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House of Commons Hansard #2 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was program.

Topics

Business of the HouseSpeech from the Throne

4:50 p.m.

An hon. member

Shipbuilding.

Business of the HouseSpeech from the Throne

4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Shipbuilding is another example. If the economy is there to scoop up all those workers and help those people get jobs because the government has made the right public policy decisions, then ultimately there is less reliance on Canada's social programs.

The very first emphasis of the government, when it comes to a strong social safety net, must be to ensure that we make the right decisions to produce good, long, well-paying jobs. To date there are not hundreds of thousands but millions of Canadians who are either unemployed or underemployed. That is unacceptable.

We see the government defend these crazy policies year after year with the same results. We underachieve in terms of our ability to create jobs and to raise the overall standard of living for Canadians. We underachieve in our productivity. Our productivity is 15% below that of the United States. A generation ago Canada had the third highest standard of living in the world. In the last number of years there has probably been six countries that have surpassed Canada in terms of standard of living: Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, the Netherlands have all shot past Canada.

That is unacceptable especially when we consider that we have a unique trading relationship with the United States, the wealthiest market in the history of the world. We should be minding that. Some people are concerned that the United States will roll over us. We should take advantage of that market, but we do not have the right public policies in place to do that. As a result, all those people are unemployed or underemployed and they do not need to be.

I would argue the throne speech fails when it comes to addressing how our economy should work and the ability of the economy to really be the best social program of all. However, our government fails to understand that and in its stead we see crazy programs in some cases. We see spending going through roof.

In Canada today we spend more per person than we have ever spent in the history of the country. That may surprise people. They may ask about the Trudeau years when government was huge, but the facts are we spend more per person today in real dollars than we have ever spent in the history of Canada. Yet do people feel wealthier, do they have more jobs, do they feel the health system works for them? No they do not despite the fact this government has been there for 10 years.

This is not really the Prime Minister's first throne speech. In many ways it is his fourth because he has been there through the whole time. He was the right hand man to Jean Chrétien, the former prime minister. He was partially the architect of all that has gone before. I know he does not want to talk about it, it is embarrassing to him, but it is a fact. Here we are still trying to fix all the problems that he has been unable to fix in the past.

I want to talk for a moment about aboriginal Canadians. This is so frustrating for me. I have been here 10 years. The Liberals have produced initiative after initiative to try to help natives. They have been an unmitigated disaster.

I have to refer for a moment to the issue of Davis Inlet. Many of us on this side and probably many in the House knew it was going to turn out the way it did. The Prime Minister was ashamed, like we all were, of the images on TV. It was a disgrace. Anybody with a heart would want to help. What did the government do? It thought the way to help was to move the community with all its problems to a new location. It has not worked. It is the same problems now in a different location.

We cannot continue to do the same things over and over again and expect to get different results. We spend billions of dollars a year on Indian affairs. We have to make that work. We do not need more studies. The government would like to put together a cabinet committee on aboriginal affairs. That will fix it? It is time for a new approach. It has to change.

I have very little time left and I want to touch on an issue which consumes my riding these days, the issue of BSE and agriculture. The document speaks very vaguely about agriculture. It says that we cannot let farmers hang, swing in the wind, because of problems caused through no fault of their own. That is the situation with BSE today, but we will see an entire industry go down the tubes if the government does not help.

Some people say that the feeder cattle industry is 45 days away from a complete and total wreck in southern Alberta where there are something like 900,000 feeder cattle. The government has to step up to the plate and tell ranchers in my part of the world that it is prepared to support the industry through a short-term downturn because the border will open eventually.

In conclusion, the government has failed over and over again to meet its own standards in this document. It truly is time for a change.

Business of the HouseSpeech from the Throne

5 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to the member for Medicine Hat, who was obviously very agitated and very frustrated and emotional. We heard a lot about what he did not like about the throne speech, but we did not hear a lot about what the new Conservative Party's approach would be to stimulating economic growth.

If we look at the Canadian economy, we will see that in fact it has been a miracle of economic growth compared to the G-7. This year, admittedly, we have a little bit of a bump because of a whole range of issues--SARS, mad cow disease, forest fires in British Columbia, the hurricane, and a whole number of factors beyond our control--but I am sure our economy will start to regenerate as these problems are dealt with.

I know that the former Alliance Party or Reform Party talked about the flat tax. It is interesting, because Russia recently introduced a flat tax. My understanding is that it is planning to flatten the tax. Then, when everyone is on the database, it will increase the flat tax to a higher rate of tax. Maybe that flat tax is something that the new Conservative Party would espouse in terms of economic development. I know that in Russia it is being implemented as we speak.

Perhaps the policies of the Conservative Party are under development and it is a bit unfair to ask the member what the policies of a Conservative government would be.

Before they merged, we also heard from the parties on their attitudes toward regional economic development. There are some who would espouse scrapping all the regional economic development programs and agencies, like Western Economic Diversification, which I am sure has done some good work in Alberta, but the member probably would not acknowledge that, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, FedNor, and a number of these agencies. Would the new Conservative Party scrap those programs? What would it put in their place? Perhaps nothing. I am not sure.

I wonder if the member for Medicine Hat would comment on the new Conservative Party approach to the flat tax and also to regional economic development.

Business of the HouseSpeech from the Throne

5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question. I can say that the new Conservative Party will not flatten taxpayers like this government has done.

It is pretty pathetic that in a throne speech at a time when a new poll comes out which says health care is a big issue and Canadians want tax cuts and debt repayment, there is not one mention in this entire document about lowering taxes, despite the fact that the government talks about the need to make Canada more productive and have more innovation. I am sure the member acknowledges that.

The government fails to acknowledge the one policy that every economist agrees would be a way to help Canada become more productive, which is to have selected tax relief in certain areas to ensure that we attract investment.

In the document, there is talk about Canada being a magnet. Magnets can either repel or attract. In this case, I think the government is repelling investment. Its magnet repels, because too often the government leaves in place outmoded policies that drive people away.

One instance is its policies on depreciation. We need to accelerate the depreciation on high tech equipment to attract investment to Canada. The government cannot get it through its head. It keeps the old policies in place despite the fact that it is driving away high tech businesses and, of course, all the jobs that go with them. I think this government is wrong.

My friend asked me about regional development. I can say one thing. Here is what we will not tolerate. We will not tolerate unemployment rates of 15% or 20% in Newfoundland. We will not tolerate 10% or 12% unemployment in Atlantic Canada or northern parts of this country, because that is a great human tragedy, and I am tired of the government proposing the same ideas over and over and over again, suggesting it is going to cure it, when for 10 years it has done nothing but make it worse.

Business of the HouseSpeech from the Throne

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague made a good number of excellent comments.

