Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to this motion brought forward by my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois. It reads:
That, in the opinion of thisHouse, the government should propose, before the dissolutionof the House, an employment insurance reform along the linesof the 17 recommendations contained in the unanimous reportof the Standing Committee on Human Resources Developmentand the Status of Persons with Disabilities entitled “Beyond BillC-2: A Review of Other Proposals to Reform EmploymentInsurance”.
However, I find the comments made by the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord a bit odd, particularly when he said that according to the CLC, if we are going to do something, we might as well include the furniture. I take that as an insult to the CLC. Let us not forget that the Canadian Labour Congress represents the workers. It is there for them. It is unacceptable for the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord to make such a statement in the House, especially as he was representing the Progressive Conservative Party before the last election.
If we look at Hansard , if we read the speeches he gave then, we see that he disagreed with the changes made by the Liberals in 1996. As a matter of fact, the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord supported the then member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, Ms. Angela Vautour. They were going hand in hand, denouncing the changes to employment insurance. Now he is fighting the Liberal fight in the House of Commons.
It is regrettable, and you can check it in Hansard . Hopefully, TV viewers in Chicoutimi—Le Fjord will also remember what happened then and how much this member has changed over the past few years to the point that he is now defending the Liberals for taking some $43 billion from workers and employers who contributed to the UI plan that was used to help workers who lost their job, or workers in the new economy.
Forty years ago, in the 1960s, when the UI plan was introduced, only 5% of women were working. Nowadays, we have reached the point where we probably could say it is nearly half and half. Therefore, the plan must adapt to that reality.
A pregnant woman is not a sick woman. A pregnant woman is a woman who contributes to life. I want to thank the woman who brought me into this world. If that woman had had the opportunity to be part of the work force, I would have liked her to be treated fairly, like any other worker. We must thank the women who gave us life, instead of claiming they should not receive benefits when they leave their job for a while to take care of their child. Some of the arguments we hear sometimes are unacceptable and shameful.
This morning, at the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, the employers agreed with us that the federal government has used the EI fund for one reason only, to pay down the debt and reach a zero deficit. However, on whose back has it done so? On the backs of workers who lost their job. Nevertheless, it wants Canadians to believe that the only reason why it changed the EI program was to force people to go back to work.
Again, I completely disagree. A seasonal worker does not lose his job of his own doing. He does not wake up on a Monday morning and say, “I am not going to work”. He ends up jobless because of the nature of the work he does. There are no seasonal workers in Canada, only seasonal jobs. If people find themselves unemployed, it is because of the nature of the work in their area.
Let me provide a brief historical overview. I think it would be worth it even if a lot of people remember what happened.
In 1986, the Auditor General of Canada recommended that the unemployment insurance funds be added to the consolidated revenue fund. It probably never crossed his mind at the time that his recommendation would open the door for the federal government to use the surplus to eliminate the deficit and balance the budget. I do not think that is what the Auditor General had in mind.
At the time, the employees and the employers were contributing 80% of the money in the UI plan, compared to 20% by the government. Nowadays, they are responsible for 100% of the funding of the EI program. Some people wonder why I keep talking about unemployment insurance. Why should we not call something by its true name? Unemployment insurance is for people who have lost their jobs; employment insurance gives the federal government the opportunity to get its hands on the money and spend it as it pleases.
In 1986, the money went into the consolidated revenue fund. Following this, you may have noticed that changes to unemployment insurance started to be made. Indeed, right away, the then Conservative government thought that this was a place where it could get money. It could dip into the fund. This is where it all began. We must not forget the historical facts.
As I said often in this House, on July 31, 1989, my predecessor, Doug Young, told Canadians, New Brunswickers in particular, “I ask people in New Brunswick to fight vigorously against any change to unemployment insurance, because it will be a disaster for New Brunswick”. As a member of Parliament, Doug Young recognized at the time that we had seasonal workers, fishermen, forestry workers and so on. He was trying to impress people to be re-elected to the House of Commons.
I remember being in Inkerman, where there was a debate between the Conservatives and the Liberals; the Conservatives were in power. Doug Young said that he wanted people to vote for him, because if he was elected to go to Ottawa, he would ensure that changes to unemployment insurance would be made, because people deserved it. I was there during the debate. It seems that, come election time, candidates from parties that want to form the government think that it is time to reform the unemployment insurance plan, whether there are candidates from the opposition or not. Meanwhile, we have people who have suffered. Men, women and children have suffered from with all the changes.
I will move forward quickly. I will go to February 1993. Jean Chrétien, who was the prime minister of Canada in the last years, was the leader of the opposition. He sent a letter to a group of women from Rivière-du-Loup. He said that the changes that the Conservatives were making to unemployment insurance, and the way they were making them, were shameful. Indeed, instead of attacking the problem—which was economic development—they were attacking the most vulnerable, people who had lost their job.
In the fall of 1993, many were surprised to see the Liberals elected. Given all that was said during the campaign, all the statements made by Jean Chrétien and Doug Young, we really thought that workers could breathe a sigh of relief, that they would get what they were entitled to. It did not happen. The changes kept coming and then the really big changes came.
These changes were so tremendous that the government was raking in surpluses in the EI account to the tune of $7 billion and $8 billion a year. And this was coming out of the pockets of workers who had lost their jobs, of people who were in need. The way the Liberals went after the Canadian workers is a shame.
Since then, small changes have been made. Today's motion from the Bloc Québécois asks the government to consider implementing the parliamentary committee's 17 recommendations.
Let us look back at how this came about. Before the 2000 election, in May of that year, I tabled a motion in the House asking parliamentarians and the government to carry out a review of EI.
In May, Parliament unanimously agreed to reform EI. It was a proud moment for me since Parliament, all political parties and members of this House, had unanimously recognized the need to bring about changes to the employment insurance plan.
Why did the Liberal members support my motion in 2000 after saying during all those years that the employment insurance plan was adequate? They finally realized something was wrong with the employment insurance plan.
Just before the election in 2000, the Liberals introduced Bill C-44 in the House of Commons. They tried to slip one past us in the House of Commons. They wanted Parliament to pass changes unanimously before the election. One of the changes was the increase from 50% to 55% of the benefit rate, and another one was the abolition of the clawback clause, which meant that, after five years people were no longer entitled to employment insurance. It was limited to 30% and the amount was raised from $39,000 to $48,000. Those were the two changes.