Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-357, a Bloc Québécois proposal to amend the Employment Insurance Act.
The part of the bill that interests me is the one that calls for a separate account for EI. Conservatives have long supported the principle of a separate account. In our policy declaration of the Conservative Party, we stated our commitment to:
...the establishment of an independent employment insurance system, with a self-accounting fund administered by employees and employers, the surplus of which being used to increase workers’ benefits or reduce contributions.
In this House, the Prime Minister has confirmed that our government is looking for solutions to meet those objectives.
I too support the principle of the creation of a separate EI account. I also support the tremendous new direction of this government in making changes to the EI system. Canadians are seeing their new government take a very different approach to the old Liberal one. The old Liberals resisted change and did not listen. They stood in the way of returning contributions to the pockets of employers and employees who pay into EI.
Canadians see that their new government is different from the Liberals. They chose a new government because Canadians are different from the Liberals. The Liberals simply would not listen to Canadians and what they wanted to see in a responsible and sustainable EI system.
The new government is listening and we are getting things done based on what we are hearing. In a little over one year since forming government, we have taken action by bringing in measured but meaningful changes. We have heard the concerns of older workers, particularly in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, who were struggling in the face of changes to the labour situations in their regions. They told us that they needed something to help them with retraining and taking their experiences to a new situation.
We listened to their concerns and we responded to their needs with the targeted initiative for older workers. The targeted initiative designs projects for older workers in communities facing ongoing high unemployment or a single industry dealing with downsizing and it helps them. We have also taken action for workers who face work disruptions in regions with high unemployment.
Canadians found that their fortunes in most areas of the country improved once the new government took over. They are enjoying one of the most prosperous periods of economic growth and record employment in Canadian history.
Many sweeping changes to the EI program at a time of unprecedented labour strength would, at best, be difficult to reconcile with the realities of our thriving national economy and, at worst, it would have a cooling effect. Therefore, a major change is not and was not called for.
However, Canada's new government recognizes that change is required. We appreciate that not all regions are seeing the same growth. We understand the need to make changes to meet these regional realities but we need a measured and effective change.
We introduced a pilot project to extend the coverage for five additional weeks in regions with high unemployment. We heard from seasonal workers and others who told us about the income gap. We wanted to maintain an incentive to work and yet recognize the labour market realities they face.
We have also moved to extend a pilot project that calculates benefits on the best 14 weeks of wages during the last 52. We heard from Canadians who had sporadic employment and were losing out on having their weeks of full time work benefit them. More than 200,000 people in regions of high unemployment benefit from us getting things done for them.
Listening to Canadians is what this new government does and what good government does.
When Canadians came forward with concerns about the limits of their compassionate care benefits, we listened. They told us that there were incidents where benefits ended before the needs they were meant to address were resolved.
Again, it was this government which showed Canadians that their government was listening and ready to make the changes to EI that were needed, for which they asked. Our record, the record of Canada's new government, is one of which Canadians can be proud. Why? Because the changes we are making come from them.
Finally, they have a government that is listening to them. Finally, they have a government that is here for them.
As I return my remarks to the bill, Canadians need only to look at their government's record to see the proof of our commitment to making changes to EI to improve the system for workers and all Canadians. As I said at the outset, I and the new government are firmly committed the principle of a separate EI account. Canadians are satisfied that their new government is interested in solutions, and we will achieve just that.
What Canadians are wondering, though, is where the opposition really sits on EI reform. With 19 EI bills in the works, the other opposition parties have been heaping one EI bill after another onto the order paper, voting for implementation of all, but not prioritizing one of them: $3.7 billion for Bill C-269; $1.1 billion for Bill C-278; $1.4 billion for Bill C-265. There are 16 more EI bills to come, nine of which, including this one, are too complicated to cost. It will cost $4.7 billion to implement the seven which we were able to cost. That is over $11 billion in new annual spending.
With all these proposals for one-off changes to EI, adding up to billions annually in new costs, Canadians are looking for someone to stand up for them and think about the EI as a system. Canadians do not believe a system should be stitched together in little bits and pieces. Canadians are looking to their new government to stand up for them. They are hoping to maintain the EI as a system and protect it from the patchwork proposals made by the opposition.
Canadians will be disappointed in their new government if it did not stand up for them and insist on accountability for the use of their money. They would be disappointed if it did not stand up for them and ensure that the policy for which they have asked, and we have committed to pursuing, is also put together not in a piecemeal fashion as we have in front of us today.
In comparison to our record of taking clear action to getting things done with EI reform for Canadians, the record of the opposition member has been all but clear. Canadians have no idea what its priorities really are. Opposition members have not made it clear when it comes to how they plan their legislation. More often than not, they have not made their intentions clear when one looks at the legislation they put forward.
I take my responsibility to my constituents and all Canadians seriously. I take our commitment to a separate account seriously. I will continue to work for that objective.