Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Hamilton Centre.
I want to start by referencing the terms of what we are talking about in the motion. What we are looking at is a very modest change to the Employment Insurance Act, so that those workers who are at their most vulnerable in key strategic areas receive some type of assistance and stability.
That is important to acknowledge, because we are not talking about doing this across the country. We are talking about doing it in areas that geographically or systemically have greater than 10% unemployment. It is very important to recognize that point, because it limits the scope of where we are going to be addressing the issue to start with.
We are going to acknowledge those areas that have a significant bump of unemployment, where there seems to be something happening in those regions that is causing a greater impact in those communities. Those regions would be able to access a fund that is a little more flexible for the families of the workers who are in trouble because there is something happening in those regions.
Those significant unemployment bumps could be caused by anything. In Atlantic Canada and British Columbia, they could be in the fishing industry. Or in my area of Windsor, Ontario, for example, we are concerned about an automotive downturn, which could peak things up at certain periods of time.
We know that certain sectors and certain parts of our country have some very unique challenges. That is what we are talking about: a very focused first step to address this. It is very important to acknowledge that the member for Acadie—Bathurst who has brought this forward has done it so he can be inclusive of the House. That is the intent here. It is not to try to take such a position on a very divided issue. We have taken some criticism that I think is very unfair, because we have taken a position whereby we can at least reach out to all members of the House to provide a simple change in our system that will cost only approximately $20 million.
That cost is going to go back to workers and their families. It is going to go back to them to make sure their mortgages and car payments get paid. It will make sure that they can put food on the table. It will make sure that they are able to get retraining and get back on their feet much more quickly.
We are not talking about $20 million in terms of a corporate tax cut or something which might have the money squirreled away somewhere outside this country. By the way, we still have not fixed that.
We are talking about $20 million that gets injected back into the hands of people who have already paid this out. They have paid for it through their benefit contributions on a daily basis, matched by their employer. That is what the whole insurance issue is about: we will have that coming back and we are looking at moving it from 14 weeks to 12 weeks.
Quite frankly, I am disappointed about the attacks saying that we have not included all these other things. We know that there is no consensus on this issue, so what can we do as a logical first step to make a difference, especially with the twilight of Parliament and this session and the threat of a looming election at any time? What can we do to allow those people and those geographic regions to have better benefits, for their own stability? At the end of the day, it will help those communities. It will change things. That is why the member for Acadie—Bathurst brought this forward.
There are a number of different issues on employment insurance that we can really relate to what is happening here. I want to touch on a couple of issues and one in particular that I have seen. It relates to going from 14 to 12 weeks. Some people in different occupations cannot deal with the way this is now. The member for Winnipeg Centre talked about carpenters and skilled trades. They work so much to get a job done and often are under a lot of pressure to get that job done quickly. Sometimes they actually have to work overtime and pay higher premiums and greater taxation, but at the same time, they are closing their working weeks down.
I can relate to that in regard to the persons with disabilities I used to support prior to coming to the House. Many of them, for their long term health and well-being, could not work at a job for 35 or 40 hours a week. That became problematic. Generally speaking, in Windsor West, even if someone had a good stable job the threshold to collect any type of employment insurance was often far too high.
When some of my clients, who were in occupations for years, diligently paying their taxes and watching it come off their paycheques, found themselves unemployed due to circumstances beyond their control, for example the employer had to lay them off or the company closed, they found nothing there for them. People were immediately removed from that system and put into the welfare system.
In Ontario, under the Harris regime, it was brutal. I remember supporting clients at that time who had to sell their cars or their life insurance policies. It was unbelievable. One client in particular had to sell the policy and dispose of it before going on social assistance. However if a person passes away, the state has to pick up that cost anyway, so there is actually a double cost on it. Those are the types of things people are made to do before they can actually receive some type of assistance. What happened was people would go into turmoil and it undermined their being able to get back on their feet and be successful again.
What is important about the motion is that we are asking that the qualifying weeks go from 14 weeks down to 12 weeks in areas with 10% unemployment or higher and that we have a specific strategy to address this so people can get back on their feet a lot quicker.
I think due diligence is required from the government. We have areas that for economic reasons have higher unemployment or have sectorial problems. We had a good debate the other day on the textile industries, where we know that beyond the control of the workers in this country, and their quality and ethics in terms of producing good products and services, there are other factors, which are beyond anything they can do individually, that are causing their unemployment. We had lots of different horror stories of what happened in that sector either because of things that the government has done in terms of the trade policy or has not done in terms of some of the massive overseas subsidization of other industries that have allowed unfair competitive practices and have thrown those workers out of work. The government has a duty to come up with a strategy to deal with that. We will be voting on that and I would encourage all members to support that effort.
We need to have specific government strategies for areas that are going to be influenced beyond their control in their area of expertise until we can make sure that there is going to be some stability.
I do want to address, in my final two minutes here, the notion that going from 14 weeks to 12 weeks to collect benefits would create an influx of people who cheat the system. Why do we not go after the people in the corporate world, white collar crime, those this country never goes after, those who cheat people out of their pensions, their savings and their earnings, with the same type of vigour? Why is it always on the backs of the workers as being victims first?
It is unacceptable. Nobody wants those cheaters and we should go after them if they are going to do that, but the government cannot get away with not doing anything about white collar crime and the looting of pensions and at the same time not do a little bit for workers and have an excuse--