Mr. Speaker, we are resuming debate today on a private member's motion that was brought forward by the member for Acadie—Bathurst dealing with the restoration of unemployment insurance benefits to seasonal workers.
The motion reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take immediate action to restore employment insurance benefits to seasonal workers.
The member's riding, like my own and like many ridings in Canada, would be considered by the government to be a rural riding. It is interesting to note that in many of these ridings, the workers have suffered as a result of the changes to the Employment Insurance Act that the government introduced before the last election. Understandably, the workers were upset by that and showed their displeasure with the changes by voting against the governing party.
The question would have to be asked: Has the government learned from the voter's verdict on the changes to the unemployment insurance system? One would think that it may have learned somewhat of a lesson.
Those who watched the Liberal convention that was held some time ago heard the Prime Minister, probably to the chagrin of his Minister of Finance and certainly to the chagrin of some of his cabinet ministers sitting here today, admit that perhaps the people were right. He stopped short of saying that perhaps the NDP was right. We knew all along that the government's changes to the EI program were wrong. The Prime Minister did not want to give us too much credit so he, kind of appropriately, went over our heads to the sovereign people who sent a message to the government, especially those in Atlantic Canada, that the changes made them suffer.
One would think that the Liberals would welcome the motion from the member for Acadie—Bathurst. It would allow them to vote in favour of this motion and admit that they learned their lesson. They could say that they are listening to the Prime Minister and are prepared to restore the funding to employment insurance.
Instead, in what is, I would say, a tricky manoeuvre, the Liberals moved an amendment. The amendment to the motion would make it read as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should review employment insurance benefits for seasonal workers.
We do not need a review. The people of Atlantic Canada do not need a review. The people who are seasonal workers in every part of this country, whether they are working in the woods in British Columbia, in the tourism industry in Alberta or in any industry across Canada, do not need another review.
The changes to the unemployment insurance act were imposed by the government under former minister Doug Young who is now a member of the Canadian Alliance Party, I guess. A review took place in 1995 when a working committee was set up to examine the issue of seasonal work and employment insurance. In terms of the Liberal amendment, the review has taken place.
The working group found some interesting statistics and reports. First, and this needs to be said, the report found that what is seasonal is not the workers. We refer to seasonal workers, but it is the jobs that are seasonal. The working group also found that the needs of that particular group in the labour force were largely ignored. Moreover, it noted that there was a negative attitude toward seasonal workers that was emerging in society and that the workers themselves were somehow considered responsible because of the fact that their jobs were temporary.
There are certain realities in this country. We live in a harsh climate. There is certain work that can be done in the summer that cannot be done in the winter. There are tourist seasons that are not year round. It is not the workers who are seasonal. It is that in certain parts of the country employment follows things that are beyond our control. One of those factors is weather. Another is where investment falls.
However, it is not the workers who say “I think I'll get up in May since I've hibernated for the winter and I'll go get a job”. They also in the fall do not say “I've had it with work and I'm going to sit down”. These are hardworking people who want work but the reality is that in the part of the country where they live the work tends to be seasonal in nature.
The working group also found that the Liberal government of the day warned that changes to unemployment insurance would disproportionately affect seasonal workers. I have already commented on that. It is clear that it did.
Finally, the working group predicted that the EI reform would have a negative impact on women. We already know that study after study has indicated that it is in many cases women who have lost their eligibility for employment insurance. They have paid into the fund and have been discriminated against by the changes to the employment insurance program.
As far as the amendment goes, while it is perhaps a friendly amendment, there is no need for us to study any more. This to me sounds like an election ploy. It is kind of like what the Prime Minister said at the convention when he said that we needed to review the Employment Insurance Act. A review can mean anything. It can mean that the act will be even more draconian at the end of the review, once and if the Liberals lucky enough to get another mandate.
Let us have a show of faith here this evening on this member's motion. Let us see members put their votes where their comments were at the Liberal convention and let us see them vote in favour of this member's motion. I do not think it will happen. I would be readily surprised if it did, but one never knows. We have been surprised in the House before.
Let me also comment on the value of seasonal work to the economy. People tend to think that seasonal work is perhaps not on that high of a plane because it is seasonal in nature. However, when we look at it, tourism ranks 12th among the major sectors of the economy. While I am discussing tourism, it is important for me to comment a little bit about my own constituency.
It is ironic that we should be debating this motion the day after the government invoked closure on Bill C-11, an act by the government to take away the jobs of miners in Cape Breton. What is the government's solution to the economic problems in places like Cape Breton where it is challenged with helping to develop an economy? It says that tourism is the answer. The government should talk to the women, in particular, who work in the tourism industry in my riding in towns like Baddeck and Ingonish. I know my colleague from Bras d'Or—Cape Breton would echo the same thoughts for the women who work in the tourism industry in her riding, as would all my colleagues.
Let me say that many people in the tourism industry in particular, but also in the construction trades, the fishing trades, the agriculture industry and the lumber industry rely on employment insurance to see them through. That is only natural. They pay into an insurance fund. It used to be called unemployment insurance until the government decided to play word games and call it employment insurance. They pay into that with their hard-earned money and surely at the end of the season they are entitled to get that money back.
The Canadian people have spoken about the government's changes to the employment insurance program. The Canadian people resoundingly oppose those changes. I ask the government members, whose Prime Minister has indicated he is prepared to see things our way, to vote in favour of the motion.