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House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was benefits.

Topics

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May 6th, 2004 / 5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Claude Duplain Liberal Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking this afternoon. Given that what we say is often misinterpreted here, let me say at the outset that I will be speaking about the report entitled “Beyond Bill C-2.”This is not to say that everything has been done and that there is no more to do. I would be the first to say that a lot remains to be done and it so happens that we are presently at work on a number of issues in this regard.

I am nevertheless pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the issue of employment insurance, specially with regard to the report entitled “Beyond Bill C-2.”

I will read some brief notes to make sure people are properly informed. It must be said in fact that information given or discussed here is sometimes so skewed, so misinterpreted, that people may be somewhat baffled as to what is going on here.

This government greatly appreciates the work of the Standing committee on Human resource developmentand has examined carefully the recommendations contained in the committee's report. We have always been willing to change to meet the need, as we have shown time and time again with regard to employment insurance.

However, at the outset, I think it is important to mention that the employment insurance program is working for a majority of Canadians. It is there for people who need it and it will remain in place, as it has for 60 years.

Employment insurance is a reliable program that is meeting the needs of Canadians. In times of economic uncertainty, workers can count on employment insurance to help them re-enter the labour force.

It is also a flexible program. Of course, certain regions and certain groups of workers—those we have been talking about these past few weeks—such as seasonal workers, can have to face special challenges on the labour market, which is not always easy. The establishment of employment insurance economic regions ensures that the employment insurance program takes into account the high unemployment levels in some parts of the country, so that all workers have equal access to the program.

The present government has pursued a flexible approach to adjust the employment insurance economic regions in such a way that the workers living in parts of the country where work is mainly seasonal can continue to collect employment insurance benefits.

Let me give a few examples. Workers in the Lower St. Lawrence and North Shore area of Quebec need 70 hours less than do workers in areas with low unemployment to qualify for EI benefits.

The plan has been designed to adjust quickly and automatically to changes in the labour market. The variable entrance requirement is reviewed every four weeks on the basis of the latest unemployment statistics. In other words, if unemployment goes up in any area, the requirements are automatically adjusted to permit easier access to the program. Therefore, people in areas with higher unemployment need fewer hours of work to be entitled to benefits over an extended period of time.

Access to EI is easy. The Monitoring and Assessment Report indicates that 88% of Canadians who are salaried employees could eventually be eligible if they lost their job.

Moreover, the switch in 1996 to an hour-based system and first dollar coverage means that each hour of work is included in the EI coverage. This change has meant easier access to the plan for seasonal workers, part-time workers and those with multiple jobs.

The employment insurance is a system that is in constant evolution. When we adopted the EI reform in 1996, we made a commitment to control and evaluate the system. We have kept our word. We were and still are committed to ensuring that EI continues to serve the needs of all Canadians. Whenever changes were justified, we have made them.

Since the EI reform, we have made various adjustments, including the improved parental benefits and the integration of the small weeks provision which is now permanently included in the employment insurance system and applied nationwide.

There is also the abolition of the intensity rule, the change to the payback provisions, changes to the rule on undeclared earnings, the introduction this year of a new six-week compassionate benefit for eligible workers who will be looking after a seriously ill parent, child or spouse.

Many of these adjustments were brought specifically in response to the needs of seasonal workers, part-time workers and multiple job holders.

The passage of Bill C-2 illustrates the adaptability of the EI program. This bill speaks to the day to day realities of Canadians.

For example, the intensity rule was designed to discourage the use of employment insurance from one year to the next. We realize that this rule was ineffective and, frankly, punitive; so we abolished it. Seasonal workers were often among these recipients that the intensity rule was affecting. Over 900,000 Canadians received retroactive payments following the abolition of this rule.

We also changed the rule relating to people returning to the workforce. Recipients who leave the workforce and re-enter it are often parents who must balance professional and family responsibilities. Before Bill C-2, these people were considered as new entrants in the workforce, which meant that they had to accumulate more insurable hours of work before being eligible for benefits. Now, parents are eligible for regular benefits, as other workers, when they re-enter the workforce after an extended absence during which they were raising their children.

