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House of Commons Hansard #107 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Belinda Stronach Liberal Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for giving me the opportunity to address this question and again to demonstrate how sensitive we are to the issue. We want to ensure that we look at it in a comprehensive way and focus in on the best 14 weeks program. We are strongly committed to an October implementation date. We are doing everything possible to meet that date. That is how committed we are.

SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Madam Speaker, I find it unbelievable that the new minister comes strutting into this House to tell us how pleased she is with the new EI reforms. These new reforms represent $300 million, whereas $46 billion has been snatched from the EI fund. I do not see where this is any improvement. I do not understand how anyone can be boasting about reforms that will begin in October. I do not find it pertinent.

There were 28 recommendations. Why are we only discussing a single one today? Why the reduction in numbers?

I cannot understand, either, the attempt by my colleague for Acadie—Bathurst to get the minimum, in keeping with what the Liberals want. We do not want to give them what they want; we want to see the people get what they want, because this is all about their own money. It is not the Liberals' money, but the money of the workers and their employers. The Liberals are helping themselves to the fund in order to reduce the deficit they themselves created. I am not in favour of that.

On the other hand, it must not be a matter of scattering money left and right and trying to improve the system, while boasting of making improvements when these are made with other people's money. That is perfectly obvious.

Can the hon. member opposite tell me who contributes to the EI fund? Is it the government, or is it the workers and their employers? When someone gives me money, I handle it how I please. But when it is other people's money, I handle it with care and think things through before I use it.

The measures the Liberals plan to put in place are not specific, so I will ask the new minister the following question. Are they going to address all 28 recommendations and not just three? Will the minister settle for scattering a bit of money around in order to show Canadians how nice, how bright, how lovely she is, in hopes that they will behave if they get a little money given to them? A total of $46 billion has disappeared. Will it be used to create an independent fund?

SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Belinda Stronach Liberal Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Speaker, the member expressed that I was satisfied. This is a process of continuous improvement. We have been consulting, looking at ways to improve, and we will continue to do so in the future. A number of very good improvements have been made to strengthen the program. I would be happy to receive any good ideas the member may have and I look forward to working with him.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 2nd, 2005 / 11 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, further discussions have taken place between all parties concerning the debate that is scheduled for later this day on the motion to concur in the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That the debate on the motion to concur in the Third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, moved by the Member for Kitchener—Waterloo, be deemed to have taken place, the question deemed to have been put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to the end of government orders on Wednesday, June 8, 2005.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Is it agreed?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. member

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

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.

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, as we talk about this question before the House today, I am sure my colleague would agree that when the department of human resources representatives came to the parliamentary committee on human resources when we were doing the report and we spoke about the best 12 out of 52 weeks, the number we received was that it would cost $320 million. He will receive a letter from me this week and all members will get a letter from research telling us that it will be a $320 million cost for the best 12 weeks.

Now, with the change that the government has proposed, the best 14 weeks, plus the 910 hours to qualify going down to 840 hours, plus the $75, it is a cost of $300 million. We do not even have to use a calculator. If the other plan of the best 12 weeks would cost $320 million and the best 14 weeks would be $300 million, that means a difference of $20 million, and even less because we are not talking about the number of hours. It is even less. That information comes from the research department and the department that reported to our committee when we were speaking about this particular clause itself.

The numbers are there. At the same time, the member is saying that people quit their jobs just to abuse the system. I disagree with that. I have more respect for the people. After that member, I would like to hear from his Conservative colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador on whether he accepts that the people just abuse the system. The problem is that the government does not understand seasonal work. We have to help those people.

Is the member going to support the motion? Is the Conservative Party going to support the motion or say no to the Atlantic region?

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Madam Speaker, I am amused at the comment made by the member for Acadie—Bathurst that he respects the workers. It is the member for Acadie—Bathurst who told me that people turn down work because it does not allow them to maximize their claims and that is why this needs to be changed. I am very puzzled by the fact that he told me it is why we should support this. I repeated that here in the House and now he says it is a disrespectful thing to do. I will be more cautious in the future about repeating what the member for Acadie—Bathurst says.