Toward the end he was mentioning the unemployment in Newfoundland and other areas. I am just wondering what he would see as the answer to addressing unemployment in first nation communities where it is up as high as 90% or 95%. What should be done to ensure that first nation communities have the same opportunity in Canada?

Business of the HouseSpeech from the Throne

5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is a little beside the point, but I do want to mention it. I think one of the very first things we have to do--I cannot believe the government has not addressed it and it should be in the throne speech--is that native women, first of all, should have property rights. Their property rights should be protected. They are not today. They do not even have the full protection of the Canadian charter, which is a disgrace. This government has not addressed that in 10 years. We have raised it year after year. My friend from Manitoba, when he was the critic, raised it month after month. It has never been addressed.

Having said that, what do we do about the unemployment rate on reserves? It is a disgrace. It is terrible, but I can say that the answer is not to keep doing what we are doing. I think part of the answer is to argue for the same things that rank and file Canadians have.

I had an aboriginal Canadian in my office the other day. He was talking about the farmland that he farmed on the Siksika Reserve. He pointed out that the council took away a chunk of the land that he has traditionally farmed. The council just took it away. He had no property rights to that piece of land; he and his brother farmed it.

I think it is time to give aboriginal Canadians the same rights that the rest of us have, which is to own property on a reserve so that someone who goes out and makes something of the property can build up equity in it, can own their own home or ultimately own their own business. Why do we deny that to Canada's first nations? I do not understand it and I think it is something that finally has to be addressed if we are ever going to allow first nation Canadians to get out of the situation they are in today. It is a disgrace that it has taken this long but we need to help them in that way. I think it would be a big first step to really help them get out of the problems they are in today.

Business of the HouseSpeech from the Throne

5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member his opinion on some glaring omissions from the throne speech when it comes to dealing with the west. The Prime Minister spent an awful lot of time travelling the west during the last two or three months and promising all and sundry that things were going to be different.

Here is the shortlist I have. These are glaring omissions for many western Canadians, which they would have liked to have had addressed in the throne speech.

There is no commitment to Senate reform. There is no commitment to scrap the $1 billion gun registry. There is no commitment to tax relief. There is no mention of the softwood lumber issue and how to resolve it. There is no mention of the mad cow disease problem and how to solve it. There is no mention of electoral reform. There is no mention of offshore exploratory drilling off the west coast. There is no implementation plan for Kyoto. There is no plan on how gas taxes are going to be transferred to the provinces. There are no ideas on foreign affairs, cultural policy and health care reform. The government will have to study that, because it just does not know what to do. It will have to ask the provinces for their opinions.

The government has admitted that the state of student loan debt is deplorable, that aboriginal affairs is shameful, and that Canada's cultural policy is adrift, that things are bad and getting worse.

This is from the government that caused the problems to begin with. In western Canada, for that list that I just read off, to ignore those western Canadian dreams--and they are the dreams of many other Canadians, not just those in the west--in the west we have been saying that these are the sorts of issues we want the government to address in the House. To have travelled through the west and to pretend that those issues do not exist is a slap in the face of western Canadians, who are saying the government must deal with them or else deal with an angry electorate.

I would like the member to address this, because I think the Liberals have missed the boat in a serious way on western Canadian issues, which is causing us to again get frustrated with this federal government.

Business of the HouseSpeech from the Throne

5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think they have missed the boat. Frankly, I wish they would get on the boat.

The Prime Minister at one point said that western alienation is real. What has he done about it? He has done everything except listen to what Albertans and westerners are saying. He has not done anything about the issues. My friend went through the list. He has done nothing about all those issues that my friend, Albertans and westerners in general are talking about.

When he says he is concerned about it and the solutions are things like a listening tour through the west or a travelling prime minister's office, which are the big solutions to this, he really misses the point. The point is that people in the west do not want words. They want action. They want the Prime Minister to address the democratic deficit and put into the Senate those senators who were elected by Albertans. Is that so hard to understand? That is what they want.

Business of the HouseSpeech from the Throne

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Nunavut.

After the Speech from the Throne yesterday, I did some checking in my riding. The first thing we members of Parliament do, here in the House of Commons, is to go find out what the people in our ridings are saying. That is what I did.

I would like to mention to the House that my riding, Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, covers more than 800,000 square kilometres; it includes Nunavik, the Inuit, the James Bay Cree, the future Chapais-Chibougamau sector, and to the south, the Abitibi-Témiscamingue, with a total population of about 100,000. It is important to mention this, because Quebec is a big place.

I listened to the Radio-Canada news broadcast where stakeholders were interviewed. The municipal elected officials were very pleased with the throne speech, especially the fact that Ottawa promised to completely absolve municipalities from paying the tax on goods and services, the GST. The possibility of returning part of gasoline taxes to municipalities will also be considered.

In total, the amount being invested to help Canada's cities is around $7 billion over 10 years.

I was listening to the comments from the mayors. The mayor of one big city, namely Val-d'Or, Fernand Trahan, said that it is important and that the Government of Quebec should also take this kind of initiative to help Quebec's towns and cities, especially in remote areas. This year, in Val-d'Or, it will mean an additional $458,000 in revenue. That is significant for the remote areas.

We also heard that the mayor of Rouyn-Noranda is very happy. He says it is a very useful measure because there is an immediate return, and that is true.

The Government of Canada is still expecting to sign a tax agreement with the municipalities in order to share a part of its billions of dollars in revenue from the GST or the gasoline excise tax. We know that the Quebec government of Jean Charest opposes this.

In any case, our Prime Minister, the Liberal MP for LaSalle—Émard, intends to sit down and begin negotiating with all the provinces and with the Government of Quebec before he transfers any money at all, even if it means negotiating individual agreements with each one of them or using other fiscal measures that would produce the same results.

The Government of Canada is committed to a new deal for Canada’s municipalities. This is not the first time we say so. For several months now, the Prime Minister of Canada and member for LaSalle—Émard has been saying that we will negotiate and move forward to find new ways of helping municipalities.

This new deal will target the infrastructure needed to support quality of life and sustainable growth. This new deal will deliver reliable, predictable and long-term funding.

The Speech from the Throne also deals with the environment. We want to develop an equitable national plan, in partnership with the provinces, to meet and even exceed the Kyoto targets requiring Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6% from 1990 levels by 2012.

We are also asked to put our own house in order. We are responsible for contaminated sites. The Government of Canada will undertake a $3.5 billion program on 10 years to clean up federal sites.

We have contaminated sites in our big area of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik. Even in the Nunavik territory there are over 100 contaminated sites. We have to find solutions, always in cooperation with the province of Quebec, but also with the Inuit from Nunavik and the Cree from James Bay, depending on the agreement that can be reached.