On the most important measures that the government has taken since the EI reform to respond to the concerns of seasonal workers is the small weeks initiative.

Since it came into effect, this initiative has made the workforce more effective by encouraging Canadians to accept part-time and temporary work, which has helped to make up for short-term manpower shortages that employers had to deal with, particularly in the seasonal employment sector.

The short week provision also helps part-time and seasonal workers to retain their connections with the job market. Our evaluation shows that claimants worked an average of two extra weeks. Across Canada, more than 185,000 Canadians benefited from the short week provision.

We have improved the short week characteristics to better harmonize them with the realities of job market. A combination of regular weeks and short weeks might reduce the rate of benefits the next time a claim is made. By increasing the short week threshold from $150 to $225, we provide workers with greater flexibility to accept short weeks without a reduction in their future benefits rate.

These measures taken by the government clearly show that we intend to adjust employment insurance to the reality of the job market. We will continue to make the necessary changes.

That said, while it is important to understand the unique challenges faced by seasonal workers, it is equally critical to recognize that employment insurance is only a part of the solution. Canadians told us that they do not want to claim employment insurance benefits. They want to have jobs. The answer to that is to develop community capabilities and to strengthen local economies, in order to offer sustainable employment opportunities.

Our goal is to encourage Canadians to work and help them rejoin the workforce. True income security starts with a job. We established local committees in Quebec and in New Brunswick to consider ways to help workers affected in those regions. With our partners, we are pursuing several approaches to address the issues concerning seasonal workers, based on the recommendations made by local committees.

The employment insurance program is effective and is there to help workers in need. We continue to implement control and evaluation measures of the program to make sure that it continues to answer the needs of Canadians.

In conclusion, I will say that committees who travelled across Canada are still doing a lot of work to make a recommendation to bring new faces and to give an up-to-date picture of what is happening in the regions of Quebec and in all of Canada. We must bring about changes to make the situation even better.

Some opposition members say that we are delaying calling an election while others say that we want to call the elections too fast. I for one think that now is the time to help those in need in the regions of Quebec. They are expecting specific measures. I do want these measures to be taken.

We could do as the Bloc is asking and do an in-depth study of EI. We will not have time for that. The fact is that the changes must be made by regulation and we will not have time to make extensive changes. Things are being done however. We can act now while at the time taking a closer look at what could be done.

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5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the previous speaker both with interest and in amazement. Let me start by the end.

How can someone say that we do not have time? We were elected three and a half years ago and the mandate of the government runs until the fall of 2005. If the government really wanted to change the EI plan, it could very well introduce a bill in the next few days and you could be sure that the Bloc would give its full cooperation to get the changes made. In fact, the report was tabled three years ago.

I would like to give some clarification to the hon. member because he does not seem to understand. There was a vote on Bill C-2. The report was tabled after Bill C-2 and included a recommendation approved by everybody, including the Liberal members, namely the member for Gaspé, a member from Laval, and the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, who said that Bill C-2 did not go far enough and that there were 17 other changes to make to the plan. Apparently, these were important changes. But the government did not follow through on the recommendations.

During those three years, the federal government accumulated a surplus of $11 billion in employment insurance premiums. It collected $11 billion more than it paid out in benefits. Could it not have taken half that money and given it to improve the situation of women, to eliminate discrimination between men and women and young people so that the same eligibility rules would apply to everyone? Could it not have set up a program to help older workers? Could it not have improved the situation of seasonal workers? No. It preferred to squirrel away the $11 billion taken out of the pockets of some of society's most disadvantaged.

Should, finally, our colleague not realize that what we have on the table are unanimous recommendations? These recommendations were made three years ago and the government has not followed up.

Why not wait until the Employment Insurance Act is voted on before holding an election? I think that would be the best move this House could make in order to restore some balance, distributing wealth, rather than sharing poverty as has been the case. In a period of very rapid economic growth, the gap between rich and poor has grown as well, which is absolutely unacceptable.

How can the member defend this position, which stands in opposition to that of his own Liberal colleagues who were members of the committee?

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5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Claude Duplain Liberal Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sometimes at a loss for where to start. The Bloc Quebecois will never form a government. Bloc members can therefore afford to say any odd thing, make any odd statements, whenever they feel like it, because they will never have to be accountable.

