And Lucien Bouchard was the architect of that particular scheme, something we are still paying the price for today.
However, in actual fact the fund has only been in deficit a few times. The total accumulated deficit, if we add up all the periods that it has dipped into deficit, is $11 billion to $13 billion. The total accumulated surplus right now is $50 billion. When is an insurance fund not an insurance fund? That is the question we need to ask ourselves.
Imagine if we had to buy house insurance and it was mandatory that we participate in a house insurance scheme. Our premiums are deducted from our paycheque every week, above and beyond our control. That is a mandatory contribution. However, if our house burns down, we have less than a 40% chance of ever collecting anything, not one penny. We are told by the government that it has used that money for tax cuts for its friends on Bay Street, or to build roads or to offset our other cutbacks in social spending and that it does not have a penny for us to provide income maintenance in our so-called insurance fund.
That is not an insurance fund any more. That is another payroll tax. It ceased to be an insurance fund years ago.
I know from personal experience because I am a carpenter by trade. I am not ashamed to say that I have collected EI probably 10 to 15 times in my career. It was designed exactly for that, to provide bridge income to people like me who work either seasonally or sectorally, like in the building trades. Every day we worked, we worked toward getting laid off because were completing the job. That is the nature of a carpenter. We start a job and every day we work, we work toward a layoff. EI was there for me in the old days. It is not there any more for those who need it under the current hour bank system. It certainly is not there for the seasonal workers to whom our motion today is dedicated.
I am particularly proud of my colleague from Acadie--Bathurst because of the passionate representation he has brought to this issue and for the people affected by this policy over the years, with specific reference to people who have fallen between the cracks. Even when the Liberals have been forced to try to fix EI a bit, even when EI was exposed for the fraud that it was, the changes they made failed to thoroughly look after many of the people it should have covered. No group of people has been negatively impacted by the bill more than the fish plant workers in eastern Canada, who by design are excluded from participation in the EI fund as it stands.
The change that my colleague and the NDP are asking for today is paltry compared to the total size of the fund. It is almost insignificant when we look at the annual operating surplus of the fund. I am told that $20 million to $30 million per year could satisfy the change for which we are asking, which is to reduce the qualifying weeks from 14 to 12 for areas where unemployment is higher than 10%.
My colleague tells me the impact is under $20 million a year. In its current operational mode, the fund is showing a surplus of more than $200 million a month. At its peak it was showing a surplus of $750 million per month. Talk about a licence to print money for the government. Even with the amendments and the changes it has made, it is roughly half of that. Doing the math, it is roughly $375 million per month in surplus. We are talking about $20 million per year to include this group of workers in eastern Canada who are shut out of the program.
This group of workers in New Brunswick have a champion in the member for Acadie--Bathurst. I would point out that there is not another party here that has lifted a finger to represent its interests. The NDP is using its opposition status in this minority Parliament more effectively than any other party because we are actually extracting some measure of benefit out of this Parliament.
I hear the Bloc Québécois making noises, asking how the NDP could align itself with the crooked Liberal Party. The NDP is doing its job as an opposition party in a minority government to move our agenda forward. That is what we are supposed to do. That is what we were sent here to do.
I see other parties, with more members, that are getting exactly nothing, a big goose egg out, of this Parliament. We are getting social spending on the areas that we care about and they will be auxiliary beneficiaries of the work we are doing. I hope they enjoy the benefits that they will reap by our efforts.
Instead of using our opposition day to tear the government down, or to move a motion of non-confidence or to force an election, we are using our opposition day to help some unemployed workers in a corner of the country that has been forgotten by the Liberal Party. That is a good thing. Is there anyone here who does not think that is an appropriate thing for members of Parliament to do? This is called the House of Commons. This is where ordinary people are supposed to have a voice, where they can appeal for some relief if they suffer an injustice.
Here is a classic example of injustice. The fish plant workers in eastern Canada, who slipped between the cracks of the EI program, are a forgotten people. The government has turned its back on them. No other opposition party is advocating on their behalf. It falls to the NDP to be the spokesperson for this group of disadvantaged employees, and I am proud of that.
I heard the rant of my colleague from the Bloc a moment ago, that the NDP was in bed with a corrupt Liberal government. Our point is that before the last Liberal is led away in handcuffs, we are going to extract some level of benefit from this Parliament before it collapses.
That is our job. It is what we were sent here to do and we are doing it more effectively than even the official opposition which has 99 members. Conservatives do not seem to bring home the bacon to their constituencies. They have not managed to negotiate a single benefit. As we speak, they are putting the Atlantic accord in jeopardy at the finance committee. The benefits that we managed to get into these budget bills is standing at jeopardy because of the collaboration between the Bloc and the Conservatives whose only interest is to tear down Parliament and go to the polls.
