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House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The recorded division on the motion stands deferred. The recorded division will also apply to Motions Nos. 2 to 5.

I will now propose Motions Nos. 6 to 20 in Group No. 2.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

moved:

Motion No. 6

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 121.

Motion No. 7

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 122.

Motion No. 8

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 123.

Motion No. 9

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 124.

Motion No. 10

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 125.

Motion No. 11

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 126.

Motion No. 12

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 127.

Motion No. 13

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 128.

Motion No. 14

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 129.

Motion No. 15

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 130.

Motion No. 16

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 131.

Motion No. 17

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 132.

Motion No. 18

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 133.

Motion No. 19

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 134.

Motion No. 20

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 135.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to these amendments at report stage of Bill C-50. My colleague from Acadie—Bathurst is the NDP EI critic, and all of us in the NDP caucus are very concerned and disturbed about what is taking place in Bill C-50, and the significant changes that are taking place to the employment insurance system.

We have previously debated changes that would take place to the immigration system and we had a lot of concerns about that. Certainly, on the amendments that are now before us, which will delete sections from the bill that have to do with setting up the new corporation for crown corporations, we think this is a wrong move by the Conservative government.

When we look back over the last 10 or 15 years, we see how much the employment insurance system has changed. It is very frightening. When workers in this country go to work, their EI deductions are made and employers pay their premiums. It is a system that workers believe in and feel they should be able to have faith that the system will work for them, that it will be there to help them through difficult times of being laid off or unemployed, particuclarly if they are seasonal workers.

That system previously worked. That system is paid for by employers and workers. There is not a penny of public funds or a penny from the government coffers in that system. It is a system designed to protect the interests of workers.

We know that today only about four in every ten male unemployed workers are collecting EI benefits at any given time. That is down from 80% in the 1990s. It is now down to 40%. It is even worse for women. Only one in three unemployed women are collecting benefits at any given time. That is down from 70% in 1990. Only 20% to 25% of unemployed workers in most major urban centres like Toronto or the Lower Mainland in Vancouver now receive benefits.

These are the statistics, but what is behind those statistics are the unbelievable hardship cases. People who, in good faith, work and pay into the EI fund and then when they apply for coverage because through no fault of their own they are laid off or unemployed, they find out suddenly that this system has, in effect, crashed. It is a system that does not work for them any more. In my own riding of Vancouver East there are many cases involving employment insurance. People come to my office who cannot understand why it is so difficult for them to get benefits and why they do not qualify any more.

Clearly, what has happened since the 1990s is that coverage has shrunk because there have been so many changes in the program rules. It began with the Liberal government and has now continued with the Conservative government. They are changes that have made it near impossible for workers to collect something that is their right, which is their unemployment insurance earnings.

In all urban centres, except Windsor, people now require 630 to 700 hours minimum to claim for 22 weeks or less. The threshold for new entrants is even worse. They need 910 hours and that really impacts young people, recent immigrants or women who are returning to work. All of these barriers exist to collecting something that people should have by right.

Under the current system, the basic benefit that is paid is 55% of the insured earnings, with a level of insured earnings averaged over a 26 week period, to a maximum of $423 weekly. That is not enough to live on. Is it any wonder that the income gap is growing between people who are affluent and doing very well and people at the bottom, working people particularly, who are really struggling? People who go on to EI basically live below the poverty line. They struggle to support their families and then end up going to food banks. These are the kinds of cases I have seen in my riding.

We know that the replacement rate for insured earnings was cut in 1996 from 57% to 55%, itself the result of a cut from 60% in 1993. That was a cut from 66% in the 1970s.

We can see that we have an insured earnings rate that went from 66% down to 55%. These are really appalling figures and they really tell the story of how bad things are under the EI system.

We want to bring this to light and to show how this is impacting millions of workers in this country. I want to congratulate the Canadian Labour Congress and many affiliates of the CLC who have valiantly kept pace, done the tracking, and done the monitoring of what is happening to the EI system. Many of these figures come from the Canadian Labour Congress. If we did not have that independent research being done, I do not think we would have any idea just how bad things have become.