Those who say that anything can be done turn a blind eye to the time and money involved. They do not even bother to check the rules to see if indeed it can be done. They accuse us of not doing enough, of not acting. One need only look at how much energy we on this side are putting into our work, looking for solutions to specific problems.

The Minister of Industry was here this afternoon. She is working. Does anyone think that the minister has nothing better to do than sit here all afternoon? Some ministers work seven days a week on finding solutions. We have three ministers working back here, in the lobby, this afternoon, while half of the Bloc members have left already. They are on holiday.

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5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

I rise on a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. If the hon. member for Repentigny does not mind, the Chair would have a comment to make. If it does not address the hon. member's concern, it can then be addressed.

First, I wish to remind the hon. members that mentioning the presence of a minister or member is allowed, but mentioning the absence of a member is not. Is that clear? Those are the rules.

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5:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Go to the penalty bench.

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5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

We do not have a penalty bench. This is just a reminder to ask for the cooperation of the hon. members in sticking to the rules.

The hon. member for Portneuf.

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5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Claude Duplain Liberal Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I know how to apologize when I have made a mistake. I am sorry for having said that some Bloc members had already left on vacation. When I get slapped on the wrist and it is justified, I have no problem with that.

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5:35 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Since there is no penalty box, you cannot put the member for Portneuf in the box as you would like to. However, if we want start playing count-the-number-of-MPs-on-vacation, I would accept the hon. member's challenge. Proportionally, if we add the number of Bloc members who are absent from the House compared to the number of members—

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5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order please. For the second time, and I hope it will be the last, we understand why we have this rule. We understand that the members on both sides of the House are concerned about all kinds of matters and work. I am not intervening in favour of one party or another. I do not want to continue down this path. I do not want there to be any more discussion on anyone who is absent today or for a longer period of time. I hope this is understood.

We will resume the debate on the issue being debated today. The hon. member for Portneuf.

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5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Claude Duplain Liberal Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to apologize once again for saying things that I should not have said. I apologize to the Bloc members. There is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, we lose control because things are construed in so many different ways.

Just a while ago, a member said that we do nothing for elderly people. As far as I know, we have launched a pilot program to find solutions in that area. We are taking different measures like that. This is the type of thing we are working on.

An interim report will shortly be delivered to the Prime Minister and the minister responsible for employment insurance. Certain things will be done as has been said. We must find real solutions to a very real problem, in accordance with a plan for standards and legislations.

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5:35 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, all stakeholders say that only 4 out of 10 unemployed people will receive employment insurance benefits. The member for Portneuf quoted the figure of 88%. I would like him to explain how he arrived at such a percentage.

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5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Claude Duplain Liberal Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, those figures are verifiable, and I can provide them to the honourable member so he can check them. They were provided by the department and, according to them, 88% of all Canadians would be eligible to EI if they needed it. Those are the figures provided and we are not afraid to show them. We are not afraid to tell those things.

Earlier, a Bloc member mentioned the possibility of regionalizing EI and he gave some examples from his region. Do you know that, overall, Quebec has drawn $86 billion in EI benefits since 1980, while it collected $73 billion? It is hard to believe that there is a deficit and that Quebec does not draw its fair share.

That does not include the $600 million in benefits related to employment that Quebec gets every year. That is not included in those figures. Do you realize how much money Quebec gets? But that does not mean we condone what is going on now. We now have a specific problem on the Lower North Shore and elsewhere.

I went there, I met people and I wanted to explain to them what we were doing. Just to show you how discussions can sometimes be difficult, I recall very vividly that the Sans-Chemise came here recently. The Bloc proposed a motion which was rejected, because initiatives are being taken to resolve the problem.

I went to talk to the Sans-Chemise to inform them of what we were doing. It seems to me that when one wants to put in place new criteria, new standards or new measures, one is willing to discuss. As I was talking to these people, members from the Bloc arrived and accused us of being liars, stirring up people against me. They all left. It was sheer arrogance, when I wanted to sit down with them and discuss peacefully what we were doing. I was brought up to do that. It might not be the same thing for them, but that is what I was brought up to do.

