Mr. Speaker, there is some bad-mouthing going on in the House about the hon. member for Portneuf. I will not tell you what I heard. All I will say is that after the next election, he will be on vacation for a long time. However, I will not say what he is doing today.
I will now remind the House of the motion before us today for this opposition day. It is important that we begin by setting out the main subject of our debate. It is as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should propose, before the dissolution of the House, an employment insurance reform along the lines of the 17 recommendations contained in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities entitled “Beyond Bill C-2: A Review of Other Proposals to Reform Employment Insurance”.
What the Bloc Quebecois is recommending today is what we have recommended many times since May 2001, and what has been recommended outright when the report was tabled in May 2001, that is an in-depth reform of the Employment Insurance Act and particularly of those parts of the act that penalize contributors to the plan.
For the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf in particular, and also for all the people who are listening at home, I will explain how we come up with a committee report that contains 17 unanimous recommendations. First of all, the chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities is usually a Liberal. That committee is chaired by somebody appointed by the Prime Minister.
The vice-chair is also a Liberal, and more often than not—and it is okay, I am not being critical here—it is the minister's parliamentary secretary. This person then gives his or her colleagues the information on what will be going on. The majority of the members of the committee represent the governing party, the Liberals.
Therefore, the chair is a Liberal, one of the two vice-chairs is a Liberal and more often than not the parliamentary secretary representing the minister at the committee, and most of the members are from the Liberal Party.
The Bloc Quebecois was there, the Conservative Party was there, and also the NDP. After two or three months of discussions, evidence, research and expertise, the committee submitted a unanimous report.
For the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, a unanimous report means that everyone agreed on it. I should add, again for the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, that when a report is unanimous and when everyone agrees on it, this means that the Liberals also agreed. They signed the report, along with the other members of the committee. As regards recommendation No. 1, for example, which seeks to end discrimination toward young unemployed individuals, women and new entrants in the employment insurance program, I should point out, for the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, that the Liberals agreed with this recommendation. They signed the report after two or three months of work.
The minister was aware of this, because his or her parliamentary secretary was present. Therefore, cabinet was aware. Indeed, and I say this for the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, committees do not meet in secret. They send notices. Their meetings are even open to the public. There are committee proceedings and minutes. After hearing witnesses and after examining the issue, the committee produced a unanimous report which says in recommendation No. 1, for example, that we should end discrimination toward young people, women and new entrants in the employment insurance program.
Now, we are asking the members who signed this report if they want to vote accordingly. They are telling us no. They do not agree. They want to review the issue because it is important. They promised to do so in 2000, during the election campaign. They made recommendations in 2001 after reviewing the issue, but now they are not prepared to vote to support these recommendations.
This is what we object to. The Prime Minister talks about democratic deficit. The same Prime Minister told Canadians, in a news release dated March 18, 2004, and I quote:
This government places great importance on hearing from those lives that are directly impacted by our policies, including our seasonal workers. Our Caucus has been extremely active in making the sector's opinions known, and will continue to play an important role in further examining those views.
This was a news release signed by the Prime Minister on March 18.
Thirteen days later, this same Prime Minister voted against a motion and with him an overwhelming majority of Liberal members from Quebec, including the member for Portneuf. This motion asked that a specific status be established for seasonal workers, regardless of the EI economic area in which they live.
So we were saying that the Prime Minister had made a promise. The Liberals signed a report. Can they now officialize it? When you promise something, when you sign a report to confirm a promise or a commitment, when you go back to the people to say that you applaud such a measure but ask for a little bit more, we say you should make good on your word and put the issue to a vote in the House. Now, they tell us they are not ready to do that.
This is what we object to. Therefore I wish to tell the member for Portneuf about the existence of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, about the existence of a unanimous report and about the fact that this report got the unanimous support of Liberal members. I believe it is important that the member for Portneuf be made aware of those facts before making any more speeches and answering our questions.
Another recommendation of this unanimous report—therefore a report which got the support of the Liberals—was to extend benefit periods in order to avoid the spring gap. This was recommendation No. 3. Since 2001, nothing has been done about the spring gap. The report also talked about implementing specific measures for older workers. Those measures were obviously less generous than the POWA program, but they were still better than the present situation. This was recommendation No. 4.
Recommendations Nos. 8 and 9 talked about the possibility of extending the program to self-employed workers. I am happy to hear that the member for Portneuf agreed with that earlier. I am also convinced that if the motion were introduced today and put to a vote, the hon. member might vote against it, even though he said he was in favour.
Recommendation 16 talks about increasing the amount of benefits by changing the calculation formula.
That is how we, including the Liberals, unanimously agreed to improve the EI benefits scheme.
Why should it be improved? That has been explained very well by my colleagues who spoke today, especially my colleagues from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques and Rimouski--Neigette-et-la-Mitis, who is our critic on this file.
Everybody recognizes that the situation is desperate, especially for seasonal workers and people living in the regions. Everybody recognizes that. However, it is not true only of people living in the regions.
