Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise to speak to Bill C-2.
First I want to tell members how deeply moving I found the 60 statements or so that we heard during the committee's hearings. They disturbed me because they were a cold and profound reflection of the needs of the Canadian and Quebec societies.
To briefly resume the situation, we now have before us Bill C-2, the former Bill C-40 introduced in 1996. This bill does not bring about the radical changes requested by Canadians as a whole, unions, women's groups, young people, boards of trade, employers and all the representatives of the Canadian and Quebec populations.
I would like to quote parts of some briefs tabled by people who appeared before the committee. I think it is important to read them into the record and to remember what those people had to say.
As the House knows, and I would like to congratulate my Bloc colleague who introduced this motion, in committee we succeeded, with the assistance of the government, in asking for a report from the committee which will be able to examine all the briefs and report back to the House before June 1.
We hope that it will advance the cause of unemployed workers and not just ease the government's conscience. This report has to lead to something concrete, to major changes in the EI plan.
I want to come back to certain labour unions, including the CSN, which represents a good 250,000 workers in Quebec. The following is a short passage from its brief:
As for the amendments in Bill C-2, the CSN feels that these are half measures which will not result in access for those workers who have lost their job because of changes in the work place.
I will now read a few lines from the FTQ brief.
FTQ members would have hoped for much more from EI reform. We feel that the legislator does not go far enough to right the wrongs of past reforms.
That was what the FTQ had to say. Another labour confederation in Quebec, the CSD, put it this way:
A decent reform would not give the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Minister of Finance the authority to set premium rates, when it was the employment insurance commission that used to have this authority.
This is an unacceptable ploy that will give the government unfettered access to surpluses in the EI fund, because premium rates will no longer hinge on self-funding but on the government's financial needs.
We are not the ones saying so; the CSD is.
My last quotations will be from the auditor general, in whom we have the utmost confidence.
Bill C-2, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, and Chapter 34 of the December 2000 Report, lack clarity on the basis used in setting employment insurance rates.
A little later on in his statement the auditor general adds:
The introduction of Bill C-2 has not alleviated our concern. There is no requirement for the interim rate-setting process to be more transparent.
Furthermore, unlike the introduction of Bill C-44, there is no information on, or commitment to review, the rate-setting process while section 66 is suspended. In other words, the scope and nature of the review, if any, are unclear.
When the committee met with the various witnesses our awareness of a number of areas was greatly improved. Perhaps I do not have enough time in my 10 minutes to give them all, but I shall try to touch on them briefly.
There was discussion of the seasonal industries, for the truth is that it is the work that is seasonal and not the workers. I can speak with authority on this because my riding depends on tourism, which is a seasonal industry.
When the snow is gone, so are the jobs. People have to wait until the summer tourist season comes along to work in golf clubs and the like.
Between those two seasons, however, they have no work. They go off to apply for employment insurance. They are faced with a two week penalty because every time a person applies he or she has to wait two weeks before drawing maybe a month of benefits. These people return to the labour market for the summer, and with the arrival of fall they are again penalized for two weeks because they apply for employment insurance for three or four weeks while looking for work for the winter.
Is this what these people want? Do we think they go out of their way to get half their salary twice a year for two months? They lose a month's salary, a month of income in their budget. They have to live with that. They have to plan their lives around it. These people depend on this industry. Why are they penalized? This is totally unacceptable.
Do we think that the women working in seasonal industry are happy at losing their spots in day care? Not at all. They have to continue sending their children to day care while they are not working to make sure they do not lose their place. They pay for that.
It is not true that people are encouraged to go on employment insurance. It is totally false. If these people could do without it, they would do a lot better.
There is also the whole issue of self-employed workers. In Quebec there are a lot of small businesses. Elsewhere in Canada too, but primarily in Quebec, a lot of small and medium size businesses have been established.
Self-employed workers have become a fact of life. There were perhaps fewer of them in the past than there are now, but it is a fact of life in Quebec and Canada.
These people often work very hard for long hours and they are not protected by any system. They represent perhaps 18% of the population. That is a lot of people. They would like to be included in the employment insurance plan if possible or in something like it. They want to be part of a plan that would allow them to have employment insurance. They are prepared to pay the money necessary for the protection. They need it just as much as the person working for a business.
This will increasingly be the case in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. These people cannot be excluded. Yet there is absolutely nothing in the bill for them.
Another very important issue for me is the case of young workers. It almost makes no sense to require young workers to work 910 hours. It is absurd. They are penalized because they are part of the labour market. Does the government realize the result of this? It leads some employers to abuse, to tell a young person “You better work and do your job, otherwise you will not get employment insurance benefits”.
I could have elaborated on other issues such as the case of pregnant women. Why are pregnant women penalized when a newborn child should be the most wonderful thing that can happen to a family? Pregnant women are being penalized. From now on, women may decide to have children or not based on whether they qualify for employment insurance benefits. Otherwise they will not be able to afford it. This does not make sense.
There is $35 billion in a fund that belongs to people who have contributed to it throughout their lives but who will not qualify. This is totally absurd.
I would like to end with clause 9. We asked that this clause be deleted. It is the most important one in the bill. It reads:
Notwithstanding section 66, the premium rate for each of the years 2002 and 2003 is the rate set for the year by the Governor in Council on the recommendation of the Minister and the Minister of Finance.
We want that clause deleted. We do not want it. We do not want these people to set the premium rate and to decide who will be entitled to employment insurance benefits.