In the health area, the Government of Canada says it is committed to reducing the wait time associated with diagnostic and treatment services. This is important. There is much talk about health. We all know what the Prime Minister thinks about that. We know the present government's vision on the matter. There is a level of cooperation with the provinces. There is much to do. This will take time, but many things are being settled between the Government of Canada and the provinces or the Government of Quebec.

We also have to invest in research centres. In our area, a remote area, Canada wants to create innovation bases equipped with first class university research centres.

In Abitibi-Témiscamingue, there is the Université du Québec. Smart regulations have to be implemented, as well as innovative financing, in order to make our country a world leader in marketing bright ideas.

Consequently, it is important for small universities in the resource regions to obtain budgets to conduct studies on the environment, the mining and forestry sectors or the boreal forest.

It is also important to have a Canada where all the regions are represented. For example, in regions like mine, there are farms, forests, mines and the fisheries sector. People forget that Abitibi-Témiscamingue is a mining and forestry region. Nunavik has shrimp fishing. We must find ways to help the Inuit.

Often, when we say we are going to help the Inuit, people think we are going to give them lots of money. The Inuit of Nunavik pay taxes like everyone else here tonight. They pay GST, and municipal and school taxes. Many people in Canada do not know this.

With regard to the question about the advantages of the 21st century economy, we cannot talk solely about the fisheries. We have to talk about rural communities where modern technologies are helping to bring people closer. It is not all in the throne speech. Industry Canada implemented initiatives several weeks, even months, ago with regard to broadband technology.

When we talk about broadband technology, we are talking about high-speed Internet for isolated regions like Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the municipality of James Bay and the Chapais-Chibougamau area that are working in collaboration with the James Bay Cree and particularly Nunavik, which is also important. Nunavik could operate with satellites. We must find new ways to help people in these regions.

People in such regions so isolated from the major urban centres buy everything they need from the south. Everything: food, bread, etc. Every day, there are flights to the north to help those living in these regions.

We need to do far more in order to guarantee that our investments in knowledge translate into business income. Often we hear our local small business people telling us that they lack funding. The Speech from the Throne states as follows:

Our small, innovative firms face two key obstacles--access to adequate early-stage financing; and the capacity to conduct the research and development needed to commercialize their ideas and really grow their business.

They need help, therefore, particularly in the resource regions, for secondary and tertiary processing.

We know that the throne speech does not contain everything. The budget will be brought down soon. The government can also table in the House, at any time, an order-in-council to create a new program.

The government will also be helping these small businesses to overcome obstacles through such means as the Canada Development Bank risk capital capabilities.

One other really important point is that the government will make available the whole range of expertise and services provided by the National Research Council. People are saying that this will be not apply in the large outlying regions. I do know that in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue sector, a public servant has been appointed to service the entire region. Jean-Yves Simard really helps small businesses with start-up shortfalls by providing them with the research capacity and expertise they cannot attain on their own.

What is really important, however, in yesterday's Speech from the Throne is regional and rural development. It is of great importance.

I remember a speech made on February 14, 2002 in Acadie by the present Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Liberal member for LaSalle—Émard, then the Minister of Finance. He said that the next budget would truly reflect the major resource regions and the urban centres.

It is important for the people of the north to find solutions, always in conjunction with the government. We must not lose sight of the fact that the great outlying regions must be developed, either with Canada-Quebec agreements or with the assistance of agencies in the resource regions. This is really important.

In closing, we must not forget the other areas of concerns, particularly social housing for the Cree and Inuit. At the present time, I know of families with 16 to 18 members wintering in basic two-bedroom houses. We must work together to find solutions and budgets for those solutions.

Thank you for this opportunity to explain briefly what is going on in the vast region of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik.

Business of the HouseSpeech from the Throne

5:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened as carefully as I could to the speech just given and was, of course, very grateful again to our wonderful interpreters who allow me to hear a language that I cannot understand when it comes to me directly from the other person to my ears.

I would like to talk about the part of the hon. member's speech where he mentioned the inclusion of the municipalities, municipal governments, the cities, in terms of being able to now share the Ottawa wealth. I say that in quotation marks because I believe Ottawa takes way too much money away from Canadian citizens.

I, as I am sure are some of the Bloc members, am very concerned with respect to the jurisdictional question of the federal government becoming involved directly with municipal governments, whereas that, by our constitutional setup, is one that municipalities deal with the provincial governments.

I personally would like to see a much more strengthened equalization system right across the country so that part of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Constitution Act of 1982, is vigorously enforced. I believe in that, but there is a jurisdictional problem. I wonder whether the government might not be better off to simply vacate some tax room. For example, it collects billions of dollars in gasoline tax. If it were to remove itself from that tax and make the tax room available for the provinces, they could then distribute it to the municipalities based on needs, population and so on. It would be a very simple thing. It would have a zero cost of administration. I think it would wind up really meeting the needs of municipalities almost instantly in a very effective way. That would be much better than the plan that these Liberals have in mind now, although we do not yet really know for certain what it is.

Business of the HouseSpeech from the Throne

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, I took note of the comments of the opposition member.

The Prime Minister of Canada effectively said that he will meet with representatives from the provinces to discuss and find reliable solutions. Indeed, we know what mayors in municipalities are saying, in my region as well as in a number of municipalities across Canada. Even in your region, they are very happy with the Speech from the Throne.

There is also the gas tax. We know how this tax works. It is sent directly through cheques, and so on. It costs almost nothing to the federal government to collect gas taxes. We know what is happening.

However, I want to tell you that we must always keep cooperating with the provinces, particularly in their jurisdictions. We must not quarrel too much and we must move forward. This is the mandate that was given to the Prime Minister of Canada. He wants to move forward without any quarrel, to make taxpayers very happy.

Business of the HouseSpeech from the Throne

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Employment Insurance ProgramPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Charlevoix, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should modify the Employment Insurance (EI) program to establish specific status for seasonal workers, regardless of the EI economic region in which they live.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday we heard the Speech from the Throne as prepared by the new Prime Minister. It was a speech highly anticipated by all Canadians, but especially by Quebeckers.

Today is our first day of debate in the House of Commons. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you, Mr. Speaker, and all of my colleagues in the House, a happy new year and a 2004 full of health and politics.

In my first speech of 2004, since this is our first day of debate in the House, I would like to wish all of my constituents in Charlevoix a happy and prosperous year.

I would also like to extend my best wishes to the people of my future riding of Manicouagan, whom I will have the honour of representing in the next election.

When I offered my wishes for health, happiness and prosperity to my constituents during the holidays, workers in my riding, who are mainly seasonal workers, were awfully worried. They offered their usual wishes for health and happiness, but they also asked that their MP continue to defend the interests of Quebec and of Charlevoix and of course, the interests of the seasonal workers in the riding.

