That it be an instruction to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development that it have the power to divide Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Employment Insurance (Fishing) Regulations, in order that all questions related to the establishment of the premium rate and to Employment Insurance surplus management be in a separate piece of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to my motion that is supported by all the opposition parties. At committee stage, this motion would divide Bill C-2, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, into two separate bills.
There have previously been two precedents in the House for this type of motion. In fact, the House of Commons Procedure and Practice stipulates the following:
Once a bill has been referred to a committee—
That is the case.
—the House may give the committee an instruction which authorizes it to do what it otherwise could not do, such as, for example, examining a portion of a bill and reporting it separately, examining certain items in particular, dividing a bill into more than one bill—
Our motion does exactly that.
Bill C-2 brings to our EI plan some of the improvements the Bloc Quebecois has been demanding for several years now. However, these changes are minor compared to the EI surplus, which could have been used to improve the plan.
Under Bill C-2, only about 8% of annual surpluses will be given back to workers, to the unemployed, while 92% of these surpluses will continue to be used to cover other government expenditures, including the debt. The money used for all that will come from the contributions paid by employers and workers, but particularly from the benefits that the unemployed will not receive.
This part of the bill is aimed at legalizing the fact that EI contributions are no longer insurance premiums but rather a new payroll tax. This should be the subject of a separate debate, different from the one on improvements to the plan.
The proposal I brought forward is supported by the three opposition parties. Indeed, those parties made very eloquent presentations at a press conference, the purpose of which was to show that, even though all parties do not share the same views on ways of improving the plan, it is possible to have similar objectives.
The Canadian Alliance's views on ways of improving the plan may be very different from ours or from those of the New Democratic Party or the Progressive Conservative Party, but we share the same position with regard to the fact that, by hiding a provision in a bill, the government will legalize the misappropriation of surpluses in the EI fund, something it has been doing for several years. This issue cannot be dealt with at the same time as improvements to the plan.
This is why we are asking the House to mandate the committee to study both issues separately. This afternoon, the committee will hear the human resources development minister, who will have to justify her bill, especially since, during the whole electoral campaign, liberal members have said that the system could be improved some more at the committee stage. I think of the members for Bourassa and for Gaspé—Bonaventure—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok in particular. They were saying that, in committee, improvements other than the ones included in the former Bill C-44, and which are still not found in Bill C-2, could be made.
If we want the committee to give appropriate time to the priority consideration of improvements to the system, I propose this motion which involves the study by the committee of the issue of improvements so that more improvements can be made since Bill C-2 only contains a few.
I am sure that those who will appear before this committee will tell us that these improvements are far from being enough and that many others will have to be added to the government's propositions to broaden eligibility for EI benefits, to eliminate the qualifying period and to ensure that seasonal workers' status is not dependant upon the economic situation in their region and that they are guaranteed a decent income between jobs.
Therefore, all issues concerning the transformation of EI premiums into a payroll tax scheme should be the subject of another debate at a later date.
At that time, the whole issue of tax reform could be raised. We should not forget that the way EI premiums are currently taxed represents a very regressive tax because anyone who earns up to $39,000 has to contribute.
That means that someone earning $43,000, $44,000 or $50,000 a year does not contribute on income over that limit. EI contributors are the ones contributing to the elimination of the deficit and to the reduction of Canada's debt, not those earning over $39,000 or, even worse, those who do not contribute to the EI scheme at all, including members of parliament.
A broad public debate is going on about the whole issue of tax reform, an issue that ought to be discussed elsewhere, for example in a joint committee bringing together members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and members of the Standing Committee on Finance. It is a much broader issue that is changing the balance between income tax, taxes and payroll tax and their impact on productivity. Those are very distinct elements.
Therefore, I call on the members of the House to debate that issue and to pass this motion. I hope that the Liberal majority will show an open mind and let us debate that matter today.