As for the cost, while the member for Acadie—Bathurst may have his opinion, we asked for the Department of Finance to provide those numbers and a detailed analysis of what every change would cost. At committee, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, together with the Liberals and members of the New Democratic Party, voted to keep that from happening. To now rely on hearsay and news releases elsewhere and doing one's own math based on that to me is not the analysis from the Department of Finance which we asked for and which was turned down.

We have to make decisions in an informed fashion. Sadly, we do not have that information.

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to respond to the comments made by my Conservative colleague. Naturally, we do not oppose the NDP motion, although we find it falls short compared with the 28 recommendations recently proposed by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

It falls short because, as we know, the Liberals have taken a little over $45 billion from the EI fund in recent years, partially destroying it. In our regions, unemployment has been rampant for over a decade now, and the program has created numerous exclusions.

I come from a rural region. There are many seasonal workers in Berthier—Maskinongé; they work on wildlife preserves, in the hotel industry, forestry and other sectors. By destroying the EI program, the Liberals have prevented many of them from accumulating enough weeks to qualify for EI benefits on an annual basis, thereby forcing them to apply for social assistance.

Since the federal EI program is inadequate, Quebec has to meet the needs of these workers with a social assistance program intended for income security recipients. This reduces people to poverty. So, clearly, this motion is inadequate.

To respond in part to the comments of our Conservative colleague, I believe that the program needs to be improved. Our constituents want to work. It is not true that they are not looking for work, but, at present, there are not enough jobs in our communities. There are many seasonal jobs, and we need a EI program. As the House knows, the EI fund has money in it; it just needs to become an independent EI fund.

I want to ask my Conservative colleague a question. How can he say that people do not want to work? In our regions, in Quebec, people want to work and they are entitled to an improved EI program.

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Madam Speaker, the concerns raised by my friend from the Bloc and Mr. Godin are concerns raised by their colleagues at committee, where they said--

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Order, please. I am sure you meant to say the member for Acadie--Bathurst.

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11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Yes, Madam Speaker, it is the member for Acadie--Bathurst.

The concerns they raised at the committee were that the structure is such that people are discouraged from taking those short weeks and short days of work because it minimizes their return on the averaging basis. That is why they wanted a change to the 12 best weeks. Those are the concerns they explained to justify this change. That is where that comes from, so if there is a concern it is a concern they must raise with their colleagues.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, discussions have taken place and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That, notwithstanding the Order made March 11, 2005, in relation to its study on Canadian feature film industry, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage be authorized to travel (a) to Vancouver from June 8 to 10, 2005; and (b) to Halifax from June 5 to 6, 2005, and that the necessary staff do accompany the committee.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion

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11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Loyola Hearn Conservative St. John's South, NL

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in the debate this morning, not because it is a motion put forth by the NDP or by any party, but because it is an issue that should be debated here in the House, but not necessarily by this narrowly focused motion. I do not say that to demean the motion, which is a very important one, but perhaps a good wide debate on the whole issue of employment insurance would lead to more understanding.

One of the things I have learned since I came here is that in order to get anything done, we have to build supports. We have a huge country. There are areas that are extremely rich where people do very well and where unemployment is unknown. There are other areas where because of history, because of geography, because of the resources that have been destroyed over the years, people are eking out a living, as did the people who came here five centuries ago.

We cannot make blanket rules for people across the country. People who are used to living in a certain area have tunnel vision to a certain extent because that is all they see. It is difficult sometimes for people to understand what it is like in areas where conditions are different. By having these discussions, by talking within our own groups, within our caucuses and here in the House, we get a better understanding of the concerns and needs of people across the country.

One of the most misunderstood issues in this whole country is employment insurance. On one side there are people who, without some form of insurance payments, would not be able to exist. In other areas there are people who work all the time and contribute to a program from which they have never drawn.