We know that in this budget bill the government created the Canada employment insurance financing board act. We know that it has set up this separate crown corporation, but to add insult to injury is the fact that the surplus in the EI account is now at $54 billion. I cannot visualize that amount of money, but I know it is money that is being robbed from workers. I know it is money that has gone into general revenue that is being used for other purposes. Again, the previous government started it and the current government is continuing it. There are so many questions about what it will mean in terms of this new crown corporation.

One of the basic questions we have is, why is it that this crown corporation has only been set up with a fund of $2 billion, when even the Auditor General of Canada says that what is required for insurance purposes is closer to $10 billion to $15 billion? We are very concerned that not only has the system so fundamentally changed in Canada over the last 15 years but even this new setup that we are dealing with today is going to do a great disservice to workers.

It is going to be a situation where yet again workers get cut out. Workers lose entitlement and rights and there will be no oversight from Parliament. At least now we have had some parliamentary oversight of the goings on and the scandal really, and I do call it a scandal, of what has happened to EI. Now with this arm's-length crown corporation, where will that parliamentary oversight be?

We are very concerned about these changes in the budget implementation bill. Our leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, when he was at the Canadian Labour Congress convention just last Thursday, spoke on this issue to the 1,800 delegates who were there representing all of their affiliates across the country. He pointed out that the former government treated the money in the EI fund like money that it found and could use it however it wanted. He pointed out that the $54 billion from the EI fund was used to pay down the debt. That was money that was owed to workers. That is money that belongs to workers.

We see this as the biggest theft in Canadian history. There is a great deal of anger among working people within the organized labour movement about what is taken from EI. I want to assure the affiliates of the CLC and all of the labour partners that we are not going to let this issue go. We are going to fight this tooth and nail because we think it is pretty scandalous the way workers are being ripped off in this country.

I know for example that the building trades, at their recent policy convention here in Ottawa, raised the issue of EI. The Liberals did not have any answers for them. The Conservatives did not have any answers for them even when they asked basic questions as to why the new board would only be allocated $2 billion.

We have made these amendments today under Bill C-50 because we are so outraged about the budget bill generally, how it is really robbing workers of very basic entitlements: to feel secure, to feel safe, and to feel like they have something that they can rely on when they are hit by hard times.

I know that all of us in the NDP will be fighting these changes and I hope that other colleagues in the House will rethink their position. It is pretty appalling that the Liberals are willing to sit on their hands and to let this terrible bill pass through the House. That is what they have done before and that is what they are prepared to do again today. It is pretty appalling that they are going to let workers down that way. We should be fighting for these rights. That is what we intend to do.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Vancouver East explained it very well in her 10 minute speech about EI and what has been created across the whole country.

At one point in time we did ask to have an independent fund to ensure that we took it away from the general fund and had a fund set aside, but surely we are not talking about a crown corporation where we cannot question it anymore. That is the difference between having a separate fund from the general fund and a fund that is a crown corporation, that when we raise a question here in the House of Commons about the fund, the government will say, “Go ask the crown corporation. It is not legislated by the government and we cannot answer anymore”. Does she worry about that? That is one thing.

The other thing is that the Auditor General has said before that we should have about $15 billion in the employment insurance fund set aside. Now there is only $2 billion and I would like to hear what she thinks about that.

With Bill C-50, on which the Liberals tonight will not get up and vote, or just walk away like they usually do, they should lose their pay, because when workers walk away from their jobs they do not get paid, and the Liberals have been doing it pretty often lately.

With the $2 billion that will be in this fund, this crown corporation, if the workers run out of money and they need more because of downsizing in the economy, they will have to borrow it from the government and there will be interest charged to them. The government already has a $54 billion surplus and the workers will have to pay interest on their own money. What does the member think about that?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, those are all very good questions.

There is no question that the Auditor General has said that there needs to be between $10 billion and $15 billion in that fund to provide enough of a cushion for when things get really rough, as they may well do, so why was it set up with $2 billion?

I do not know if many people know that the member for Acadie—Bathurst has presented 13 bills on EI reform. He has done an incredible job on his own of bringing forward individual bills to try to fix this system that has been deliberately broken by two successive governments. We are very respectful and we admire his work very much, that he has taken the time to research what has gone on and to bring forward bill after bill to bring back the changes that are needed to create fairness for workers so that they can have access to this fund that they paid into.