We looked at the results of a study conducted by the CLC, the Canadian Labour Congress. For the benefit of my colleague for Portneuf, the first C stands for Canadian. This study was not done by the Parti Quebecois, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste or sovereignists. The first C stands for Canadian, I want to stress that point.
According to the CLC study, between 1993 and 2001, losses linked to the tightening up of EI eligibility standards were in the order of $3 billion a year in Quebec. If you divide that number by the 75 ridings in Quebec, the shortfall is around $40 million a year per riding.
This shortfall calculated by the CLC—and I repeat for my colleague from Portneuf that the first C stands for Canadian—represents a shortfall not only for the unemployed, but also for the regions. The unemployed do not invest their benefits in Barbados, they put that money directly back into the local economy. Surpluses generated by the EI plan on the back of the regions are put into the consolidated revenue fund, not into the regions.
My riding, Repentigny, is not in a remote area; it is in the suburbs of Montreal. People in Repentigny are not faced with the serious problem caused by the spring gap or the serious problem in the seasonal sectors, as a whole. Some of them, yes, but not across the board.
In spite of that, according to the CLC, since 1993, since the tightening up of the employment insurance scheme, the shortfall in the riding of Repentigny has been $47 million a year for eight years, or $376 million. In the riding of Repentigny, the unemployed, who unfortunately are in a special situation, have been deprived of that money over the past eight years. That has had an impact on the local economy. I remind my colleague the member for Portneuf that that is according to a study conducted by the Canadian Labour Congress.
I think I have been pretty clear about the importance of implementing decisions that have been accepted unanimously, including by the Liberals. Once again, with an election campaign looming, the Liberals are promising to look into it, to think about it, and to eventually move forward and create a committee.
I made a joking comment a while ago to my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. It is just a joke, I have no wish to offend any religious groups. What I said was that God created the world in six days. Before the seventh day, He created a committee, and it took another three billion years before Man and Woman appeared. When the Liberals promise us a committee, I really wonder when we will see a response to this question, particularly since that committee will be made up of nothing but Liberals. I hope they will be signing a unanimous report.
For the benefit of my colleague for Portneuf, if the committee is comprised solely of Liberals, and if they all sign the report, then it will be really unanimous. If that report is then voted on here in the House, and they vote against it, then there will really be some problems. I just wanted to point out to him that there will be no separatists on such a committee.
Today, with an election looming, why the concern about these promises?
There is concern because during the last election campaign, two minor players, among others, formally promised workers they would reform the Employment Insurance Act. I will name only two members, former minister Alfonso Gagliano, who was more concerned about the sponsorships and all that, but who nonetheless could occasionally talk about other things, and our colleague from Bourassa. Again, if my colleague from Bourassa says he did not say that then he needs to inform the House.
This promise had been made on the North Shore and in the Gaspé in the weeks leading up to the election. Now that we think the election might be called tomorrow, there is no talk of the promises that were made this week. Talk is about the promises made before the last election, in 2000, that still have not been kept.
The federal government has never come through on this promise except to pass a bill that was tabled before the dissolution of the House. In fact, it was this bill that made construction workers so angry in that it did not address the main flaws in the program.
Consequently, this is the aspect on which the Bloc Quebecois humbly proposes that the Liberals honour their signatures on a report in which there were 17 recommendations aimed at correcting a distressing situation for workers, for women and youth, and for older workers who lose their jobs.
Thus, we ask the Liberals who made a commitment to the POWA program, who made a commitment to independent workers, who signed, who promised and who said that they were going to reform employment insurance, to keep their word, quite simply. We offer them an opportunity to honour their signatures and, in turn, we will accept only the recommendations they made.
In conclusion, I have a little anecdote about the people who, at the time, were called Alliancers or Reformists, or something like that. Nevertheless, the former Alliance members, the new Conservatives, quoted verbatim the Liberal's 1993 red book about the ethics counsellor. They copied from the Liberal Party's 1993 red book, in quotation marks, a text that went something like this, “We promise to appoint an independent ethics counsellor in the House of Commons,” or something like that. I do not know the 1993 red book by heart—it was not my bedtime reading—but I remember that this promise was in the red book. Consequently, the people who are now the Conservatives took verbatim what was in the red book and submitted it to the House.
For the benefit of the hon. member for Portneuf, the red book was written by Liberals, nothing but Liberals. It was not even a unanimous committee that wrote it; it was only Liberals. Are you surprised, Mr. Speaker, to learn that the Liberals voted it down?
In terms of democratic deficit and lack of respect of the public for politicians, the very best example is to take a promise out of the red book, put it forward to Liberal members and watch them vote against their own commitments.
Today, however, after listening to my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois, I can say that this is the same kind of situation where we tell the Liberals, “You made commitments. You took some concrete action. What we are asking now is that you deliver on your promises. Vote on this motion. Let us make it votable”.
That having been said, I seek the unanimous consent of the House to make this motion put forward by the Bloc Quebecois today votable.