To confirm my commitment and fulfil the wishes expressed by my constituents during the holidays, today, the first day back in this House, I am moving a motion in which I have the honour to raise this concern. The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should modify the Employment Insurance (EI) program to establish specific status for seasonal workers, regardless of the EI economic region in which they live.

Whether they live in Charlevoix, Manicouagan, on the North Shore, the Gaspé Peninsula, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean or in the Lower Saint Lawrence, throughout Quebec there are seasonal workers. This is because employability is seasonal and workers depend on very seasonal employment in an economic region such as ours.

Tourism is the main industry in Charlevoix. People take their holidays at certain given times during the year. At the end of the school year, they come visit us in Charlevoix, the most beautiful riding in Quebec.

Of course, from Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day to Thanksgiving, the unemployment rate is quite low in Charlevoix. Seasonal workers find work in the tourism industry, whether it is in the accommodations, the restaurant or the travellers' aid sectors. The diversity of some of our tourist attractions provides jobs for our workers.

The problem is that our tourism season is not long enough. It is hard for workers to qualify for EI benefits. Those who do unfortunately do not have enough insurable work weeks to carry them through the long winter to spring.

We have the same situation in Manicouagan, the riding next to mine, which I will have the honour to represent after the next election. Let us take, for instance, Baie-Trinité. As of February 1, 2004, 90 eligible workers in Baie-Trinité have run out of EI benefits.

These people work in fisheries, some in the forest industries, others at the Bowater sawmill. They started getting their EI benefits around July and are now no long eligible for these benefits as of February 1.

These people will only get back into the workforce in April. For two and a half or three months, they will have to get by without any income. Some of these people have ended up on welfare, while others have no income and might not even be eligible for welfare.

Once again, with an annual surplus of $6 billion and a $45 billion surplus in the EI account, the federal government is withholding EI benefits from those who have paid their contributions, thus again compelling the Quebec government to provide assistance to these workers, meaning welfare, through the department responsible for income security.

We find this situation everywhere along the North Shore in the fisheries and softwood lumber sectors.

Let us consider fisheries specifically. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, who has responsibility for employment insurance, tells us that he is going to take steps to extend seasonal work. The House ought to know that it is very difficult to fish for crab in the middle of February when there is ice. I am sure the hon. members will agree with me. They will also agree that it is not possible to fish for ground fish in winter, when there is ice, either.

And so, if no ground fish and no crabs are being caught, they cannot be processed in the plant. Therefore, the plant is closed during the winter and activity will resume in the spring, but only if the market is good. Everything always depends on the market.

This brings me to the issue of softwood lumber and international trade, because there are many forestry workers in my riding. Right now, there is a sawmill closing down, for some reason. I am referring to the Kruger sawmill at Longue-Rive, and there is also the Bowater mill at Baie-Trinité.

The market for softwood lumber is very poor, since Canada is having difficulty settling its trade disputes with the United States. During this period, the people who work in the mills and the forests, and even those who work in transportation, are the ones who are not eligible for employment insurance, since they do not have enough hours accumulated.

And there too, if there is a problem of industry profitability, we know that when an industry is suffering losses, it often tends to cut its staff and operations, sometimes permanently, sometimes even going out of business. Then it is the seasonal workers—and even the permanent ones—who suffer.

In the Gaspé, the Gaspésia mill is being completely rebuilt, in order to provide work for the people in that region. This week, we learned that construction and modernization work on the Gaspésia mill has had to stop.

Thus, the 500 workers who worked there will be forced onto employment insurance—at least those who have enough hours. Nothing is ever guaranteed; a person who does not have the number of hours needed, or who has been on EI for some time during the year, may not be able to cover the whole period known as the spring gap.

It is the same in Lac-Saint-Jean. We have learned that in Jonquière and Arvida, the Alcan plant is not as profitable because its technology is obsolete. Therefore, because of the Söderberg technology, the company decided to close the old potrooms. Once again workers will be out of work for an indeterminate period.

This is problematic since these workers have no alternative and the only way they can put bread and butter on their table is to wait for the employment insurance cheque which will come four to six weeks after they apply at the EI office.

Today's Speech from the Throne is not reassuring. We thought the new Prime Minister, the former finance minister, had a card up his sleeve and that, once in place, he would do things differently from his predecessor, Jean Chrétien.

This reminds us that, in 1994, when the Axworthy reform was implemented and cuts were made in the employment insurance plan, the present Prime Minister was the finance minister and was holding the bag while the then Prime Minister made cuts, to the tune of $6 billion a year. Therefore, it was this Prime Minister who held the bag while Jean Chrétien grabbed the money and stuffed it in.

Now they are telling us that they want to do something about poverty? They will start with the poorest among the poor, those who cannot work on a permanent basis, so that their region, their family will have an acceptable earning capacity.

Nobody wants to work six months out of the year. People in Charlevoix and on the North Shore do not want to work six months a year. They all want a well-paid, permanent job with all the fringe benefits.

Once again, this is very disappointing.

These people thought that, with the new throne speech, with a new forthcoming budget, with a possible election in the spring, the government would change course and say it was wrong. It is not true that people on the North Shore, in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, in the Lower St. Lawrence and in the Gaspé Peninsula are “beer drinkers and hot dog eaters”. They are courageous people, who have guts, who want to work and who contribute to employment insurance, even though they know the government is stealing their contributions and they will not receive benefits.

Thirty per cent of women who contribute to employment insurance are entitled to benefits, hence three women out of ten who pay for employment insurance receive benefits. For men, it is four out of ten. This is ridiculous. The government is getting rid of its deficit on the backs of the poorest. It is getting rid of it through a hidden tax, an employment tax. Indeed, these workers pay a tax to receive benefits and they do not receive them.

There is something else. The government does not put one cent into the employment insurance fund. It is the employee and the employer who contribute to the fund. It is seasonal workers on the North Shore or in Charlevoix who contribute to it. In this category, I have temporary workers who, unfortunately, cannot get a permanent job in their company. I have casual workers who are substitutes or on stand by.

I also have workers in Charlevoix and on the North Shore who are independent workers. They started their small businesses in the tourism or services sector. Their businesses are very seasonal. Unfortunately, as independent workers, they are not allowed to contribute and to have access to the employment insurance fund. There are seasonal workers in the tourism, fisheries, forestry, blackberry and wild fruit harvesting, and construction sectors.

This year, the government has agreed to extend the transitional measures. Let us face it, we are in an election year and the government did not want to implement the employment insurance reform. For people in Charlevoix and on the North Shore, this year, it would have been 525 hours of work for 24 weeks of benefits. The government is asking for more and is giving less.