The member raises some very important questions in terms of the set up of this new crown corporation, the fact that it will not have enough money, there will not be any parliamentary insight, and that with this new system, workers are still going to get ripped off. They are not going to get any more money. They are not going to get any better benefits. They are not going to get longer insurance.

This is just such a basic part of what we consider to be our social safety net in Canada. This is one of the things we are proud of as Canadians and it has been completely ripped to shreds by the two governments that we have had, so we really want to stand up to this and say that this should not be allowed to happen.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to get back to the debate on the sections of Bill C-50 that affect the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The reason I want to do that is because we are making fundamental changes to the act, and instead of doing that through the front door by sending proposed changes, and changes are needed, to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, so that the committee can conduct--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

On a point of order, the hon. member for Acadie--Bathurst.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I believe we are on EI now. The debate on the motions in group one, which were on immigration has passed and now we are on employment insurance.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Certainly if the amendments have to do with employment insurance, the member for Kitchener—Waterloo might want to explain how his speech about immigration is relevant.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I might have been stretching it somewhat, so to speak, but Bill C-50 makes massive changes to the immigration act and unfortunately we really did not have the time in this House, nor did we have adequate time in committee, either to hear from the public or to debate these fundamental changes.

Seeing that this is all part of Bill C-50, I was hoping that we could talk about it in this chamber, because I think the changes that would be made in one of our most important departments and in the whole issue of immigration are going to be so massive and so destructive to everything we have done in the past that they are certainly worthy of debate.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am not sure whether the member just relinquished the floor or whether he was responding to the point of order.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

I was responding to the point of order.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, as for responding to it, we already had debate on it. You called it out just before question period and said that after question period the debate would continue. Nobody from the Liberal Party found it important at that time to get up to speak on the immigration issue and then you closed the debate. We voted on it.

Now we have switched to employment insurance and Group No. 2, which is another part of Bill C-50, I agree with the member. He wants to talk about immigration as part of Bill C-50, but that was part one, which we did before question period. Those members had enough time. As a matter of fact, if it was all that important they could have talked about it all night and we would have stayed here, but they did not choose to get up. Then you switched from the immigration issue to employment insurance, Mr. Speaker, and I think we should respect the debate.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

In the opinion of the Chair, the member for Acadie—Bathurst has a point. The reason we group amendments is so that we can discuss all the amendments that are lumped together as relevant to one particular piece of legislation.

The group that we now have before the House does have to do with employment insurance. If the member for Kitchener—Waterloo feels that he can only talk about the section of the bill that actually came before this grouping, then maybe he should reconsider.

On the same point of order, the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I know that my colleague, as he himself said, was stretching it somewhat, except that it was his way of getting into the discussion. I am sure he will be addressing the problems that the first part of the discussions this morning will bring on to the second part of the discussions this afternoon.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Having said everything that I have already said, I look forward to how the member for Kitchener—Waterloo makes the connection.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

June 2nd, 2008 / 3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, given that I did speak on it prior to question period and I did not think we had adequate time to address it, I will return to the topic at third reading.

However, I just want to make the point that the changes being proposed are going to have an incredible impact on the whole process of immigration to this country, and some of those fundamental changes are going to be draconian, which is something that is certainly worthy of more debate than we have had on the issue.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, indeed, we are now talking about Group No. 2, the amendments concerning employment insurance. At the outset, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I must say that we will support the NDP's amendment to remove the part that deals with the employment insurance board.

Let me provide some context for the people listening today. At the Bloc Québécois' request, the House dropped two successive bills, one of which died on the order paper just before the last election.

That was about the creation of an independent fund with full, exclusive authority over the administration of employment insurance benefits by commissioners selected, for the most part, from among employers and employees. Why? Because they are the ones who pay into the fund.

The board proposed in Bill C-50 does not meet those criteria. Not only that, but it entrenches an injustice perpetrated on both workers and employers: the diversion of $54 billion from the employment insurance fund.

