Mr. Speaker, the House is well aware that the Bloc Québécois supports this bill, since we introduced it. I am referring, of course, to Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system).
This bill makes the following changes to the Employment Insurance Act. One, it reduces each qualifying period by 70 hours. Two, it increases the benefit period. Three, it increases the rate of weekly benefits to 60%. Four, it repeals the waiting period. Five, it eliminates the presumption that persons related to each other do not deal with other at arm's length. Six, it increases the maximum yearly insurable earnings to $41,500 and introduces an indexing formula. Lastly, the bill enables self-employed persons to receive employment insurance.
In rejecting Bill C-269, the Conservatives are defying the will of this House, of workers, of Quebeckers and of all Canadians.
However, this is typical of how they do things. We are talking about the Conservative government that decided not to include opposition members in the Canadian delegation to the upcoming Bali conference. We are talking about the Conservative government that decided not so long ago to block the work of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, which was working on something the government was not happy with. We are talking about the government that abolished the court challenges program, saying that it will not fund people who challenge its laws. We are talking about the Conservative government that changed the criteria of the women's program to prevent groups that defend women's rights from receiving funding. We are talking about the minority Conservative government—and I stress the word “minority”— that is doing everything it can to silence any form of opposition.
These Conservatives are not concerned about the living conditions of the unemployed, minorities and those who need help the most. They are only interested in the Americans, oil companies and big business. They do not care about the difficulties of older workers in the manufacturing and forestry sectors or the problems of women's groups. This is very sad. The Bloc Québécois will denounce this situation in order to bring this government back in line. This Conservative government lacks humanity. It is cold and heartless and the idea of it becoming a majority government one day is very frightening. We are going to do everything we can to make sure that does not happen.
Before the Conservatives formed the government, they supported the idea of an independent fund and wanted, as we do, to put an end to the plundering of the employment insurance fund. That money belongs to the unemployed and it is not to be used at the discretion of Canada's federal government to do whatever it wants. Those who contribute to it are not able to touch 100% of it, which is outrageous. The Conservatives agreed with us on this issue when they were in the opposition. Now that they are in power, there is no difference between a Conservative government and a Liberal government. It is six of one and a half dozen of the other.
Once in power, as I was saying, the Conservatives went back on their word, rejected our Bill C-357 on an independent fund and preferred to let the money that belongs to the unemployed accumulate in the coffers of the big banks. They are taking from the poor and giving to the rich. That is a very familiar story from medieval times: what we have here is the Sheriff of Nottingham's gang.
They are right here. Here they are, doing absolutely nothing to respond to this very scandalous situation.
Employment insurance is no longer an assistance program, but rather a hidden tax.
Under the Liberals, the employment insurance fund was used to balance the budget. Although the Conservatives voted in favour of an independent fund, the surpluses generated remain in the consolidated fund and are used for other purposes besides providing help to those who need it when they find themselves in the vulnerable position of having lost their jobs. They are most definitely entitled, since they paid into it.
The Auditor General's report of November 23, 2004, reported that the government continued to plunder the employment insurance fund, despite the will of parliamentarians—we keep doing the same thing—and that the powers of the Employment Insurance Commission, whose membership includes contributors, would apparently be suspended for yet another year—and that is still the case. How is it that a government, a political party, once in power, could become such a bully towards those who pay into a fund that should be theirs—it should belong to the workers—and that should not be used to serve the ideological ends of the party in power?
The Conservatives voted at second reading against the idea of improving the employment insurance system through Bill C-269 proposed by the Bloc Québécois, and that shows the true colours of this government.
The 2006 Employment Insurance Monitoring and Assessment Report indicates that 44.8% of the unemployed have access to the system even though 100% of them paid premiums. Not only did they pay into the fund, but so did the employers. The federal government did not contribute a single nickel and it does what it wants with this money. That is outrageous.
The Bloc Québécois tried to have the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities adopt a report in February 2005 on the reform of employment insurance and continues to call for its implementation.
The Bloc Québécois is speaking out again against the looting of the fund and proposes concrete action such as: creating an independent fund and employment insurance commission, making the government repay the misused funds, having the Employment Insurance Commission set the premiums, and improving the system's coverage for workers in vulnerable situations.
Over the past two years, the Bloc Québécois has worked tirelessly to improve the system.
Employment insurance contributions are currently being used as a tax, not a contribution. That is unacceptable. The Bloc Québécois believes that we must clear up this misunderstanding and return the system to its original purpose, which was to insure workers who lose their jobs, not to tax work.
We have to think of the different kinds of people who collect employment insurance. I am thinking of the workers in my riding, in the Gatineau region, in the greater Outaouais region. Right now, jobs are being lost in paper mills and in forestry. The Minister of Labour, who is from the Pontiac region, should understand these sectors. I understand the paper mill workers who suddenly find themselves jobless because of downsizing.
We do not have adequate programs to help older workers from these mills, especially if they live in the city, as is the case in my riding. We do not have specific programs to help them bridge the gap between their years of seniority and retirement, when retirement is just a few years away.
Right now, the government could not care less about workers in vulnerable sectors, such as manufacturing and forestry, not to mention Ontarians working in the auto sector and the economic slump they are about to face.
The government says that there are more jobs today and less unemployment. But look at how poorly the new jobs are paid compared to those that have been lost.