The first year I worked, I was 16 years of age. I am slightly older than that now, as members know. I have been fortunate in that I have never had to draw employment insurance, but that is not true of many people around me, friends, family, people in my province and people across the country. We live in this diverse country where people's needs change dramatically from area to area.

Over the years I have had discussions with the member who moved the motion. We share many common concerns. He represents an area where people are hurting. I did, although most of it has been taken away now. We should not generalize. Just because we represent an urban area, and the unemployment rate in our region as given out by Statistics Canada is 2% or 5%, it does not mean that within that geographic area people are not having trouble finding employment. People in the areas of highest employment in this country cannot find jobs for a number of reasons, lack of training, lack of skills, lack of opportunity in their field of training, or whatever. It is a problem everyone experiences, but more so in areas where there is seasonal employment at best.

There is one thing that concerns me about the issue. The member makes it sound as if it is so important, and I agree it is, but I have not heard him explain why, when his leader did a deal with the Prime Minister to support the government and keep it in power, this issue was not one of the ones listed. They talked about money for the environment, training programs, affordable housing and foreign aid, but there was no mention at all of the employment insurance program. I think the member has a little bit of explaining to do. If this issue is so important to the member and his party, why was it not a priority in the discussions? Having said that, it is a very important issue.

I am going to concentrate on the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador. I see the member for Random—Burin—St. George's. He knows full well from where I am coming as he is in the same type of situation. Our areas depended on the fishery. In many small fishing communities some people fished and others worked in fish plants.

We had the richest resource in the world. It has been practically wiped out. In many parts of the member's riding there were plants that worked 52 weeks of the year. People had problems getting Christmas and New Year's off because of the amount of product that was being landed and needed to be processed.

Today many of these areas have no processing facilities. They have been closed. Some people have gone to Alberta or Ontario but there are always those who have been left behind, who cannot leave for all kinds of reasons, because of their age, their lack of training, or they have invested everything at home. They have to stay and depend upon a few weeks of work each year.

Right now if we took the crab out of Newfoundland there would be very little work in the fishing industry. That resource is caught in a few short weeks. This means that the thousands and thousands of people who work in the fishing industry year round are now limited to a very few weeks of work.

Other species are caught intermittently and there are five or six, or eight to ten weeks of peak employment. Then there are a couple of days here, a day there and a few hours somewhere else. The way the old system worked is that the last 12 or 14 weeks were averaged out to determine how much employment insurance a person received. The partial weeks, days and hours cut into the amount. A few years ago the system was changed to put on a limit of $225 or something like that, and anything below that was not counted.

Many of these people work for very low wages, $8 to $10 an hour, especially at the non-unionized plants. Some work for even less. Some work for minimum wage.

We have to realize that the unemployment rate generally has not changed in years. The minimum wage keeps going up but the unemployment rate has not changed. People are earning the same as they earned years ago and they only get 55% of their income. If people make $400 a week and unemployment insurance is averaged out at their top wage, that means they get a little over $200 a week. If partial weeks and days are thrown into that, they are down to less than $200, probably $100 a week. Can someone tell me, in this day and age how can anybody feed a family and keep a household going on $150 to $200 a week?

That is why the member has brought forward this motion. I notice the government just responded to a report and is basically saying it is going to do a pilot project for three years in areas of high unemployment, 10% or above, which is exactly what the member is saying. It is going to pick the best 14 weeks and see how it works. I think that is laudable. The government came out recently with this three year pilot project for the best 14 weeks. I am not sure why the member is pushing for a change immediately to drop it to 12.

I know that going from 14 weeks to 12 weeks is going to make some difference. However, one of the things we also have to be very careful about is that a lot of people who pay into the program and never take out benefits look upon those who draw in areas such as mine as always taking. We fought that battle here in relation to our resources. We do not want people to get turned off completely about supporting programs for those in need. We have to walk before we run.

The whole issue of unemployment insurance has to be revisited certainly in areas where our resources are diminished, mainly because government has given them away, destroyed them, or has not looked after them. We are sitting on $40 billion. Why are people not able to find work anyway when we have that kind of money to invest in training and infrastructure? Why is Harbour Breton closed and people are looking for help and there is $40 billion floating around?

