Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this important bill, Bill C-357. The bill seeks to give workers and employers, the sole contributors to employment insurance fund, control over their fund.
I would like to congratulate my NDP colleague, the member for Parkdale—High Park, for her excellent speech, which, in my opinion, summarizes this deplorable situation.
As I begin my speech, I am thinking of people—people who have lost their jobs and have no income and no recourse to employment insurance benefits. They should receive these benefits because they contributed to the employment insurance fund. For example, I am thinking of the people who worked at the Régence plant in Saint-Émile in the riding of Charlesbourg. The Conservative member who represents that riding did nothing to help those people. That is just one example. I could mention other ridings represented by our Conservative colleagues. The Conservatives are misleading people by telling them that they have set up a program to assist older workers—the targeted initiative for older workers, or TIOW. This program is designed to get these workers back into the labour market—those who can still work, that is. That makes sense, because these people want to work.
However, in many cases, people over 55 cannot find jobs because there are none available in the region or elsewhere or because employers do not want to hire them because of their age. These people have no options, even though they contributed to employment insurance for their whole lives. What happened? Take, for example, Whirlpool in Montmagny, or the textile industry in Huntingdon, Sherbrooke, Estrie or Drummondville. Similar situations exist in all of these regions. People did not receive employment insurance or were unable to take advantage of POWA. Why? Because the former Liberal government cut employment insurance programs so deeply that over 60% of workers who lose their jobs cannot collect benefits even though they contributed to employment insurance.
Mr. Speaker, you are someone I know a little bit, and I know that you are cautious. I am sure you have insurance to protect you in the unfortunate event of a car accident, an injury or a house fire. What would happen if your house burned down? You would contact you insurance broker to be compensated, since you pay premiums. How would you react if your broker told you that he is sorry, but you are no longer covered, because the rules changed at some point. He might tell you that your insurance only covered a fire that would have started in the living room, and that if it started in the kitchen, then you are not covered. It is that bad. You would say that this insurer is not honest, that he cheated, that he used the money for other purposes, and you would initiate legal proceedings against him.
The unemployed do not have the option of initiating legal proceedings. Yet, so far, the government has misappropriated over $54 billion. This is money that belongs to these people.
I have here a memo dated yesterday, which indicates that, according to data released by the government in February and March, employment insurance surpluses stood at $50.4 billion on March 31, 2007, instead of the projected $50.8 billion. So, this misappropriation is still taking place.
Yet, when the Conservatives were in opposition, they pledged to put a stop to this misappropriation of funds. They even said that they agreed with the establishment of an independent employment insurance fund, to allow those who contribute to this fund—the employees and employers—to regain control of their fund, so that it could be used for the purposes for which it was created. However, that is not happening, because the Conservatives are doing exactly like the Liberals. This is a serious economic crime that adversely affects workers who lose their jobs.
Mr. Speaker, you are the most senior member of this House, and you have been representing your riding here for a long time. You are highly esteemed in your riding, and I know that you also care about protecting the interests of your constituents. However, it must be realized that, in each of our ridings, this situation creates an annual shortfall of between $30 million and $60 million in the economy, and that families are also adversely affected. Indeed, if the person who loses his job is also the breadwinner, the whole family is affected. It also means less money in the economy of your region, your riding, and your province.
What happens when a person no longer has an income? They turn to social assistance. I do not know how it works in your province, Mr. Speaker, but in Quebec, social assistance was designed for people who have nowhere else to turn. It seems that the money is staying in Ottawa and the responsibilities that should have been taken on by Ottawa are being transferred to the provinces and to Quebec. This further worsens the fiscal imbalance. It is a very serious economic crime and we must take notice. In other sectors, under other circumstances, and even here in this House, people would be up in arms.
It is hard to understand why, once in government, people's only concerns seem to be debt and political priorities. Military equipment and weapons are good examples. Last August, in the space of a week, $17.5 billion was taken from the consolidated revenue fund for military commitments. Year after year, no less than $2 billion or $2.5 billion is taken out. Some years, it is up to $7 billion. This money does not belong to the country's consolidated revenue fund. It is a straight out misappropriation of funds. How is it done? As I said earlier, by giving fewer benefits to workers, who are losing their jobs and who are entitled to these benefits.
Anyone who is reasonable, sensible and concerned about properly representing their constituents would vote in favour of this bill. Such members would not say what I heard from a Liberal Party member, when he suggested that people do some reading to understand what good things the Liberals did. People do not need to read up on what the Liberals did right, because they are suffering from what the Liberals did wrong. That is what Canadians must live with—with nothing, because of the Liberals. In fact, the Liberals left them with less than nothing. The problem is, once the Conservatives came into power, they seemed to forget everything they had done in opposition. They took on all the Liberals' bad habits.
It is urgent that we establish an independent fund that will not be administered by the government alone, but rather by a commission made up primarily of employees and employers. Money must also be returned to the fund and there must be reciprocal loans. If the government wants to borrow money, it must make the same commitments it would to a bank. It could pay interest to the fund, which could then distribute it.
This is the nature of the bill and anyone who claims to defend the interests of his or her constituents will vote in favour of the bill. Indeed, I urge all members to do so.