Mr. Speaker, I would like to say at the outset that we do not oppose this bill. It is a position that we take, however, not without many reservations.
In the recent election campaign, one of the major messages I received from my constituents was their concern that there was a government in Ottawa, a Liberal government, that was rife with waste. They saw a lot of mismanagement. Their concern was to see a lot of this corrected. That is what they asked me to do here in Ottawa, in large part.
It is not a coincidence, I believe, that what we are seeing in this bill is really an effort to rename the HRDC Department, that my colleague had so much trouble recalling. It is a name of a department that many Liberals might wish to forget because of course the HRDC Department had a notorious track record for bad management and bad waste. That HRDC boondoggle is something that the government wants people to forget. Why not use the easiest device, in the finest traditions of George Orwell, of using language and names? The new name of HRSDC is one way of leaving behind that HRDC history and the bad memories that went with it. I believe that has a lot to do with why we are facing the bill in front of us.
However, in practical terms, there is very little that I see coming from this legislation that achieves any successful outcome in terms of reducing government waste and mismanagement. In fact, in a similar vein, my constituents wanted to see a smaller and more responsive government. That is very much something that they wanted to see from government that had been lacking from Ottawa in the past.
Through the process of these companion bills that would create the new Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and the Minister of Social Development, the effect would indeed be to create an additional cabinet post, a new department and , in fact a larger, more diffuse and bureaucratic government. I am not sure that is what my constituents want to see when they think in terms of a smaller and more responsive government.
Curiously, we see an aspect of the legislation that says there may be a labour minister. It would be an optional consideration. We do have a Minister of Labour in this government but, apparently, it would be an optional position, suggesting that once again we are looking at a government that is much larger than it needs to be. That is a question that we are all concerned about.
Overall, one of the most troublesome aspects of the course we have followed here, and we heard it in one of the questions across the way, is the question of the process that this has followed. It is a process that speaks to the continued arrogance of the government, and in fact a lack of respect for this House of Commons and Parliament.
This department was effectively created through order in council a year ago. It has continued to operate for a year without any bill ever coming before Parliament to create the new departments and to divide them. The fact that this bill is before us today to create that department suggests to me one of two possible potential rationales.
First, it is an acknowledge of the government that the process that has been followed was in fact inappropriate and that the government should have come to this House of Commons before creating that department. The only other option is that the bill is in front of us as indeed a waste of time, something with which to keep this House busy.
I do not believe that the government is interested in wasting the time of the members in this House. It values that. That leads me to conclude that we are facing a piece of legislation that would make legal what is in effect a fait accompli, operating by order in council for about a year. That, to me, smacks of a disrespect for this institution, the House of Commons, and the processes of Parliament.
I want to talk a bit about the importance of treating taxpayers with respect and treating taxpayer dollars with respect.
The reorganization of the departments does not come without a cost. Any reorganization of this nature does require time and effort. Restructuring always involves costs. Often, we want to see restructuring taking place in order to save money and create efficiencies. I do not see any efficiencies coming out of this, but I do see additional costs coming from that. I see a lack of respect for the taxpayers of Canada through the steps being taken in this process before us. I do not see the companion material benefit that we would like to have.
I did notice in the legislation a recognition of the continuation of the Employment Insurance Commission. That brings me to another important point that I think is worthy of some comment in passing in this House. The way that the employment insurance system has been run in this country for close to a decade is similar to the other concerns I have about the attitude of the government toward taxpayers who are really viewed as people from whom to grab revenues for the purposes of the government rather than people to be served.
There have been enormous surpluses generated out of that system. Those surpluses come from the real money paid by workers and by employers through their employment insurance premiums. Yet, while they think they are getting insurance for those dark days when they might face the need to search for a job when they lose theirs, in fact, that money has not been pouring into a fund. For several years now, it has just been pouring into general revenues.
Some $46 billion has been grabbed from the workers and employers in this country and diverted to the general revenues to be spent on programs entirely unrelated to the needs of workers and unrelated to their insurance for the dark days when they lose a job. That smacks of arrogance of a government that sees every program and every chance to reach into people's pockets as a chance to grab their money for the ongoing operations of government.
That is not what employment insurance is about. That is not what it should be about. That ongoing surplus will continue to run this year. One need only look at the numbers of projected economic growth and revenues that have been coming in to know that this tax grab will continue. That is simply unacceptable.
I hope that through the continuation of the commission the government will see the opportunity in the weeks and months ahead to bring in real changes to restore the operation of the employment insurance system to a genuine insurance system that serves the needs of workers and employers.
Right now it is serving as a tax. It is a tax on jobs. It is a tax on economic growth. It is a tax on prosperity. The worst part of it all is that it is a tax that is regressive. It hits those ordinary workers more than anyone else. That is because after a person passes a certain income level the government stops collecting the tax. That person has topped out his or her contributions. It is a regressive tax. It is a tax that hurts the constituents in York—Simcoe tremendously. People are working hard. They are trying to get ahead and make a better life for their family. That is something that we need to see changed.
I look at Bill C-23 and, other than the opportunity perhaps to use that vehicle of continuing the employment insurance commission as a vehicle for further change in the future, I do not see a great deal of improvement. All I see is a process that leaves us with a lot of questions about the way the government does business and its lack of respect for the elected representatives of the people of Canada.
However, that being said, what would be the implication if we were to oppose the bill and put back the genie in the bottle of creating a new department? At this point in time I expect that it would only create further additional costs from a further reorganization. That is why we on this side find ourselves in the very uncomfortable position of being faced with a decision on do we or do we not support something that happened a year ago? Do we or do we not support a reorganization and the creation of a new department that happened a year ago?
In those circumstances, the challenges of the choice that we have to make can be surely understood. That is why, reluctantly, we will not be opposing this bill. We will only support it because of our concerns with the potential cost of trying to roll-back that restructuring at this late stage in the game.