There are a lot of unanswered questions. Can this motion solve them all? In light of what government is doing ties in. Is government willing to drop it another couple of weeks to make it a little better for people? I guess we will find out as we hear the speeches.

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, since being here I have enjoyed debating with the hon. member, learning about his region. It has been very important to get an understanding not only about the complex array of issues he deals with but also the social environment that the hon. member represents.

He was a little critical of our party in terms of Bill C-48 and getting changes to the budget and not including this measure. I remind the hon. member that the Conservative Party did not even vote on the first budget. Had the Conservatives voted against the budget, there would have been an election. They chose not to vote at all. A couple of members may have broken from the party ranks. They did not vote at all. Their leader went outside this chamber and praised the budget as being a Conservative budget. However, it had no improvements of significance for workers. They are supporting that budget bill right now but not our amendments.

We admit that our amendments are not complete, but there are only 19 of us. We did our best to at least get a few issues resolved to make a better budget.

I would like to ask the hon. member right now if he is going to be supporting this very important motion. It is a modest motion that actually creates an opportunity. We do not have to go back in time and debate things. We could make a difference right here today by passing this motion. Could he convince his leader and other members of his party who are speaking against it here today to support it? Would he be able to convince them that we could effect the changes right now and not bicker about what happened in the past?

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Loyola Hearn Conservative St. John's South, NL

Madam Speaker, there were certainly a number of issues there.

One of the things I will assure the member that I have done and continue to do is to make sure that my party fully understands where I am coming from and the condition in which my region is, whether it be good or bad, the resources we have, the potential we have, et cetera. That is quite evident in the support we have on major issues, such as the overfishing issue, the offshore accord and other issues like that.

He mentioned our party did not vote during the budget process. He is probably thanking us quietly for not doing that because if we had, we would have been into an election and I am not sure whether the member and some of his colleagues would be here right now. We did not vote because our vote would have killed the government. Nobody wanted an election at the time. Of course Gomery had not peaked, and there was not the pressure then that there is now.

The member went on to say that his party's amendments gave workers certain rights. He did not even talk about the employment insurance issue and the workers as such. Most of it was on international issues.

The main concern here, and the member knows this because two of his colleagues in answers to questions I asked admitted to it, is that the money will probably never see the light of day. It will only be delivered if the surplus reaches $2 billion and I understand that will not be determined until August 2006. Then there would be negotiations, et cetera.

His own colleagues said in the House that they do not trust the government. I do not trust the government. He does not trust the government. They made the point. I congratulated the speakers originally on that and I will congratulate the party for making the point that there are needs in this country, absolutely. But all they did was fall for a ploy from government. They were bought off, their support, to keep a corrupt party in power so that they could continue to throw money around the country, but their input into it was minuscule.

We have said in the House that this issue is of extreme importance right across the country, but specifically to certain regions. Whatever has to be done to make sure that this overall issue is corrected, that the money that is paid into that fund is used for the benefit of the people who should be deserving of this should be done. However, we are not going to see it in the present government.

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Madam Speaker, we have before us a motion presented by an hon. member of the NDP. We will support the motion even though it really does not go far enough. The purpose of the motion is give back to the unemployed a small part of what has, there is no denying it, been stolen from them over the past few years.

I am supporting this motion, but it is as if those watching us had had all their furniture stolen from their house in their absence—all their belongings, electronic equipment, the entire contents of their home—and someone said, “I know who did it and I will make sure he returns the cutlery.” I am not against the fact that your stolen cutlery will be returned. I just think it is a shame that the person who knows who the thief is has no other recourse than to ask “Could you please return the cutlery?” This seems quite wrong to me.

Despite good intentions, the NDP has put the House in an odd situation. The unemployed have had $47 billion stolen from them—these are the real figures, which everyone recognizes—by the government since 1994, since it cut benefits. The unemployed have been denied access to the plan with the comments “You are not entitled, because you have not accumulated enough hours. You are young, you need 900 hours and you have accumulated only 600, so you are not entitled. You cannot do this; you cannot do that. In one region, you can have this, in another, you cannot have that”.

