Mr. Speaker, I will be using the 20 minutes available to me.
When we talk about strangling the unemployed, I think of what my learned colleagues have done during the three and a half years I have been in the House. I know that the Bloc Quebecois has been leading the fight against the federal government's grab of the funds invested by employers and employees in the employment insurance program.
Sometimes, it is difficult for the audience to understand that a government collects money from outside entities and keeps it for itself. That is the truth. In 1996, under a Liberal government, with this Prime Minister who was finance minister at the time, the federal government decided to withdraw from involvement in the employment insurance fund.
Since 1996, the federal government has not put one more cent into the employment insurance fund. It has reduced the number of weeks of benefits and increased the premiums paid by employers and employees. The result is that it has accumulated a surplus of over $45 billion. The federal government has received more money than it has paid out. Then it took that money to invest in its day-to-day operations. That is why we say, once again, that for the year just ended, out of the $7 billion surplus, $3 million comes from the overpayment of premiums by employees and employers into the EI fund.
Once again, what is the federal government going to do? It is going to pay down its debt with that money. Rather than helping families pay their debts or helping provinces whose debts are growing, it will decide to reduce its debt with the money that does not belong to it.
Many terms have been used in this House, but there is only one reality: the federal government has not contributed anything to the employment insurance fund since 1996. That was a decision by the then finance minister, the current Prime Minister. The number of weeks of benefits was reduced. Weekly, monthly or other contributions by employees and employers were increased. A huge fund was created with more than $45 billion in profit, which the federal government has appropriated. That is the hard reality.
All the Bloc Quebecois is asking for is improvements to the employment insurance program for seasonal workers. It is not their fault. It is not the workers who are seasonal, but the work that it seasonal. We are asking that people who work 20 weeks be able to receive 30 weeks of benefits, or if they work 16 weeks they be able to receive 34 weeks of benefits. This adds up to 50 weeks because there is always a two-week penalty. It is probably the only insurance system that people pay into and get penalized when they need it. Nonetheless, employment insurance takes away two weeks in penalty.
Obviously, the system has been improved in the past few years. Transitional measures were used. This year, these measures were abolished. Now, when someone works 20 weeks, they receive only 24 weeks of benefits.
What makes this so difficult right now? Seasonal work is often available in the summer. In our beautiful regions, we have four seasons. It is more in the summer that seasonal work is done in agriculture, forestry, tourism and, obviously, fishing.
When people have worked during the summer, they face a gap in the spring because they did not contribute enough or work enough. They receive only 30 or 24 weeks of benefits for working 16 weeks. There are between 6 and 12 weeks during which they receive no income and it is during this time of year.
We would have thought that because this money belongs to employees and employers, the government would have been able to do as the Bloc Quebecois and other parties in this House were asking and create an independent employment insurance fund. That way, workers would be able to set their own standards and ensure that when they work in a seasonal industry, they have enough income for the entire year.
People working between 16 and 20 weeks could be guaranteed between 30 and 34 weeks of benefits, so as to have an income for their families. This is not yet the case. That is why the Sans-chemise came this week, following an amendment by our colleague from Charlevoix calling for a review of this system to allow seasonal workers to obtain income for a full year.
Obviously, the government voted against this motion. It was clear in the budget, and it is even clearer after the vote on the motion by my colleague from Charlevoix.
Next, with regard to seniors, this budget should have increased old age security. Seniors have seen an astronomical increase in their housing, medication and service costs.
The government is swimming in a $7 billion surplus, not to mention the hundreds of millions lost in the sponsorship scandal, the firearms registry scandal and the HRDC scandal. I am not counting that money. I am talking only about the $7 billion surplus generated by the federal government in the fiscal year that just ended on March 31.
It did not decide to give seniors a decent income to prevent them from sinking below the poverty line. That is the harsh reality. Many of our seniors live below the poverty line. The government is swimming in billions of dollars in surplus funds and our seniors are being strangled to death. That is unacceptable.
My final remarks will be on the riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. When Quebeckers hear the name Mirabel, they think of the huge sums invested in Mirabel airport. Once again, the Liberal government has allowed its administration, Aéroport de Montréal, to make one mistake after another: a five-star hotel was closed down and a terminal will be closed to all passenger service in November. Mirabel airport has ten times the area of Dorval airport. It initially was the largest airport complex in the world, yet Mirabel airport will be closed down this November.