With this motion, we are asking the government to establish specific status for seasonal workers, regardless of the economic region in which they live. Such a measure would prevent disputes between regions. Seasonal workers of the Gaspé Peninsula, the North Shore, the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region or the Bas-Saint-Laurent region are just as deserving, if not more so, as those of Montreal, Quebec City and even Ottawa.

We are asking for a reduction of qualifying factors from 420 to 380 hours for all workers. Let us eliminate the 920 hours required for new workers. First, 30% of women are insured, as well as 40% of men; the rest are not. For new workers who pay employment insurance premiums, we are setting the number of hours at 380 instead of 420 and we are extending employment insurance protection to a minimum of 38 weeks.

We are going even further by taking into account that these are people who work up to 10 or 12 weeks per year. We are asking the government to abolish the two week waiting period. Why is there a two week waiting period that is penalizing seasonal workers when we know that, year after year, they have access to the employment insurance fund?

After a two week waiting period, claimants have to wait another two weeks before getting their cheque. When they do get their cheque after one month, or a month and a half, household bills such as the rent, the telephone, the hydro have also been received. When they get their cheque, claimants owe more than the amount of the cheque. Consequently, we are asking for the abolition of the two week waiting period, a reduction in the number of hours, that is 380 for an insurable minimum of 38 to 40 weeks.

I am asking the government and all the members of the House, when they vote, to remove the hidden tax imposed on workers. The government has the means to do this. According to the Auditor General's report, there is $6 billion in the government coffers, and we have an accumulated surplus of $43 billion.

Employment Insurance ProgramPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Canadian Alliance Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have one question for my colleague. In his motion, he proposes to modify the Employment Insurance Act to establish specific status for seasonal workers, regardless of the EI economic region in which they live.

I actually have three questions.

First, what does the member mean by specific status? Could he define that for the House?

Second, how does he define seasonal workers? In other words, is it by the amount of time worked or is it in a particular industry? What would we consider to be seasonal workers when we are deciding whether to support his motion or not?

Third, when he talks about “regardless of the EI economic region in which the seasonal workers live”, is the member's motion motivated by a concern that there are variable entrance requirements for Atlantic Canada lower than those for the rest of the country, including Quebec? Am I clear on that? Is he concerned that the entrance requirements for Atlantic Canadian provinces are lower than for Quebec?

If he could answer those three questions that would help me a great deal in analyzing his motion.

Employment Insurance ProgramPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Charlevoix, QC

Mr. Speaker, my answer will be very short, so that other members have the opportunity to ask questions.

A seasonal worker works in some industry or other during a certain period in the year. For example, I talked earlier about the tourist industry in Charlevoix. It is busy between June 24 and Thanksgiving Day or early October.

During that period, there are lots of visitors and the local people work, but at other times of the year, everything is closed. I would love to go skiing at Grand-Fonds or the Petite-Rivière-Saint-François massif until July 1. But there is no more snow, and the hon. member for West Nova should know that. It is the same in his riding.

We also say that the government knows how to recognize the status of seasonal workers every year. How are seasonal workers recognized? Every year, in their industry, they have to fall back on some program when they lose their job. Because of this status as seasonal workers, they seek employment insurance benefits every year. The government knows them very well, since it has targeted them to reduce their benefits by 1% each year for five years. With its statistics, the government knows with whom it is dealing. It knows how much it will cost. It has already cut their benefits

We say that the differences between regions are immaterial. Of course, I gave examples from industries and ridings in Quebec, but there are also seasonal workers in Alberta, in B.C., in Newfoundland and throughout Canada.

When we vote on this motion, I am sure the government will take into account the status of seasonal workers by tightening eligibility requirements and increasing the number of insurable weeks. Obviously, we would not pass legislation for Quebec only. All seasonal workers throughout Canada would be covered.

Employment Insurance ProgramPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Charlevoix for this very important motion, particularly for the Quebec regions.

In Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, two important sectors could be affected by such a motion, the softwood lumber and the tourist industries. The present system does not take particular situations into account. I will give an example to illustrate what my colleague has said. The blueberry industry is very important in our area, but unfortunately, blueberries do not grow at minus 25 degrees Celsius.

Considering the important prerogative that forces us to send $560 millions in taxes to Ottawa, the government could decompartmentalize its program and that could have important consequences for the area. The government would have to adapt to the regional contexts.

Could my colleague give us examples supporting this motion for the importance of the Quebec regions?

Employment Insurance ProgramPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Charlevoix, QC

Mr. Speaker, in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, as in my area of Charlevoix, the regional economy looses $4 million per year because of the cuts in the employment insurance fund. This is money that will not be spent in our corner stores, our groceries and our gas stations, and that is true of all regions. The situation is the same in my colleague's riding. For each dollar lost, jobs are lost.

When the seasonal workers' status is recognized, it will be beneficial for the employee, but also for the industry, because if I cannot count on employment insurance benefits year after year, I might well try and find a job somewhere else. The company has to keep on training people to be able to count on highly skilled and qualified employees who will provide service as hospitable as that of the people of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, very well represented in the House by their member of Parliament.

Employment Insurance ProgramPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Ahuntsic Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take part in the debate on the motion tabled by the hon. member for Charlevoix, proposing to grant specific status to seasonal workers under the employment insurance legislation.

As hon. members know, today's debate is of particular importance, since it deals with a program that has been very helpful to workers who cannot continue to work because they were laid off, because they are suffering from a serious illness, or because they must care for a young child. The employment insurance program is more comprehensive than it was when we came to office 10 years ago.

Recently, in January, we also implemented—as most members in this House know—a new compassionate benefit for Canadians who work and who must take a leave of absence to look after a member of their family who is seriously ill. A quick look at the 2002 monitoring and assessment report on employment insurance shows just how effective this program is.

During the period in question, over 1.9 million people submitted new claims and in excess of $11.5 billion was paid in benefits.

The numbers on access to employment insurance were very positive since 88% of those who contributed to the program would have qualified for benefits if they had lost their job.

Active re-employment measures helped workers improve their employability. Indeed, the $2.1 billion invested under these initiatives allowed us to help 570,000 claimants.

Making the rules to qualify for special benefits more flexible and increasing parental and maternity benefits have allowed many claimants to cope with serious illnesses and to better fulfill their family responsibilities.

However, while EI's overall performance is good, there are some workers who face special challenges, to which the hon. member has referred, due to the nature of their work and the industries in which they are employed.

Seasonal workers are one such group whose work is key to a number of industries and regions, as the hon. member mentioned in his speech.

Recognizing this, EI contains many features that benefit them. For example, its hours-based eligibility system is well suited to the special characteristics of seasonal work, which often involves a large number of hours per week. This means clients can use every hour worked in calculating their eligibility and benefits. Every hour counts, which is contrary to what there was before 1996. In the past a worker had to work a minimum number of weeks, which excluded some workers.