The government has repaid part of Canada's debt on the backs of the poorest families and society's neediest people. That is unacceptable. Every single member in this House should be scandalized at the government's attack on the most disadvantaged, people who lose their jobs, saying “Here is a good group from whom I can get billions of dollars to pay off the debt”.

A normal government might be expected to go after the richest and the biggest businesses, which often succeed in evading taxes in various ways and to get those who earn a little more and enjoy a standard of living well above the average to contribute. However, that is not the case, because, since 1994, the Liberal government has preyed on the poor who lose their jobs. That is the fact of the matter.

Today, the big gift from the NDP is one of the 28 recommendations in the report from the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. In that committee, the members said, “That makes no sense. Here are 28 things that have to be carried out if justice is to be done to those who lose their job”. The NDP picked one and only one. What's more, it abridged it.

I have to say to them—and maybe hurt their feelings—that if we no longer recognize them, if we no longer recognize their principles, the unemployed—

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

The member is right to cry. He will cry much harder still in the next election when the unemployed realize that they were shamelessly abandoned. The NDP has turned its back on the unemployed. Today, to ease its conscience, it is presenting a minor motion to restore a small advantage to a limited group of people, something which, however, the government has almost agreed to already. It has been improved and today the NDP is easing its conscience.

Madam Speaker, do you know why it has done this? Because in the halls of this Parliament, people are saying that the NDP abandoned the unemployed in the deal it struck with the government. Now, we have the Liberal government and its left, NDP, wing. That is who we are dealing with.

The NDP abandoned the workers for its own political benefit. This is unacceptable.

I thought I had seen everything, that the government was the only one capable of such injustice toward the unemployed. We see today that the NDP is joining forces with the government not only in order to keep it in power, but also in terms of how it treats those who lose their jobs.

During the throne speech debate, we, the leaders of the political parties, had a discussion, and we came to an agreement. Everyone agreed to have the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities redo the work in order to improve the EI program. As a result, it issued the 28 recommendations. Even the NDP voted in favour of them, as did a number of Liberal and Conservative members. Everyone agreed to help the unemployed. Everyone said that it made no sense and that something had to be done. Now that the report has been released, I get the feeling that the Bloc Québécois is the only one still in favour of these 28 recommendations.

The NDP member who is proposing the motion bases the benefits on the best 12 weeks. If the committee's resolution were taken in full, that is to say, if benefits were calculated on the basis of the best 12 weeks of income, 470,000 unemployed people in Canada would be helped. That is a lot of people. It would cost $320 million, or about one-quarter of the surpluses not of 2002, 2003 and 2004, but just 2005. In other words, one-quarter of the money that the government will save once again on the backs of poor people, of the money stolen from the unemployed, would be paid back to help 470,000 unemployed people.

Well, the NDP proposes more than that. It has decided that this will be in areas where the unemployment rate is more than 10%. Can anyone tell me what is the matter with the NDP? How can they advocate for people who have no work and no voice, vote in favour of motions and amendments to help the unemployed, always talk the same talk, and then introduce a motion in the House which is one of the committee's 28 recommendations that the NDP has been careful to water down by applying it only to areas where the unemployment rate is 10% or more? In doing this, the NDP proves that it has chosen to abandon the unemployed not only at the time of its historic agreement to keep the government in power but also by cutting back the demands of unemployed groups, of the Sans-chemise movement, of people fighting to recover their rights and their money. It is unworthy of a party that calls itself social democratic to take the same path as this government.

I knew that the NDP did not want an election and was absolutely intent on keeping this government in power—a government literally crushed by scandal—but not to the point of turning its back on many of its supporters, on people who count on us, who need our support, who need spokespersons here in Parliament. I never thought the NDP would sink so low.

