Mr. Speaker, I think you should call the cops. I think you should ask the Sergeant-at-Arms to go and find the RCMP because there is a robbery in progress as we speak going on in the House of Commons while I am standing here and while we are sitting here. The robbery I am talking about is numerically the biggest robbery in Canadian history. It makes the great train robbery look like nothing. It makes the Grenkow boys who had the gold heist at the Winnipeg airport seem like peanuts. We are talking about $54 billion being swiped by legislative decree as we speak. If people in the country knew they would be horrified. I am not exaggerating.
The EI fund has been a cash cow for successive governments for as long as I have been a member of Parliament. They have been using this money for all the wrong purposes. A previous colleague of mine explained how fundamentally wrong it is to deduct money from people's paycheques for a specific purpose and tell them it is for income maintenance if they should happen to lose their jobs. Then, to use that money for something else completely is just fundamentally wrong. It is not the government's money. The government should start from that basic premise. That pool of money is not the government's.
It was the Mulroney Conservatives who withdrew from the EI fund. The unemployment insurance fund used to be made up of money from the employer, the employee and the Government of Canada. In 1986, the Mulroney Conservatives stopped doing that. The government no longer paid anything into it, so it was 100% funded by employer and employee contributions at a ratio of 1:1.4. It simply is not the government's money to use unless it passes a bill. It can do anything. The Government of Canada's Parliament can pass legislation to make this its money but it should not. Morally and ethically it would be fundamentally wrong.
It is fundamentally wrong to balance the books on the back of the unemployed. It is almost cowardly when we think about it, of all the places governments could look for additional revenue to fund their fiscal agenda is from the unemployed. Almost no one qualifies for EI any more, that is why it is showing such a great surplus. Fortunately, we are in buoyant economic times as fewer people are applying for employment insurance although that is about to change given the layoffs in the manufacturing sector.
Let me tell everyone how Liberals balanced the books and what is wrong with that, and then explain why it is wrong for the Conservatives to do the same. The Liberals came up with $100 billion worth of tax cuts and they brag about that. They say they cut more taxes than any government ever, $100 billion worth, but let us look at how they paid for it. They took $30 billion right out of the EI fund, so that is like an upside-down Robin Hood, robbing the poor to give tax cuts to the rich. Another $30 billion they took from the surplus in the public service pension plan.
Just before he left politics in late 1999 and early 2000, Marcel Masse, the former treasury board president, the last thing he did on his way out, knowing full well the hue and cry would be deafening, was to rob, and I deliberately use this term, the $30 billion surplus that was in the public service pension plan. The average beneficiary of the public service pension plan makes $9,000 a year and they are female. The government could have taken that $30 billion and doubled the annual pension of those beneficiaries currently, or improved the benefit package for future beneficiaries, or it could have shared it.
That is what is done in the private sector. When Bell Canada had a big surplus, union and management sat down and negotiated. Some went to benefits, some went to donation holidays and some went to the company. But no, the Government of Canada took it all. With the other $40 billion, the Liberals engaged in program spending, the most ruthless, cutting, hacking and slashing of social programs in this country's history. That is how they came up with their $100 billion in tax cuts.
Taking a page from the same book, the Conservatives find themselves wanting to spend money, trying to endear themselves by buying their way into the hearts of Canadians. Where do they look for money? They do not look at offshore tax havens. They do not look at perhaps having a tax on excess profits in the oil sector. They do not look at the tax fugitives who take $7 billion a year of tax revenue out of our country, something they promised they would do when they were in opposition. They have left those tax havens alone and they have left the very rich able to expatriate their family fortunes and family trusts offshore. Not only the millionaires themselves never pay taxes in Canada again, but none of their progeny ever pay taxes in Canada again. These things have been exposed in the newspaper this past couple of weeks by Diane Francis, a right-wing Conservative journalist. She has condemned the government, to which I presume she sends money, for not acting on these tax havens, these tax fugitives.
It really begs the question why, now that they are in a position to do so, the Conservatives would have three budgets and one economic update and never touch this atrocious situation, leaving $7 billion a year untouched? Instead, where do they look for revenue? They are taking it off of the backs of the unemployed. It is almost a cowardly thing to do.
I will tell members the impact the changes in employment insurance has had in my inner city riding of Winnipeg Centre, by some standards the lowest income riding in all of Canada.
When the government changed the system to the existing hour based system, it took $20.9 million a year out of my low income riding of Winnipeg Centre. That would be like taking the payroll of four pretty major companies, a $20.9 million payroll, from the poorest of the poor. It would be different if it took that from high income earners and they lost a couple of grand a year each.
However, the people who miss out on the income maintenance benefits of employment insurance are in desperate circumstances. They went from being marginalized and poor and getting by on EI, to abject poverty. The government has offloaded the income maintenance burden onto the province and these people on welfare.
That has been the experience with the brilliant social policy initiative of the management of the EI fund to day.
For years, we said EI should be a separate fund. I guess we have to be careful what we wish for because we were not specific enough as to what we wanted. The Conservatives are creating that separate fund. They are taking it out of consolidated revenue, as we have always maintained they should. They are putting it into this crown corporation. I do not disagree with that. However, they are taking $54 billion of surplus that exists now and using it for whatever general consolidated revenue spending they wish to spend it on. That is fundamentally wrong. It is morally and ethically wrong. I call it robbery, and I do not hesitate to put it in those terms.
We need a $15 billion operating surplus, according to the Auditor General, to be safe. Otherwise we will fall into deficit with that fund if we have any kind of an economic downturn. Judging from the job losses in Ontario in the last 18 months and what could happen elsewhere in the country, as we turn our back on the manufacturing sector, we will need a robust employment insurance fund to provide income maintenance and bridge training to retrain the workers affected by that. The $2 billion left in the fund would be gone in a minute.
The Conservatives are showing a surplus of $750 million a month and they are only going to leave a $2 billion surplus. They are taking the rest. That is not a per year surplus; it is a per month surplus. It is a cash cow. It is a licence to print money. It is a dream come true for a finance minister. It is like catnip for a finance minister. They cannot stay away from it, but they should because it is not their money. That is the most fundamental basic element the Conservatives seem to forget: it is not their money. They have no proprietary right to that fund. That is our money. It is not even the employers' money. It is all the workers' money because it is put in there for the benefit of the employees if they should be unfortunate to find themselves out of a job.