Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak today on the important subject of employment insurance. The motion that has been put forward by the New Democratic Party deals with some of the challenges facing people in areas where seasonal unemployment is a major issue in areas of high unemployment. It is worth noting that the motion put forward does represent a dramatic change in the position of the New Democratic Party. Its previous position was one of best 12 weeks everywhere in Canada, whether the unemployment rate was high or low. We had great concerns with that kind of approach.
I should advise you that I will be splitting my time with the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl.
The problem of course is that a best 12 weeks approach does invite some abuse. In areas of low unemployment, for example, in the construction sector in Alberta or Ontario and places where we do not have the same kind of challenges, one can easily see people using the system and working the system to rack up their hours and use other weeks where there were very few hours, in order to maximize benefits when there was not a real and legitimate change.
There is no doubt that the existing system does not work. That is why this issue is being raised. The existing system does not work for seasonal workers. In fact, it invites people to work the system. It invites people to engage in abuses. It invites people, unbelievably, to say no to work, and to say no to taking on hours. We do not want to have a system that does that. Clearly, the approach that has been put in place by the government is flawed to that extent.
However, does the suggestion on the table solve that problem? That is not entirely clear. Certainly, by focusing it on areas of higher unemployment is a positive development and that is something which addresses some of the problems. However, is there a basis by which we say 10% is the right number? Should 9% be the right number, or 8% or perhaps 11% or 12%? We do not see the basis why that is the number that has been chosen.
There is some arbitrariness there and there are also very real inequities that may result where, for example, houses next door to one another by virtue of being in a different postal code have entirely different rules by which they operate. Some of those issues need to be examined to see if this is the fairest and best way to resolve the problems that exist in the proposal that is in front of us.
In addition, we have to look at the bigger question. Why do people not have jobs and why is there no work? That is where the Liberal government has more dramatically failed Canadians. By far and away the best social policy, the best form of employment insurance, is an ongoing job, a job people can count on, rely on and go to every day. That is certainly the kind of policy we wish to see in place, one that encourages people to work, that encourages people to have jobs, and that creates an environment where those jobs get created.
One reason why there are no jobs is because the Liberal government has for the past decade consistently put a tax on jobs. Liberals have taken $46 billion from workers and employers over the past 10 years, more of it from employers because the ratio is 1.4 to 1. They have taken this from employers and workers and taken it out of the money that was paid into the employment insurance system. Those individuals and businesses thought that they were paying those premiums, so that people could rely on the safety net. If they ran into trouble, they would rely on the support and the training that would come from employment insurance.
In fact, the Liberal government over 10 years took $46 billion of that insurance money, and diverted it to other purposes and spent it on other things. It became nothing more than a tax. It was a theft of those dollars from hardworking Canadians, and hardworking entrepreneurs and workers who had in good faith put forward that money, not to be taken by the government for its priorities. We have seen with the sponsorship program and other things what those priorities really were. Liberals have spent it there instead of focusing it on helping those workers and helping to create jobs.
The Liberals have suppressed job creation. They have reduced the number of opportunities. They have increased the need for people to have to turn to employment insurance as their safety net and their reliance.
We have to put an end to this kind of job tax. We have to look at whatever opportunities we have to reduce the premiums on employers and employees. One of the things we in the Conservative Party have recommended very strongly is that there be fairness between the businesses creating the jobs and the workers.
For example, if workers have paid in excessive employment insurance premiums on an individual basis they would get a rebate, yet the matching funds that businesses paid in would not be rebated. We put forward a very reasonable suggestion across the board, which was supported by the major stakeholders on the business side and which would allow those overpayments to be returned in as fair a way as possible and was efficient by averaging out.
That was better than nothing. Employers were willing to live with that. They did not want to look at a big bureaucracy. They just wanted some fairness. This government has turned its back on the people who create those jobs. This government is not interested in job creation. This government is really interested in simply taxing small businesses, the entrepreneurs, the people who, through their sweat, toil and effort, create jobs. It is taxing those jobs out of existence. It will not respond on that front. That is simply unfair.
We have seen the government consistently use the employment insurance system for things that it was not designed for. For example, the government uses it for compassionate care. We all think that it is a positive thing to provide for compassionate care leave. It is something that is important.
It is a positive social program advancement, but there is a very real problem in that many Canadians, even those who pay into employment insurance, are not eligible, and of course those who are self-employed by definition are not eligible for that kind of compassionate care leave. Yet that is the way the program is delivered. The result is an inequity and an unfairness between different Canadians. Effectively, the Government of Canada has created a two tier compassionate care system.
When we realize that compassionate care is really a way of encouraging and inviting individual Canadians to contribute to the health care of their families, to supporting their health care and providing them with quality health care, this is in fact a form of two tier health care that the Liberal Party has introduced.
Beyond that, we find that the way compassionate care leave has been operated by the government is very unfair. It produces all kinds of inequities. I know the House will hear from some other members of the Conservative Party later today about those flaws.
When we look to solve some of the problems in the employment insurance system, these are some of the things that we think we should see solved. We think there are all kinds of problems that need to be resolved.
Employment insurance is not working for people. It is not working for workers in regional areas that are facing high rates of unemployment, but it is not working even for people in areas where business is strong, where jobs are strong and where the economy is strong, because of the unfairnesses within. The biggest unfairness of all is the fact that the Liberal government continues to overtax workers and businesses through high premiums and to take away their opportunity to create jobs and contribute to their own well-being. That includes seasonal workers. They, too, are being overtaxed by a system that makes it tougher for them to get ahead and stand on their own two feet.
In summary, we think that while there is a need for changes to the program and some constructive suggestions have been made here, there are still many questions that remain unanswered.
For example, we want to know how much a change like this would cost. How much would it cost the system? How much it would cost employers and workers? Unbelievably, we do not know the answer to that question. When we put that question forward at committee the Bloc, the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party all voted against a resolution to indicate what the cost of changes like this would be.
Thus, members of the House, the decision makers in this country, are compelled through the collusion of the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc to make these decisions with our eyes closed, with no awareness of cost, with no awareness of what this will cost workers and businesses in Canada. That is asking us to do a lot. It is asking us to buy a pig in a poke, to make a change when we have no idea what the cost will be. For me, that seems to be a risky jump to ask us to make.
We want to see real help. We want to see real improvements to a system that does not work. We have on the table a suggestion for some changes that may do that. There are some real problems with these changes. Would it be better than the system we have now or not? It is very difficult for us to make that decision right now without the information from the government because of the NDP's refusal to allow that information to come forward.