Mr. Speaker, I will inform you straightaway that I will be sharing the time I am allotted with the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
A budget involves making choices in terms of social measures. To make a proper evaluation, each party must at the same time be able to make a political reading of the situation and determine its position.
In football terms, if the final score were 54 to 21, you could say that the losing team took a beating. But there are reasons for that defeat. In the case which concerns us, the reasons have to do in particular with the fact that this government made bad political choices. What is more, the governing was highly dubious.
Today, I would invite this House to note that the present government, which was in place previously, before the recent election, has governed mainly for its friends and for the party, instead of in the interest of the country. And the term “country“ includes Quebec here. We realize in particular how great the damage resulting from those political choices has been.
Those political choices have also revealed certain misappropriations of funds. Today we find ourselves with a commission of inquiry that will cost $60 million, over and above the hundreds of millions already spent to promote friends and enrich the party.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were swallowed up in this program, while on account of political choices, cuts were made elsewhere, notably in the case of the unemployed, people in substandard housing, and municipal infrastructures. I could give you a very long list of the sectors victimized by these cuts, but I shall refrain, so as not to take up too much time, since my colleagues have been talking about them for two days.
What is needed today is to call upon the government to make responsible choices, so that we can pass a budget I would call therapeutic. The government has developed a disease, the all-powerful syndrome, the symptoms of which include what I have already mentioned: misappropriation of funds, dubious choices and measures victimizing the most vulnerable members of our society.
A therapeutic budget is one that will include remedial measures, first of all where EI is concerned. Scores of families have been impoverished in this country. I am particularly well placed to know just to what extent this is the case in one part of the country, a part that constitutes a country within another, that is Quebec.
When families are reduced to poverty, so of course are their children. The Canadian government has just received a report on child poverty. When there is a finding that there are children living in poverty, the reason is that there are families living in poverty. We have heard this before, but it bears repeating as often as possible. We will keep repeating it until the appropriate steps are taken to remedy the situation.
I very much hope that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development will make a commitment to propose to the Minister of Finance, with no further delay, that he include the preliminary measures already recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Skills Development: creation of an independent employment insurance fund so that its contents cannot be touched, since the Canadian government does not contribute to it. This fund is made up of the contributions of workers and employers and belongs to them. This being their money, there is no reason for it to be used for any other purpose—in fact to do so is indecent.
The Liberal government took $46.4 billion to use for other purposes. This is absolutely scandalous, when we know there are tens of thousands of workers forced into unemployment and excluded from employment insurance.
This fund must also have the protection of an independent administration consisting of commissioners representing workers and employers, for the most part. The commission must also be managed in such a way that the commissioners can determine themselves the contribution rate and the level of benefits for the unemployed.
There is another perfectly scandalous aspect as well. I will give an example that shows that the government has not understood the message delivered in the last election. It continues to behave as if it were all-powerful.
Even though no one asked it to do so—quite the contrary, the contributors had said that the problem was not with the premiums, they were even prepared to increase them—before the holidays, the government reduced the premiums by three cents, which amounts to $270 million in contributions to the fund. Once again, that put pressure on the fund and prevented the benefits from being increased. That is completely unacceptable. Here too, the government will have to answer to the people other than with the kind of nonsense that we have heard over the last few weeks.
There are also measures proposed by the standing subcommittee on human resources and skills development. There are 20 measures that would improve the employment insurance benefits. The members of the subcommittee unanimously recommended that what had been diverted from the employment insurance fund, i.e. the $46 billion, should be gradually returned to it at a rate of $1.5 billion a year.
Here too, the government must agree to this request. It is not very much. In fact, the amounts that the government diverted and even stole from the fund over the last eight years will be paid back over more than 32 years.
Such a rate is clearly more than reasonable. This will not be what drives the country into bankruptcy. As this is done, the fund will be able to improve benefits. At a rate of $1.5 billion a year return to the fund, virtually all the planned improvements may be assumed.
If topping the premiums back up to $1.98 is added to that, virtually all the recommendations for improving the fund can be met. As proof of that, the largest bill will be about $1.2 billion to increase the benefits from 55% to 60% of wages. This amount is therefore already largely covered by the $1.5 billion that will go into the fund on a regular basis every year.
In conclusion, the other parts of the recommendations involve about another $450 million, which are already covered by premiums that will be recommended as a result without increasing the contribution rate,which was $1.98.