We have also established, as a government, economic regions to make it easier for EI to respond to the higher unemployment rate seen in some parts of the country. Simply put, as the unemployment rate increases, the number of hours a person needs to work to access EI goes down. This takes into consideration the difficulty experienced by some workers in finding jobs when unemployment is high in their region.

We also extended the transition period for the regions of Bas-Saint-Laurent/Côte-Nord and Madawaska-Charlotte which will allow many seasonal workers to qualify with fewer hours and receive benefits longer.

Then there is the EI's family supplement, which tops up the benefits of many low income seasonal workers who have children.

The small weeks provision also provides seasonal workers in all regions with higher benefits and helps them keep their skills up to date.

Active re-employment measures help seasonal workers improve their employability and increase their chances of finding year-long jobs. Consequently, those who claim benefits frequently on a regular basis, 80% of whom were submitting claims according to a “seasonal” pattern, received nearly $3 billion in regular benefits between April 2001 and March 2002.

Workers with a seasonal pattern of EI claims received an average of $329 a week, 7% more than recipients in general receiving regular benefits and fishing benefits.

However, no system is cast in stone. As we said, several changes have already been made in our system. Some recent changes have been to the benefit of seasonal workers. Among other things, the intensity rule was abolished, the revenue threshold for short weeks was raised and so was the level of refund for people receiving benefits frequently or for long periods.

Even if the employment insurance plan can help, it is only part of the solution. We must also find a way to strengthen the communities and stimulate local economies in order to promote the creation of full-time and year-long employment.

That is exactly what the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and other federal departments are doing, in partnership with regional development agencies, employers, community groups and trade unions.

We want to consider what the overall impact might be on EI, other clients and our labour markets generally.

The hon. member has in fact raised a valid point. We are seeking input from all our partners and basing our decisions on the best data available to show us where we are going and what changes may be needed along the way. It is for this reason, since this is an ongoing consultation, that I will be voting against the motion and would encourage other members to do likewise.

Still, I want to congratulate the member for caring about seasonal workers. The government shares his concern for their situation.

I encourage the member for Charlevoix and all the other members, since a number of them have raised this issue over the last few years, at least since I have been a member of this House, to help the government in its search for comprehensive solutions to the problems of all workers, including seasonal workers.

It is only through a joint effort that we will find sustainable solutions to the social and labour force problems faced by a great number of Canadians.

Employment Insurance ProgramPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Canadian Alliance Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion today. I congratulate my colleague from the Bloc for bringing it forward. I know it is motivated by concern for Canadians who sometimes are in difficult circumstances because of seasonal work.

The motion would modify the employment insurance program to establish some kind of specific status for seasonal workers regardless of the EI economic region in which they live.

The EI program, as the member from the government just mentioned, has been broadened considerably in the last 10 years under the Liberals.

The first question I think Canadians will want to ask is: What is the purpose of the EI program? If the purpose of the EI program is to serve many masters, retraining, compassionate leave, parental leave, seasonal workers, a lot of different purposes, then we are on the right track. Why not add one more? We have already added a, b, c, d, and e, so what is the rationale for not adding three or four more in the program?

Another way to look at this program is the way the Forget commission looked at it when there was a comprehensive review of EI, called UI at that time, by a very distinguished commission. The commission said that unemployment insurance should be insurance. People pay a premium and if they have an unexpected and unforeseen job loss they have the means to pay their mortgage and feed their kids. The purpose of an insurance program is to insure people against an unforeseen loss.

Under the Liberals, the program has been broadened to cover all kinds of things, but it is not insurance. It is not insurance at all. If someone is involved in regional work or if someone decides to become a parent, then that is not an unforeseen circumstance. Yes, there should be programs to cover those circumstances, but do they properly belong under unemployment or employment insurance? That is a question that we sometimes forget when we are talking about this program. It is a valid question. What is the purpose of the program?

If the purpose of the program is insurance against unexpected job loss, which certainly happens all too often in our changing economy, then that is a program that we can define in that way. However what it has become is a slush fund for the government.

The member from the government just said that 88% of people who pay premiums into the insurance program are entitled to insurance. That means that more than one in ten people paying premiums into the program have no entitlement to any benefits, to any insurance. The member herself admitted that. What kind of an insurance program is that, where I have to pay premiums with no hope of receiving any benefits?

My colleague from the Bloc pointed this out. Why should regional workers have to pay premiums under a program that does not benefit them? That does not make a lot of sense does it?

Another thing the government is doing, which it knows full well, is taking far more in premiums into the program than is being paid out under the program. In fact the chief actuary of the program, a special actuary who designs the program to make sure it is properly run and that the money is being put in so that people who need benefits can be sure of getting them, said that the government was charging far too much in premiums than it needed to pay out the benefits.

What has the program become for the Liberal government? It has become an enormous cash cow. In fact, since the government took office it has taken into the program $45 billion more than is needs to run the program.

Can anyone imagine what Canadian workers and employers struggling under the tax load of the government could have done with $45 billion in their pockets? There are $45 billion in this last 10 years that workers and businesses could have had to work with, but no, it went into the pockets of the government, which is now crying poverty when it comes to important programs like health care.

This motion says we should add one more thing to the EI program. Should we do that? We do not know because this program has been expanded in so many ways that it is hard to know what the rules are. Is it an insurance program? We do not know. It certainly is not operating like an insurance program. Is it a program where certain defined premiums are paid out for defined benefits? The answer is no. The member himself admitted that there are people paying into the program that are not entitled to benefits. There are some fundamental questions here.

There is another fundamental question. What is a seasonal worker? Is a seasonal worker someone, as my colleague said, working in the ski industry? Is that person entitled to have an income once the ski season is over? Is someone who is building roads for oil companies in the north entitled to income when the road building season is over because of the spring thaw? What constitutes a seasonal worker? I asked my colleague that question and he gave some examples, but how does one define that? If a person decides to work in a seasonal occupation, under what circumstances is there an entitlement to income when not working?

My colleague from the Bloc says that there are some industries where this is necessary because there is no other work to be had once that particular product or activity is over for the season. How is that defined? We need to decide that before we move forward.

It seems to me that if we are going to start tinkering with the EI system piecemeal, it is not going to be a very sensible way to approach a very important program for Canadians. Canadians do not want to wake up in the morning to find out that their jobs have been terminated for whatever reason and they are bereft of the resources to look after their families. It is a good program to ensure oneself against that, but is it a program where a lot of these other things should be added on?