While most industrialized countries are building airports and terminals outside urban centres, believe it or not, we in Quebec, at the direction of the Liberal government of Canada, will be closing down an airport that is in an extremely safe location, in order to focus all our air traffic on a totally built-up area in the midst of a city. This is anything but intelligent.
Once again, and far from the first time, a Liberal Party mistake. Why do I mention the Liberal Party? Because it has governed this country for 29 of the past 42 years. The worst possible mistake Canadians could have made was to give them the mandate to govern for so many years. We can see the repercussions of this, and they are major ones.
We might have expected the Prime Minister to announce a duty-free zone in order to give a boost to the air freight sector that will remain at Mirabel. This would have enabled industries to develop, particularly the all-cargo industry, and the airport facilities would therefore have been saved. All transport ministers, including the latest appointee, have told us that if Dorval were to close some day, Mirabel would take over again. They said that we will end up having to go back to Mirabel for safety reasons, so it must be preserved. They want to preserve it, with a useless hotel and a closed air terminal.
This budget does not include any decision to encourage industrial development around the airport, to allow maximum use of all cargo air services, and thus preserve and protect the facilities in preparation for anything that might happen in future.
Nor is there anything for Highway 50, or Highway 13. In any case, since I have been here, there is at least one thing of which the Liberals have succeeded in convincing me: that they never intended to finish the 50 and the 13. Their goal was to close Mirabel and concentrate everything on the West Island of Montreal. That is the hard reality.
Now that it has been done—now that there will be no more passenger traffic—I would like the Liberal government to understand that in order to promote development of the biggest land area belonging to the federal government within Quebec's borders, it must promote its industrial development by completing Highways 13 and 50. That is the only way. Without the highways, there can be no industrial park development.
As a former mayor and former president of the Union des municipalités du Québec, I can tell the House that it is impossible to do industrial planning without highways. That is a choice the Liberal party made—not to develop Highways 13 and 50. Now it has achieved its goal, closing Mirabel. There is no more passenger traffic there.
However, would it be possible—not in this budget, because after close examination it appears that there is no money for Highways 13 and 50—but perhaps in the future, in order to be able to promote the development of Mirabel? One day, air traffic must return to Mirabel and follow the pattern of all the other industrialized countries, that is, concentrating airport operations outside major urban centres. It is becoming increasingly dangerous to have airport facilities in major urban centres.
In Quebec, we are lucky to have this magnificent airport just 45 kilometres from the urban core of Montreal. We must be able to protect it, with all the investments that are necessary, including completion of Highways 13 and 50, so as to promote its development and, of course, we must provide rail access.
I was stunned by the latest proposal by Aéroports de Montréal to add an industrial component to Mirabel airport, taking advantage of the proximity of the rail system, a system that is a full seven kilometres away. That is truly mind-boggling.
Can the railroad at least be extended to the airport so that the whole industrial zone can be developed? There is not much potential in an industrial park without road or rail access. Yet, this is how the federal government develops its facilities.
The response to a question I asked in the House on February 6, 2004, is truly mind-boggling. I will reread both the question and the answer:
Mr. Speaker, Air Transat's recent decision to move its operations to Dorval means that Mirabel will lose at least 500 jobs. This announcement follows on the heels of the hotel closing and a series of bad news that continues to hit the region since the federal Liberals decided to abandon airport management to ADM.
Instead of hiding behind the disastrous decisions of ADM, which spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to get Air Transat to move, this government should show transparency and tell the residents of the Mirabel region that, ultimately, its goal is to turn the airport into an empty shell so that it can be later closed. Should it not?
The President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada gave us the following answer:
Mr. Speaker, I will answer on behalf of the Minister of Transport. My colleague is well aware that we have great respect for the agencies in place. ADM makes its own decisions. That is how this government wants to operate: to be respectful above all.
The government does not, above all, want to influence the decisions for which ADM, an independent authority, has been made responsible. The only problem is that it is the one appointing the members of ADM's board of directors, about which we were told today, “No matter what decisions are made, whether the hotel is closed, all the passenger flights transferred and Mirabel closed one day, we will never interfere, because independent authorities have been made responsible for airport management in Canada”.
I know that the Auditor General is currently scrutinizing the activities of all airport authorities throughout Canada. I mention this because this is going to be the next scandal uncovered by the Auditor General. Billions of dollars have been spent by airport authorities on behalf of the taxpayers, us, and as a result, such an important, beautiful and safe airport as MIrabel will be closed in November.