ottawa to help the finance minister balance his budget. This is money no longer being spent in restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores in Atlantic Canada and rural Canada. As I said, in Newfoundland we have lost $1 billion in EI revenue. In an economy the size of ours that has to hurt, and it has hurt many families and many communities.
Much has been said about the Liberal Party wanting to regain seats in Atlantic Canada in the next election. The Liberals have been promising to restore some of the benefits which they took away under the old UI system, but so far all they have come up with are a lot of empty words, a lot of empty rhetoric. I have a feeling that is the way it will remain.
In the last budget the government made a lot of extending EI sponsored maternity leave from six months to a full year. What the government did not say in the budget was that with its new hours based EI system only 31% of unemployed Canadian women actually qualify for these benefits. Given the fact that it is harder to qualify for maternity benefits than regular benefits, that is very cold comfort indeed.
The government's so-called reforms to the UI system and its creation of the new EI system was a deliberate and well planned attack on rural and Atlantic Canada, and unfortunately Canadian women as well. These changes might have gone down well in the more prosperous parts of the country, but they have been devastating to Atlantic Canada in general and to Newfoundland in particular.
Seasonal work is not a crime. As I said a moment ago, it is not a crime to be a logger, it is not a crime to be a fisherman and it is not a crime to be a construction worker. It certainly is not a valid excuse to force the migration of rural Canadians. However, this is what the government has done, and quite deliberately.
At the last election the Liberals paid a very stiff price for what they did to Atlantic Canadians. If they want votes in Atlantic Canada and in the province of Newfoundland next time they had better change their tune. The fishermen, the loggers and the construction workers of Atlantic Canada will not stand for what the government has done to them over the last three, four or five years.
I support the motion and I commend the member for having brought it to the floor of the House.