I remember some years ago when this program was funding a thing called TAGS, which was to retrain people in the fisheries who were no longer able to fish because the Liberals had mismanaged the fish so badly that there were none left. This TAGS program paid out billions of dollars and had a pathetic record of actually helping displaced fishers find a new occupation that could support themselves and their families. Is this the proper use of an insurance program? Those are valid questions.

I would invite my colleague to answer these questions before we adopt a program that has a very important function for Canadians and start loading it up with other uses and abuses--particularly by the government which abuses it--and put extra, unnecessary and, by the way, unlawful money into the federal coffers. The law governing this program says we should only have premiums that will allow us to ensure a certain level of benefits, but the government has violated that consistently year after year.

There are some good questions raised by this good motion. It is a motion that has compassion for people. It is a motion that wants to do the right thing with a program. However, unless some fundamental questions are answered about the purpose of this program, about the definition of who is going to be encompassed in changes to the program and questions about what the government is doing using this program as a slush fund at the expense of workers and employers, I do not think we should go any further.

Employment Insurance ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on the motion of the member for Charlevoix. This is a very important motion that is being introduced here in the House of Commons.

It is important to read this motion once again:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should modify the Employment Insurance (EI) Program to establish specific status for seasonal workers, regardless of the EI economic region in which they live.

This is indeed an important motion. It also goes to the heart of the problems we have here in Canada. I know that the member for Charlevoix spoke about Quebec, but this is not only about Quebec, this is also about Canada. He recognizes that this is a problem everywhere in the country.

This employment insurance program was introduced by the federal government in 1940. It was aimed at taking care of workers who had lost their jobs.

I would like to digress for a moment, because the Quebec Appeal Court now says that the federal government is interfering with Quebec's jurisdictions through the federal compassionate care program or the parental leave program.

However, let us remember that, in 1940, there were perhaps only 5% of women who were in the workforce in Canada. This program did not apply to women who were in the workforce. Now, we must take into account today's workforce and be able to have respect for it.

That said, if I have understood correctly, the member for Charlevoix has just said that some $4 million annually was being lost in employment insurance benefits in his region.

I have said before that it is nice to be Number 1. Yes, being chosen as Number 1 is a source of pride. But I can tell you that I am not proud of the fact that my riding is Number 1, because it is tops in Canada as far as its rate of unemployment goes.

That is not what the people in my riding want. They want to work. In my area, the losses are not $4 million in benefits, but $81 million annually. The annual figure for New Brunswick is $274 million. That is why I find the motion by the hon. member for Charlevoix appropriate and feel it is a good motion.

The parliamentary secretary says that we should work together to find solutions. I accept his invitation. The reality, however, is that the Liberal government has used employment insurance for political gain.

I have sat on the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities with parliamentarians from all political parties. Even the LIberal members, along with all the members from other parties, recommended changes to employment insurance. The Liberals even voted on the suggested changes to EI.

For example, the problem in southeastern New Brunswick. The federal government sent out investigators to see whether people were cheating on their hours. These people have been waiting for a year for the federal government's decision. The Liberal member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac has even said that, since the arrival of the new Prime Minister, there has been more satisfaction than during the last ten years, under the reign of the previous PM. This is unbelievable. But these people still have had no response, so I do not know what kind of satisfaction we are talking about.

These people are in a panic. They do not know if they are going to end up owing the federal government $10,000, $15,000, or $20,000. Imagine the panic among the families in the Cap-Pelé area. Imagine the panic in Bouctouche.

I can empathize. Every day I receive between 50 and 100 calls at my office from people who are being punished by the employment insurance system.

Today, I must say, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development was not hypocritical. He told the truth. There is no more money in the EI fund. Yet, on paper, there is a $45 billion surplus. Today the minister stood up and told the truth. There is not one red cent because the government boasts a zero deficit. They balanced the budget on the backs of these poor workers who lost their jobs. They created a surplus on the backs of this country's seasonal workers.

Whether you come from New Brunswick, Charlevoix, Rimouski, Timmins, Ontario, Prince George, British Columbia, the Yukon, Edmonton, Alberta, when you have a seasonal job you are a worker. This is not a social program. It is a program that Canadians created for workers. It is Canadians and companies that contribute to it. It is not there for the government to spend the money on other things, to pat itself on the back for having a zero deficit and a balanced budget. The only way they balance the budget is on the backs of the poor.

It is unacceptable to see that only 33% of women qualify for employment insurance in Canada.

It is a shame when the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development says that there is not a penny left in the employment insurance fund because the government balanced its budget. It has created a zero deficit on the backs of those women who lost their jobs.

It is a shame that 800,000 people in our country do not qualify for EI but pay into it. It is a shame that 1.4 million children are hungry in our country because their parents do not qualify for EI. It is a shame that in my riding I get calls from people who want to take their lives because they cannot afford to feed their families due to the lack of employment insurance.

How could the government be proud of itself when we will not see anything for EI in the budget and we did not see anything about employment insurance in the throne speech.

The federal government gets $7 billion annually in profits from this program, and it is not even mentioned in the throne speech.

Yes, the government says that a new vision is needed and that we must be able to create jobs. How can it say that it can create jobs when it did not create them during its past decade in power? We now have a Prime Minister who was Minister of Finance and who rejoiced when he took money from the workers.

Whether these people are from the mines in Cape Breton, Halifax, Yarmouth or Chéticamp, they needed that employment insurance. The government took it. Today, it admitted in the House of Commons that there is not one red cent left except—but only on paper—that $45 billion belongs to Canadians. It taxed the workers. It taxed those who lost their jobs.

That is why each time I talk about this I am very passionate about it. The reason is simple: I see that the Liberal Party has hurt families and caused divorces but most of all, it has created child poverty.

I challenge the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and the parliamentary secretary. If what the minister says is true, then the committee just created by the Liberals to approve everything in Canada, should be dismantled and replaced by a multi-party committee.

The Prime Minister says that there is a democratic deficit in Canada. If he wants to set an example and cooperate, he should strike a committee so we can study the real problem. We will be able to find solutions.

This employment insurance fund belongs to the workers. It is not a social program. For mothers taking maternity leave or fathers taking parental leave in order to care for their children, it is not a social program. They no longer have any income, and this program belongs to the workers and those who contributed to the fund.

Employment Insurance ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am truly pleased to be able to speak today about this motion, M-475. This motion asks for a change in the Employment Insurance Act to create a specific status for seasonal workers. Like my colleague, I wish to read the motion again, because it is very important that the people listening know exactly what we are discussing. The motion by the hon. member for Charlevoix reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should modify the Employment Insurance (EI) program to establish specific status for seasonal workers, regardless of the EI economic region in which they live.

Some hon. members from other parties have already spoken to this motion, including the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill, the hon. member for Ahuntsic, who is also a parliamentary secretary, and the hon. member from Acadie—Bathurst, who is his party's employment insurance critic and who, ever since he first entered this Chamber, has always defended this issue with passion.