There are some people in this House who would like us to forget about that money. They are doing their level best to make us forget, but we will not forget. They would have us believe that the money is virtual. It is not. Workers and employers who contributed put real money into the fund. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have used that money for other purposes. Today, they are trying to convince us that because it was spent on other things, it no longer exists and is therefore virtual money.

I would also note that representatives of all parties on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities unanimously recommended that the money be returned to the employment insurance fund at a rate of at least $1.5 billion per year for 32 years. At the time, about $46 billion had been diverted; now that figure has risen to $54 billion, as I said earlier.

My NDP colleague said earlier that this would be a serious economic crime against the unemployed, their families and the communities and the provinces affected. Each time money does not return to the provinces through employment insurance benefits, the provinces—notably, Quebec—have to make up for this lost revenue with welfare.

Once again, this further worsens the fiscal imbalance. And none of this will be improved by the board. Even worse, within the fund there will be a reserve of $2 billion that will come from the consolidated revenue fund, but as a loan. At least admit that this reserve is money owed to the people.

The reserve is absolutely insufficient as well. The chief actuary of the Employment Insurance Commission has been saying for many years that the reserve should be at least $10 billion to $15 billion. Why? So that year after year, whatever the rate of unemployment, we can provide at least one year's worth of EI benefits according to the fund's obligations.

We are not the only ones who are saying this. Everyone who came to testify in recent days at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, including the major unions, employers and interest groups such as those representing the unemployed, came to say that this reserve is insufficient and that the $54 billion should not be forgotten.

Those are the first two points I wanted to bring up.

The third point is that the government is creating a new board separate from the commission, but is keeping the commission in place. The board is an addition. There will therefore be one decision-making body and two management bodies. The main management body is the Employment Insurance Commission. It will continue to ensure that benefits are paid in accordance with the minister's decisions. It will have no decision-making authority. The minister will make decisions based on the previous year's experience and will recommend a premium rate to the board. When he testified on April 29 and May 27, the minister essentially said two things. According to him, the employment insurance system is already generous enough. He said that. However, we find that the system currently excludes 60% of workers who pay into the fund. If they are unfortunate enough to lose their jobs, they are excluded under existing conditions and cannot receive benefits.

In a written statement that was tabled in committee, the minister also said that, from now on, any surplus can be used only to reduce premiums. That reflects a dangerous and unacceptable ideology that is based on the same principle as the one behind reducing the GST. Of course, every time it reduces the GST, the Conservative government subsequently finds a reason to cut social spending. Now the government wants to do the same thing with employment insurance, as if it had not done enough damage already.

Initially, we were in favour of the board because the government said its sole function would be to manage contributions in the interests of the unemployed. In fact, this is not true, as we have seen. Not only is this not true, but the board will work against the interests of unemployed workers. As I said earlier, the government is legalizing the theft of $54 billion and saying that in future, this money will not be used to help rebuild the fund, much less improve benefits. Instead, from now on, it will be used to reduce premiums. That is the government's philosophy, and it is unacceptable. I said earlier that we were in favour of the board because the clear intention was that, from now on, this fund would be used only for employment insurance.

The minister's statements, the facts revealed to us in committee, as well as the concerns expressed by the stakeholders, showed us that this board would not assume the responsibility I just described.

There is another thing. By separating the roles, by not allowing the Employment Insurance Commission to set the rates, the government is trying to have it both ways. We think it would be wise to create an Employment Insurance Commission worthy of that name. Commissioners are appointed by the minister, of course, but recommended by whom? We need to have commissioners who serve the interests of contributors, which would mean people who, for the most part, are recommended or delegated by the employer and employee organizations. Also, as was the case for large management companies in Quebec, these people need to be able to work alongside consultants who can give them information about decisions to be made. The chief commissioner is one of them. A representative from the Canadian Institute of Actuaries also came to speak about this. He said that the fund needed to be managed by taking into account a five-year period, that it should have a reserve fund that is worthy of the name, and that it should be used exclusively for employment insurance.

I thank you for your attention, Mr. Speaker, and I truly hope that our colleagues here will vote in favour of the amendment before us in order to remove the employment insurance financing board from this bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on the clarity of his presentation regarding the misappropriation of $54 billion by the government.