I do not know whether it is the euphoria of power that has turned the heads of the NDP members. Maybe they are not accustomed to moving in the corridors of power or numbering among those people who have decided to keep this government in office.

Maybe it went to their heads. In any case, it has made them forget their principles and it is quite sad.

The committee of MPs asked for a salary calculation over a 12-week period everywhere. A Liberal senator made a report and she asked for the same thing, a calculation based on the best 12 weeks. The Liberals say they will use the best 14 weeks in areas where the unemployment rate is 10% or greater. The NDP say they are fighting for the unemployed and asking for the best 12 weeks in areas where the unemployment rate is 10% or greater.

We are not going to play this game. W cannot sacrifice the rights of one group of people, like the unemployed, to play politics and try to show that no, we have not completely forgotten them. When the NDP made its deal with the government and the Prime Minister bought that party's vote for $4.5 billion, can anyone listening tell me why the NDP did not put on the table, as a condition for keeping this scandal-ridden government in power, an overhaul of the employment insurance system? As long as it was for sale, it could have at least gotten fair market value, in other words, the price of justice for those who lose their employment.

No, the NDP thinks it conducted a great negotiation, made major gains, and did extraordinary things. It is part of the development of this country, but it has abandoned the unemployed. You have abandoned the unemployed and that is unacceptable.

The unemployed and the jobless coalitions will remember. All those who believed you, and believed the Prime Minister and the ministers, during the last election campaigns when promises and commitments were made, those who were told that, yes, something was going to be done to correct the injustice done to them, all those people who believed the government, have been deceived. All those who believed the NDP have also. They have obvious confirmation of it.

I will indicate in closing that we will be supporting the motion. We cannot help but be in agreement with any improvement, no matter how small. I will return to the example I gave at the beginning, since it seems not to have been understood. The government has cleared out everything in the house and now the NDP is offering to return the cutlery. Are we going to say no to that? No, we are not, but we would like to see the unemployed get back everything that belongs to them, everything that has been stolen from them.

There was no possibility of the Bloc Québécois voting in favour of this government's budget without the express condition we set before, during and after the budget. We are going to vote against this budget right up to the end, because it does not contain any EI reform. The unemployed and the Sans-chemise have a voice here in the person of the Bloc members, and we will not sell out our support for any political advantage, no matter what it is.

We believe in the unemployed, we believe in justice, and we will stand firm. Either one believes in justice, or one claims to believe in it and then does what the NDP did, prostrates oneself before the government in order to be up close and personal with power. But the honeymoon will soon be over.

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my friend from Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean for his fine speech and the compliments he sent my way.

This member has the gall—the guts even—to rise in the House of Commons to lay such a burden on 19 MPs who managed to squeeze $4.5 billion out of the federal government to help students who are in debt and homeless people in need of a place to live. We will get blamed for that.

But were was the Bloc Québécois when we were negotiating with the government to improve the employment insurance plan? Who travelled the country to meet with workers? Who went to Rivière-au-Renard and even met with workers in a cathedral in the Gaspé? Who went to Forestville and joined the workers and employers who were demonstrating in the street to be eligible for employment insurance?

When we had the chance, we negotiated with the minority government. The Bloc Québécois wanted elections to be called and chose to team up with the Conservatives, who are against employment insurance. They should be ashamed of themselves. The member did not even stand up and address the people of Canada and Quebec with a straight face. The Bloc members have not done justice to their people.

We at least put forward a motion today to base calculations on the best 12 weeks. Bill C-280, introduced by the Bloc Québécois, deals with only one thing: an independent EI fund. Why did the Bloc not introduce a bill covering all the recommendations, as the hon. member said? This is a tiny bill dealing with only one thing. Where was the Bloc Québécois?

I introduced a bill dealing with all the recommendations, but it was defeated by this Parliament. Now, I am moving a motion to try and get a little something for the workers. I am sure that those listening to us today know that we have their well-being at heart. If the Bloc Québécois is ashamed of the work done by the NDP, it should vote against the motion. Pardon my French, but they should stop sucking up wherever and whenever it pleases them.