We seem to be reaching unanimous agreement on the fact that EI needs real reform when it comes to seasonal workers.

Even the parliamentary secretary congratulated my hon. friend from Charlevoix. Still, she seems to be telling us that her party will not be moving ahead on this motion and will not support it, even though she congratulates the hon. member, even though she recognizes the work we have done in favour of this motion and in favour of the EI program, since we began sitting in this House in 1993.

What is surprising is that the Liberal Party campaigned in the elections of 1993, 1997 and 2000 on the promise that it would reform employment insurance. The new Prime Minister, when he dropped in at Baie-Saint-Paul last year, promised once more that as soon as he became Prime Minister he would reform EI. He would really reform it.

Every time, there is a minister who comes into the ridings where the people are suffering the most from EI and tells the people to stop demonstrating, to be quiet, that everything will get fixed up as soon as they take power, that they will do it as soon as the election is over.

Many times over the past decade they have fooled the Canadian people. I hope that in the next election the people will remember once and for all that the Liberal Party of Canada can no longer be trusted when it comes to employment insurance.

Since the past is an indication of what the future holds, we cannot expect anything more from this party. They changed the Prime Minister, they changed the leader, but the situation is still the same, if not worse. As my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst indicated, there was not a single word about employment insurance in the Speech from the Throne, not a word about the softwood lumber problem, about the forests or about the difficulties of seasonal workers.

When will the government understand that it is not the seasonal workers themselves who are seasonal? Their situation is due to the structure of some industries in certain regions.

When one lives in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver or Victoria and is a hotel employee, one can expect to work 12 months a year because there are tourists all year round in those cities, plus there are business people who travel and attend conventions for example.

However, in Sainte-Luce-sur-Mer, let me tell you that, at this time of the year, a stay at the hotel would come cheap because the hotel is closed; it is a summer resort. People there start working towards the end of May and finish at the end of August.

That is the nature of seasonal work. Even if we tried to give work to hotel workers 12 months a year, we would have to send them to Montreal or Quebec City after the season in Sainte-Luce. There is no hotel open year round in Sainte-Luce.

In the Gaspé Peninsula, maybe there is a hotel in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, one in Baie-Comeau, one in Sept-Îles and one in Godbout. In Rimouski, there are one or two, maybe three, but we cannot give work to all those who want to work in the tourism industry and only in hotels. It does not work that way.

In my region, fishermen do not work all year. Forestry workers do not work 12 months a year. It is the same thing on farms. Will someone in this government finally understand that, that it is the industry itself that is seasonal?

It is not the people who do not want to work. My colleague from Charlevoix said: “If there were jobs 12 months a year, our people would work. They are not crazy”. Who likes, these days, to live on $300 or $400 a week in employment insurance benefits? Who likes that? Nobody.

The cost of living is high for everybody, in case you did not know. And it is often higher in remote areas than it is in big cities. They are further from everything. That is why we should help people. We will have to finally understand that this is a real problem.

The Minister of Social Development said. “When Canadians ask for something, it means we can do something”. I hope someone tells her I quoted her. For 10 years, Canadians have been asking the government to stop fooling around with the EI plan. Canadians throughout Canada have been asking that. The situation is the same everywhere.

But this government needed a surplus. It has deceived the Canadian public by saying, “Give me money and I will put it aside in a fund and help you out when you lose your job”.

If an insurance company had done the same thing the government did, it would have gone bankrupt long ago. It just does not make any sense. We cannot go on ignoring the problem of seasonal workers. This cannot be done in Canada anymore, unless we are completely stupid.

We have to understand what is going on, we have to face reality and we have to find a solution. We will sit down. We will talk. There are many solutions. One solution is clear though; we could ask what could be done to help those people.

Committees have met. One committee sat and found solutions in my riding, in the Lower St. Lawrence. The committee proposed solutions, but nobody is listening. With arrogance, 38% of the vote and a majority of seats, this government brought us to where we are today.

I think that next time it deserves to be in the opposition. This is where the government is now. It has to go to the opposition benches because it does not deserve to keep on governing the country. It does not understand anything. In fact, it did not understand anything about the employment problems. It has to go to the opposition benches for a while to better evaluate all the problems that it created for the public.

Employment Insurance ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Charlevoix for having raised a very real and significant issue that is affecting every region in Canada.

I am not sure however that he has come up with the ideal solution to this problem. I think the debate we are having is important and that we need to find a solution.

It is unfortunate that the expression “EI fund”, is so widely used. Benefits are paid out of the consolidated revenue fund of the Government of Canada. If people meet all of the criteria, they get benefits. These criteria need to be reviewed. We have to examine how we meet the needs of seasonal workers, whether they work in the farming industry, the forest industry, in fish processing plants, in the tourism sector or elsewhere.

It is unfortunate that we seem to want to make comparisons between Quebec and Atlantic Canada or Western Canada or Ontario. People are facing the same problems everywhere in Canada.

The problems we are now facing come from the changes that we needed to make. In my riding of West Nova, there was a time when our young people chose EI benefits as a source of income. Their career goal was to get EI benefits. It was quite sad. The abilities and capacities of these people were lost, and it is not something we want to go through ever again.

However, with the solutions that were applied, there are still people who find themselves in a black hole. It is often women and single parents who do not have the opportunity to develop other skills, to go back to school, to retrain, to reorganize themselves, to move, or to take advantage of the whole socio-economic system.

These people find themselves in a black hole. They work alongside people who come from other Atlantic regions in the processing plants that are in operation in my area. In their geographic regions these people need fewer hours of work to qualify for employment insurance benefits. They go back to their province, their region. Women in my riding collect employment insurance benefits because the riding is doing rather well from an economic point of view. It is also associated with urban centres such as Halifax. These people do not meet the criteria.

It is very difficult for these people. It is very difficult when we see the people from the Beauséjour—Petitcodiac region being confronted with the problems generated by the fish processing plants that must comply with the rules.

I congratulate the hon. member for raising this issue. We must continue to work with the task forces, to make recommendations while working within the boundaries of the existing legislation to meet the needs of seasonal workers.

House of CommonsPrivate Members' Business

February 3rd, 2004 / 6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before we conclude the day, I want to make mention of a little historical note.

The mace that is on the table today is not the usual mace. It is a replica of the mace and it adorns our chamber once a year, on the anniversary of a sad day in our history, February 3, 1916, the day of the great fire. This replica was the one that was handcrafted while a more permanent one was prepared for the chamber. The wooden mace adorns our chamber one day a year, February 3, the anniversary of the great fire.

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

It being 6:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:30 p.m.)