Is reduced accessibility to employment insurance benefits not part of the poor treatment of workers? The member for Chambly—Borduas gained some insight into this, as we did, when he met with people who were truly depressed and about to be declared clinically mentally ill because workers are not being looked after when they experience the shock of becoming unemployed.

Does this mean that monies should be transferred to Health Canada, which must look after those suffering from depression because the employment insurance fund did not meet their needs as it should have?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi on his excellent work concerning homelessness and the whole issue of housing.

He is quite right about how the fund has been used over the years. As everyone will recall, when there was a high unemployment rate, the fund could not fulfill its obligations through contributions. Here is how it worked: when there was not enough in the fund through contributions, the national treasury loaned money to the fund and contributions were later adjusted to pay back the treasury, and this always worked out.

When the EI fund was rolled into the consolidated revenue fund, the government at the time, a Conservative government, began dipping into that fund. First, it tried to lower contributions as much as possible in order to limit benefits as much as it could. This government is trying to adopt the same system.

When the Liberals came to power, they re-established a certain level for contributions to meet their obligations, but they began restricting access to benefits, gradually excluding over 50% of people who normally would have received benefits if they became unemployed.

My colleague is quite right to say that this strategy was used to create surpluses, at the expense of people who lost their jobs, in order to use those surpluses to pay off the debt or pay for other budget items.

This is appalling, especially since it has been inflicted by the government on the people who are hurting the most.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about a crown corporation. I know that the Bloc Québécois has always supported the concept of an independent fund, just as I have.

However, with respect to the employment insurance financing board, a crown corporation that will be created tonight following a vote on Bill C-50, is the member concerned that the same thing will happen with this entity that is happening with all of the other crown corporations, such as CBC/Radio-Canada and Canada Post, that is, when members of the House ask the government a question, it will say that it is not responsible and refer us to the crown corporation in question? Is he concerned that once such a board is in place, the government will wash its hands of the whole matter and the fund will be lost?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. Our discussions with the minister have pointed to that happening. Why take this matter out of the hands of commissioners, as I was saying earlier, and give the responsibility to a board?

The board will have no power other than making sure that contributions are sufficient to comply with the requirements set by the minister. In other words, the real work will done by the chief actuary, who will advise the commissioners.

This is the problem our colleague raised: once they have a purely technical role and no performance obligations with respect to the decisions they make, they will lose control over decision-making; their only purpose will be to rubber-stamp other people's decisions.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to part 7 of Bill C-50, although I am not pleased about what is happening. I will be clear with all Canadians, including workers and businesses.

This evening, we will see the first vote that will truly legalize the theft from the employment insurance fund. This evening, we will see $54 billion being taken away. That is what will happen. The sad thing in all of this—and we saw this coming—is that the NDP proposed amendments, which went to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, asking that, if such theft must occur, that there at least be a mechanism in place to try to help workers.

For example, the Auditor General said that a $15 billion cushion was needed in the employment insurance fund. We would like to have an amendment stipulating that there be at least $15 billion in the crown corporation. The Liberal Party refused and even refused having $15 billion out of $54 billion placed in the employment insurance fund. It voted against that.

Today, we are in the House of Commons and we see that to date, the Liberal Party of Canada has not even stood up to explain whether it is for or against Bill C-50, which is the government's budget implementation bill. The government will take this $54 billion, put it aside and forget about it. That is what is going on right now.

What is more, in Bill C-50 the government is saying that it will put $2 billion into the crown corporation. If there is a problem with the economy, money can be borrowed from the government's general funds and interest will be charged. Imagine that. Today we see that the Liberals are not even standing up to condemn this. I am talking about $54 billion that was taken out of the pockets of workers. Those people got up every morning to go to work and that money was deducted from their pay.