I was happy to hear the previous speaker say a moment ago that she was ready to sit down and talk. It would be good if all Bloc members could do that so that we could find solutions.

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5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member agrees that some people who have to pay employment insurance premiums, such as self-employed workers and farmers who work off farm, can never apply for employment insurance. It seems to me that something should be done about that.

We also have people who are self-employed and sometimes find themselves having to work off the farm in other areas. Would the member agree that something should be done to fix that? It seems unfair to me that people who have to pay premiums never have the opportunity to collect employment insurance.

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5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Claude Duplain Liberal Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, as far as the issue of the self-employed is concerned, I must point out that, at the request of the Prime Minister, I was part of the Task Force on Women Entrepreneurs, which went around the country in order to report on the situation of women entrepreneurs.

I know perfectly well what the self-employed are faced with. I am the first in this government to defend the idea that we must take a position to help them. Which one exactly? I would not be able to tell you tomorrow morning, because this is something the whole government must decide.

However, I am the first to promote the fact that for self-employed workers, we must absolutely find a solution, because more and more, they wield economic power in Canada, and it is really important. We have to look out for them, because they can often find themselves in very difficult situations.

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5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, for starters, please allow me to clarify something since the member for Portneuf has not had an easy time explaining to me how he found this 80%. My explanation is volunteered in an effort to please him as well as to broaden his knowledge

Those 88% he is referring to are people who qualify for EI benefits. Therefore, they have worked the required amount of hours or weeks and meet all requirements. Therefore, 88% of the people meeting 100% of the requirements obtain EI benefits.

Why 88% and not 100%? My colleague for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques has just explained this to me so that I could pass on the best information possible to the member for Portneuf. The fact is that some people do not have to go as far as receiving their first EI cheque, either because they have found a job, because they are ill, or because they have decided to no longer be unemployed, to no longer be part of this system.

However, for the benefit of my colleague from Portneuf who, I can see, is listening intently to what I am telling him about the 88%, only four persons out of ten who pay employment insurance premiums actually get employment insurance benefits when they need them. Consequently, that is how the difference between the 40% and the 88% can be explained.

So when he has to answer questions on this or when he makes more speeches in the House on this subject, he will know what to say.

I invite him, if he does not agree, to rise in his place and speak to this issue. Since he is not rising, I have to conclude that he agrees with me on what I just said.

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5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

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5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

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.

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6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member for Repentigny have the consent of the House to move this motion?

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6 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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6 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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6 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, you cannot imagine how surprised I am to hear that no. I was so convinced that, at the end of this whole day of debate, they would say: “We have heard you and you are right: we should keep our promise and meet our commitments”.

To my great surprise, they listened to us, but did not hear us. Or, if they heard and listened, they did not understand. It is a total surprise to discover that Liberals will not make the recommendations they signed and the commitments they made official.

For that reason, people will know; in the Portneuf riding and in all the ridings in more remote areas. On the Lower North Shore and in the Gaspé Peninsula, people will no longer be naive and will no longer believe promises like those that were made the week before the election in 2000, when they said: “Vote for us and do not worry, we will change the Employment Insurance Act”.

Why will people no longer believe the Liberals? Because the Liberals vote against their own red book promises and are now voting against commitments they made themselves in a unanimous report.

That is why I am sure, as my colleague the member for Portneuf said earlier, that several Liberals will be going on vacation after the next election.

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6 p.m.

Liberal

Claude Duplain Liberal Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak, but not in answer to the member for Repentigny. It is not even worth my while. When I spoke earlier, I said clearly that I was doing so to explain exactly what we had done and not to defend the present state of things and say that all is well in the best of worlds. Rather, I will speak in answer to an earlier question of his and let him take it from there.

As you see, it takes but an utterance and you see how our words can be misconstrued...

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6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member for Repentigny has the floor on a point of order.

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6 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier the member for Portneuf was not aware of the fact that he may not refer to the presence or the absence of any member. Now I would want to tell him that after a speech, when we are into questions or comments, he should not be giving answers to questions but rather asking questions.

He just told the House that he wants to answer the questions. Could he give me--