Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-23, an act to establish the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. We must all keep in mind that, in order to know where we are headed, we must know where we are coming from. It is also important to understand where the employment insurance program in Canada comes from. Let us never forget that employment insurance is a social measure. Under the Constitution of 1867, that responsibility was given to the provinces. This was the reality then.
In 1940, the provinces and the federal government agreed to transfer the unemployment insurance program to the federal government. Why did this take place in 1940? It was the beginning of World War II and we had just gone through the 1929 Great Depression. So, the decision to give to the federal government the responsibility for unemployment insurance was made by all the partners under the Constitution.
Of course, over the years, things got a little messy, because the federal government wanted to throw its weight around and go further than what had been negotiated in 1940, which involved only unemployment insurance. This is why we are now debating this issue and why the Bloc Québécois is being asked why it is so dead set against the establishment of two new departments. In fact, the responsibility given to the federal government in 1940 has become a huge snowball that will never stop rolling, for the simple reason that, politically speaking, Ottawa is finding it profitable to invest in all kinds of jurisdictions that do not belong to it. This is where we have a problem.
Indeed, Bill C-23 mentions all the activities that these two new separate departments of Human Resources and Skills Development could perform. These include areas such as employment programs, the workplace, learning, the homeless and the redistribution of benefits in all these sectors. This is where we say “Wait a minute: except for employment insurance, the other jurisdictions or initiatives mentioned in the bill come under the provinces”.
Some might ask us why we are acting like the great defenders of the provinces' interests. Actually, it is because provinces are closer to the real life issues the public faces. The simple truth is that the better service can only be provided by the level of government which is closer to the public. So, the Quebec government is closer to the interests of Quebeckers. Moreover, this is all in accordance with the various jurisdictions which were established in the Constitution of 1867.
This needs to be constantly explained because, too often, Liberal members centralize and are absolutely bent on getting good press or on investing in jurisdictions they do not possess. Obviously, that is the fight we are waging. In addition, the worthiest fight has to do with the jurisdiction that was granted to the federal government in 1940, namely unemployment insurance, which has become employment insurance. Instead of splitting this department and trying to achieve a better distribution of the enormous work load that this department has taken on above and beyond the jurisdictions that were set in 1940, we should look for ways to improve the employment insurance system. This all the Bloc and all its members in this House are asking for.
I know that my colleagues have been doing so ever since the Bloc Québécois arrived here in this House, that is, in 1993. It is a fact that the government is making money at the expense of the workers as far as employment insurance is concerned. Since 1996, the federal government has not put one red cent into it. The funds come from contributions by employers and workers, which are making the fund bigger.
The federal government of course tells us there is no fund. It is absolutely right. It has done away with it. So these contributions merely go into the coffers of the government and are used for other purposes. Other purposes have been created in response to numerous criticisms. This is why the Department of Human Resources has become so large and why it is getting involved in so many things that are not its responsibility. In fact, with a surplus of $3 billion or $4 billion, an average of $3.5 billion from the EI fund since 1996, it has decided to invest in such areas of learning, work, homelessness and back to work programs.
All of these are provincial jurisdictions. All it needed to do, if it wanted to administer properly, and this was the advice the government was given, was to create an independent fund administered in large part by employer and employee representatives. They would be better placed to decide what an EI system ought to be like.
In fact, quite simply, as its name suggests, it is insurance paid into by employees and employers. It is likely the only insurance program where contributors do not have a word to say about it. The federal government is the one to decide what it is going to do with the premiums it collects, and it has decided to invest them in things other than improvements to the program.
I do not want to hear how the program is not in particular need of improvement. We know that, in sectors like forestry, agriculture and tourism, work is seasonal, not the worker but the work. It is not the fault of the people in these areas, who work for three, four, five or six months a year, that they have no work, it is the nature of the sector. It operates when it is profitable, when it will make money. Often in forestry, agriculture or tourism, the weather is the determining factor.
That is why all the members of the Bloc Québécois, the men and women who represent Quebeckers, were prepared to improve this system. We have tabled bills. My learned colleagues, critics for various issues, have tabled bills to amend the employment insurance system.
What the Liberal government is proposing is not changes or improvements to the employment insurance system. It is proposing to change the departments. I understand that.
I had a chance to go through the directory of federal agencies. The Department of Human Resources and Skills Development has more than a dozen separate sections each with its own internal auditor. Just imagine. When you read the directory, you notice that each section of this department has an internal auditor and yet they find a way, year in year out, to be reprimanded by the auditor general.
In other words, the department has become so big that they want to split it up. The problem is that there are too many programs to manage. Why is that? It is because the federal Liberal government has made too much money and has given this department so many new responsibilities that it now wants to divide the department in two. It will probably be easier to monitor it that way.
It is very difficult to manage. Earlier I heard the Liberal member tell us that people agreed. Yes, we agree and we understand. The department has become so big that it has to be divided in two to make two even bigger snowballs. That is what will happen if we do not stop them.
That is why the Bloc Québécois is here to say, and to make the Liberal members realize, that they have to stop. The departments they are in the process of creating, Human Resources and Skills Development, have jurisdictions that do not belong them. These jurisdictions belong to the provinces, as stipulated in the Constitution Act, 1867.
From the outset I have been saying that we have to look to our history if we want to know where we are headed. This department was created by a single agreement in 1940. It had only one responsibility and that was to manage unemployment insurance at the time. Today we have a bill to divide the department in two because it has become too big with too many responsibilities that do not belong to it.
Listen to the Bloc Québécois for once. Give money to the provinces, give up some of your responsibilities and there will be enough of a department left to manage employment insurance, which should thereby be improved for seasonal workers.