They should reconsider for a number of reasons. First, if they went to the polls tomorrow, they would lose seats, both parties, because they have lost credibility. No one believes they can deliver any more. All they have is the empirical evidence and that evidence is a big fat goose egg. They do nothing. They just occupy space and disrupt those of us who are trying to accomplish something with the opportunity we have been given by the people of Canada.
When an opposition day does come along, we meet as a caucus and we put forward ideas of what we might do and how we might use our political leverage to our best advantage. In this case I am proud to say we chose on the side of ordinary working people whose voices are rarely heard.
How often do we hear of people who are willing to dedicate a whole day to the interests of the fish plant workers who are disadvantaged and left out of the employment insurance program? It is a rare thing. We would think that members of Parliament from Atlantic Canada would vote in favour of this opposition day motion which would benefit them. What I cannot understand is why is this not coming from them? They have more opportunities than we do.
We have 19 members of Parliament and we have an opposition day once in a blue moon. We use ours for something constructive. All we hear from them is destroy, tear it down, burn baby burn. That seems to be the motto of the Bloc of the Tories, burn baby burn. Why do they not build something for a change? Maybe the reason no one wants to vote for the Conservatives is they have never seen any evidence that they can do anything constructive. All they can do is destructive measures.
We expect that from members of the Bloc. With all due respect, it is their raison d'être to tear the government down and prove that Parliament does not work so that something, in their mind, can be built out of the ashes. I can deal with that. What I cannot understand is the party which tries to sell itself as the government in waiting using its political leverage and political capital, which is five times ours, for nothing but destructive measures. That is what is frustrating to me.
We find ourselves in a unique situation with an opportunity in the twilight dying days of this parliamentary session to do something positive for a significant group of Canadians. I am proud it is our party that is advancing it. I am proud to be here with my colleagues, the member for Churchill, the member for Windsor West and the member for Acadie—Bathurst, the sponsor of the motion and perhaps the leading champion on EI reform in the country.
The member for Acadie--Bathurst took it on himself, at his own expense, out of his own parliamentary budget, to travel the country to try to determine what was wrong with EI. We knew something had to be done and we wanted to make sure that our recommendations were grounded in fact and not in some kind of emotion, even though the frustration is palpable.
He came back with a report. What he learned is that this is not exclusive to Atlantic Canada. This is epidemic in northern Canada and in the Churchill riding. Unemployment dips below 10% in pockets throughout northern Canada. One of the most cynical things in Canadian public policy is the fact that we do not count first nations in our unemployment statistics. The unemployment rate in some of the 35 first nations communities that my colleague from Churchill represents is 95%. Those numbers are not factored into the national unemployment rate.
The measure my colleague is putting forward today is that, in areas of 10% unemployment or greater, the weeks for qualifying for unemployment benefits should be calculated on a person's best 12 weeks instead of 14. That would apply in Churchill. That would apply in Windsor West. There are pockets in all our ridings that have unemployment rates of higher than 10% and where people are disadvantaged.
I do not even have time to go into the gender inequities of the EI act as it currently stands. I hope that becomes a subject of debate. Perhaps one of the other opposition parties that has more opposition days will see fit to bring forward the gender imbalance of our current EI act, because it disproportionately discriminates against women. That is a fact. That is not some mode of spiel members are hearing from me. A gender analysis has been done. In fact, women are disproportionately impacted by the changes that the government made when it went to the hourly system instead of the weeks system. It is a proven fact.
Let us talk about an unemployed, middle-aged male. If I were still on the tools as a carpenter, I would have a less than 40% chance of collecting any EI benefits at all under the current rules. An unemployed woman would have a less than 25% chance of collecting any EI benefits. An unemployed youth would have a less than 15% chance of collecting any benefits. This is nothing but a cash cow. It is a mandatory contribution fund and an optional benefit-paying fund. That is completely contrary to the spirit and intent of the concept of unemployment insurance. As I have said, it ceased to become an insurance fund long ago.
As a tradesman and as the former head of the carpenters' union, I had over 1,100 apprentices signatory to my local when I was in charge of it. Even apprentices are discriminated against in that they have a two week waiting period now when they leave their job to go to their school component.
I am running out of time, but I wish I had more time to share with the House some of the shortcomings of the EI act. I wish there were more time to share with my colleagues the benefits and the merits of the motion put forward by my colleague from Acadie--Bathurst. We are going to be watching very carefully who votes against this motion, because it will speak volumes about the government's priorities.
I am astounded that we do not hear more practical opposition day motions put forward by the parties that have opposition days coming out of their ears. They are always engaged with self-interest or negative things that do not make any contribution to the elevation of the living standards of Canadians.
We have chosen something that is real, tangible and has a material benefit to those on whose behalf we are advocating today. I have never been more proud to be a New Democrat. It has never been more fun to be a New Democrat than it is today. I welcome the opportunity to vote in favour of my colleague's opposition day motion.