Madam Speaker, first, as it is the first time I have had the floor during this 37th parliament, I am very happy to begin by thanking my constituents of the great riding of Lotbinière—L'Érable, who have returned me as their representative in the House of Commons. This victory by the Bloc was reflected in all of the 50 municipalities of my great riding and this victory is due to the 500 volunteers who worked hard to keep the riding of Lotbinière—L'Érable with the Bloc.
Speaking of the campaign, I would like to remind the House of certain things that were said at the time, specifically on employment insurance. Before going deeper into this bill, I am going to bring forward some facts that marked the last election campaign. During the next minutes, I am going to show, once again, that the Liberals have not been true to their word, to their promises.
We all remember the interview on an English language network where the Prime Minister apologized and was very remorseful for the devastating effects of the EI system reform.
That week, the Secretary of State for Amateur Sport adopted a similar tone when he said that, when the Liberals returned to power, it would be time to propose major changes in order to meet the expectations of the unemployed.
I also remember that one week before the election, when the Prime Minister was in New Brunswick and spoke so eloquently about his election commitments, he forgot to mention that he would look after the unemployed. One of his advisers immediately reminded him that he should talk about the issue.
All this confirms that once again we have been the victims of a real misinformation campaign. The unemployment issue has indeed created confusion in parliament. No one has a clue. Everybody is looking for the facts. We are trying to find out what the government intends to do, but to no avail.
Let me reflect on the highlights of the reform, on certain recommendations that the Bloc Quebecois intends to make. I will also deal with the report tabled last week by the auditor general.
For a few years now the Bloc Quebecois has been openly critical of the surplus in the employment insurance fund. Only last week, the auditor general said:
In his 2000 report, the Chief Actuary of Human Resources Development Canada has estimated that a reserve of $10 billion to $15 billion should be sufficient to guarantee the stability of EI premium rates over a business cycle.
In the meantime, the Employment Insurance Account's accumulated surplus has grown to $28.2 billion, almost twice the maximum amount considered sufficient by the Chief Actuary.
We wondered. What did the Government of Canada, what did the Liberals do with the surplus? The auditor general told us in a rather direct manner:
The Account's operating surplus, in effect, provides a source of revenue and cash flow for the government and helps reduce its net debt.
This means that the government has taken money from the unemployed, it has taken EI contributions to pay off the debt and particularly to set up programs that often infringe on Quebec's jurisdictions.
What is going on in this parliament is totally unacceptable. A few moments ago, the government House leader announced a first time allocation motion, a first gag order.
What should we make of this whole issue? During the election campaign, the big names in the Liberal Party of Canada said that parliament would take its time to discuss the employment insurance issue. Now that we are back here in the House we find that the House leader is again playing the same game that he started during the last session by moving gag orders to prevent democratically elected representatives from saying what they have to say about the Employment Insurance Act.
The Bloc Quebecois is strongly opposed to Bill C-2, a pure and simple imitation of Bill C-44. However, it would be interesting if the current government divided Bill C-2 in two, to ensure it would respond more realistically to the expectations of unemployed people.
We have a series of recommendations to make. I would like to say that, already in the last parliament, the Bloc Quebecois had been very forward looking, since it had introduced six bills to improve the operation of employment insurance, to try to find better solutions to respond to the needs of unemployed people.
The Bloc's requests are very clear. We ask for the elimination of the intensity rule. This bill talks about this. We also ask that the maximum insurable earnings be increased from 55% to 60%, which would be much more realistic. We also ask for the elimination of the discriminatory clause towards new entrants to the labour force. We know this applies to young people and women. We also ask for the elimination of the qualifying period.
In Bill C-2 it is announced that the premium rate is to be reduced to $2.25, but the auditor general's report has much more precise calculations. This government is already late when it says it wants to reduce premiums to $2.25. The chief actuary, an employee of the Department of Human Resources Development, believes that employees' premium rates should be between $1.70 and $2.20, which would cover the long term costs of the employment insurance program.
In its planning documents, the Department of Human Resources Development predicts that the accumulated surplus will reach $34.6 billion by March 31, 2001. On August 31, 2000, the unaudited balance of the fund's accumulated surplus was $32.4 billion. These figures disgust the public. These surpluses are upsetting, they make no sense.
We understand that the Liberal government is trying with Bill C-2 to hide the truth. It is trying to legalize what has always been called the hold-up of the unemployed and the small and medium businesses. If Bill C-2 ever passes, no one, including the auditor general, will be able to intervene to bring this government back to order.
Of late we have witnessed all sorts of operations making this government, this parliament, increasing antidemocratic. In the riding I represent and in all ridings in Quebec, there are seasonal workers, men and women who return to the labour market, young people who come onto the labour market. These people, because of measures that are very difficult to understand, cannot draw employment insurance.
Just imagine that a young person has to work 910 hours before being entitled to draw benefits. A worker paying benefits—depending on the region—must accumulate between 420 and 700 hours to be entitled to employment insurance benefits.
The current act, which will not be amended by Bill C-2, discriminates seriously against young people and women, who are affected by this rule, that is, they must work 910 hours if they return to the labour market.
If I look at Bill C-2, especially if I refer to the many promises not kept by the federal Liberals in the latest election, it is very thin in content. It offers no hope to the unemployed waiting for major changes, which could have met their needs and corrected the injustices committed against them by the Prime Minister and his government in the last session.
When I think about what happened during the election campaign and when I hear all the balderdash on employment insurance coming from the other side, I wonder who knows the truth. Fortunately, the Auditor General of Canada brought back some kind of order last week. He gave some indications to try and clear things up.
This bill is an insult to the unemployed. There is nothing in it for them. It only mentions the abolition of the intensity rule and some minor changes when everyone in Quebec and in Canada was expecting so much.
The Liberals are laughing at the unemployed. They did it throughout the election campaign and continue to do so here, in the House of Commons.
The members of the Bloc Quebecois will continue to fight for improvements for the unemployed. Fortunately, we have in the House of Commons 38 men and women to protect the interests of Quebecers. Even with the government trying to muzzle us and take away our freedom of speech, I hope that, in the little time we have, we can prove that Bill C-2 is an empty shell, that it brings almost no changes to the system and is an insult to the unemployed in Quebec.