If the government wants to pay down the debt, it can use the taxes we pay. I remember when the Mulroney Conservatives brought in a new formula called the GST, which was to be used to pay down the debt. But instead of paying down the debt with the GST, the taxes people paid, the Conservatives decided they would use the money in the employment insurance fund and hit workers. When workers lose their jobs, they have no money to defend themselves in court. They cannot defend themselves. If workers try to get money from Imperial Oil, Shell, Ultramar or Irving in New Brunswick, these companies can afford to take the workers to court. The poor workers, who have lost their jobs and have no more money to feed their families, cannot afford to go to court. That is who the government is taking money away from. The government is taking money away from the poorest, most vulnerable members of society. That is what the Liberal government did in 1996. It made cuts to employment insurance, and the Conservatives supported those cuts.

In 2005, the last year the Liberals were in power, 28 recommendations were made regarding employment insurance. Among those recommendations was one made by the Conservative House leader that the $54 billion be put back in the employment insurance fund within 10 years. The Bloc Québécois had generously called for a timeframe of 32 or 33 years. The current Conservative House leader said that this should be done within 10 years. The money belonged to employers and employees and should be returned to them.

Now, the Conservatives are telling us that this is just virtual money, that it disappeared because it was spent and that this is the Liberals' fault. They have brought in a bill that legalizes all that. They are also telling us that if we want to get our money back we will have to pay interest. This is a sad day. It is true that they would like us to stop talking about this.

Why should we stop talking about the biggest theft in Canadian history? It is the worst scandal to have ever taken place in this Parliament. It is even worse than the Liberal's sponsorship scandal and the Conservatives spending $1.5 million over the $18 million spending limit in the last election. We are talking about $54 billion. This money could have been used to help people, but instead people are forced to go on social assistance and to embrace poverty. That is the end result.

In Canada, only 32% of women and 38% of men are eligible for employment insurance; some 800,000 workers are ineligible. Furthermore, 1.4 million children are hungry. How many times have I said this in my speeches in the House of Commons? I have never tired of repeating it. Today it seems that the Liberals are tired of hearing it and are in a hurry to move on.

The member for Kitchener—Waterloo rose earlier saying that he wanted to talk about immigration. He had already had an opportunity to do so. He said that it was terribly important and that he wanted to talk about immigration. If it is so important, he will have the opportunity to vote this evening and tell the government that he does not agree with it. The Liberals do not have to sit on their hands or leave Parliament or not vote. This evening, if the Liberals decide to remain in their seats and not vote, that will mean that they approve of the Conservatives' theft from the employment insurance fund, a theft from the workers that they initiated in 1996. I hope that workers are listening today and that they do not forget what happens.

I hope some workers are listening to what is being said here. The government has decided to put Bill C-50 to a vote tonight. The Liberals will just sit in their places. They have decided not to vote on the bill. As a matter of fact, they have decided not to speak to the bill at all today.

I hope the men and women who call their members of Parliament telling them they cannot get their employment insurance will understand that today the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party have stolen their $54 billion employment insurance surplus. There are provisions in Bill C-50 to create a crown corporation and only $2 billion will go to the crown corporation. What is going to happen if it runs out of money? The bill is very clear. If Canadian workers need money from employment insurance, the money will have to be borrowed from the government and interest will have to be paid on that money. They will have to pay interest on their own money, something never seen before in the history of this country. The vote is going to happen tonight. It is a sad day for workers. I hope workers never vote for the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party based on the action those parties are going to take against workers tonight. Canadians must remember.

When a person has a job, things go well and he or she has no problems. However, when the person loses his or her job and the paycheques stop coming in, it is a sad day not just for the worker, but for the family under the person's responsibility.

There are 1.4 million kids in this country going hungry. When 800,000 people do not qualify for a program that belongs to them, they will go hungry because they will have no money. The Liberals are partly responsible for this. The Conservatives are totally responsible by introducing Bill C-50 and creating this crown corporation.

Having a crown corporation means that when a member of Parliament raises a question about EI premiums, the government will tell the member to ask the crown corporation. It is arm's length to the government. The government will not answer any questions, just as it does not answer any questions about CBC or Canada Post.

For this reason, I am proud that the NDP members will stand up this evening in the House of Commons and vote, unlike the Liberals, against this bill and against the immigration bill. They are not like the Liberals, who will remain seated and so shirk their responsibilities as parliamentarians and as Canadians.