Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my distinguished colleague from Prince Edward Island, the man who probably more than any other member of the House fights for fairness for Canadian farmers, the member for Malpeque.
Today we debate a very concise motion. Its language is simple and its message is direct; unusual for this place, it is stunningly clear and without pretense. It simply states that we do not have confidence in the current government.
We should be clear that this opposition has lacked confidence in the government for some time. However, as a responsible opposition, we have put the country first, tried to work with the government and pressured it to make changes when possible. We have acted responsibly and we have sustained this Parliament. We have not supported the government, but we have sustained it. While others have called for an election on dozens of occasions, we have not. That is not because we have had faith in the government, but because we saw it as our duty to try to make Parliament work. However, that has not been easy.
Since the election of the government in early 2006, we have seen actions and attitudes that we believe are out of line with Canadian values. We have seen disregard for those most vulnerable. We have seen distortions, exaggerations and fabrications. We have seen a government that specializes in dividing Canadians. It sees policies and programs as political chess pieces designed to advance its own cause, not the cause of Canadians. It is a government that has abandoned fairness and compassion, thereby damaging our reputation at home and abroad.
Particularly distressing for me, we have seen a government which in large part has abandoned the social infrastructure of Canada, which had been constructed by Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments over a number of decades. Canadians have watched as we saw cuts to programs, even after directly inheriting the largest surplus in Canadian history.
We have seen programs diverted for political advantage, hurting many in Canada's population who need help the most. We have not supported the government for those reasons, but there have been times when we have sustained the government, allowing Parliament to continue and avoiding an election. Most recently in June, when the NDP and the Bloc voted for an election, Liberals agreed to one last opportunity for the government to show good faith.
As part of the deal, the decision was made to form a group of Liberal and Conservative members whose goal was to look at two specific aspects of employment insurance to see if progress could be made. EI is not the only issue on which we have lacked confidence in the government, but this is a clear example and a particular interesting case study of why we have lost confidence in the government. I want to go through this summer project, on which I had the honour of working.
On June 17, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition agreed to set up an EI working group, a blue ribbon panel to study EI. There were two issues: regional fairness, the issue which the Leader of the Opposition had insisted on; and bringing self-employed into the employment insurance system, which the government suggested was a priority for itself. On that day, the Leader of the Opposition appointed three panellists, including me and my colleague, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development was appointed on that day, but it took almost two weeks before the other Conservative panellists were appointed.
On June 28, we had a teleconference. We heard that the minister could not meet because she was going away for two weeks. We decided to meet on July 7 for a technical briefing. That had to be changed to accommodate the summer plans of the parliamentary secretary, so we could not meet until July 14. We had a technical briefing on the 14th without the minister.
The Liberals submitted a number of questions to the secretariat that had been set up. We asked what the costing would be for a national qualifying standard of EI based on 360 hours. We also asked what the costing was for 390 hours and 420 hours. We asked about the cost to people of the revolving rate of unemployment, which means that people in some areas who lose their jobs before others in that area lose their jobs do not qualify for EI.
We talked about the extension of weeks benefit, citing the United States model. The member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine mentioned the United States model and what was happening in states such as California, where EI was being extended. We asked for information on the self-employed.
Members should keep in mind that the first full meeting could not be held on June 17 because of the Conservative members. It could not be held until July 23, when we had a meeting.
Although we had agreed in advance that all information would be provided in advance, it was not. We got the information at the meeting. In the discussion I had with the minister, the Liberals were asked to present a plan on regional fairness and the Conservatives would present one on the self-employed.
We did that. For over an hour and a half we talked about the Liberal 360-hour proposal, not a proposal advanced only by us, but advanced by many, regional fairness being a pretty important issue for many Canadians, not the least of whom is the current Prime Minister. When he was the pen for the Reform Party document, he indicated why should somebody in one part of the country not get access to employment insurance based on the same number of hours as somebody else. The current Prime Minister indicated that back then.
We talked about that proposal, the four of us plus two staff members. The four elected members, two Liberals and two Conservatives, asked the director to study our proposals. They asked him to study those two proposals.
On the self-employed, there was nothing. Members should keep in mind that in the last election the Conservatives had in their platform a plan to bring self-employed in for maternal parental benefits. It was in their platform.
We asked if the government at least had that, and we were told it could not give us that. That belongs to the Conservative Party of Canada not to us. The government would not even give us a cost on that proposal. On that very proposal the Conservatives could not give us any information to substantiate what they wanted.
On that day we agreed to meet three times in August, which we did. On August 6, again, information was thrown on the table when we got there, violating the protocols established by the committee and agreed to by the Conservative members as well the Liberal members. We went to that meeting and they threw information on the table, including a document marked “not for distribution” where they allegedly costed the Liberal proposal. They costed it at over $4 billion which we knew did not make any sense. By the way, that document marked “not for distribution” had been given to the media before we even saw it.
There were no answers to our other questions. There was no information on the self-employed, nothing. That was another week wasted.
On August 13, again we got the information at the last minute. They produced a new costing for 360 hours, but refused to substantiate it. They refused to say how they came across those numbers. They refused to say what made up the numbers in the costing of that plan.
There was no costing on a 390-hour national standard or a 420-hour national standard.
We looked at other issues. The western premiers had come up with some ideas, and we looked at that proposal. We looked at reducing regional rates. We looked at what other countries are doing on the self-employed. However, there was no information or any proposal from the government and the department that works for that government, on the self-employed.
At this point in time I was getting calls from my colleagues, many of whom may be in this chamber now, saying, “They are not serious about this. Why do you continue meeting?” The leader said, “We are going to continue meeting because something may come out of it. We are going to be the ones that try to get something done.”
I understand the frustration people have when they look at a group like that. People say that it is just more of the same, members get together but nobody is serious about it. It is not that way.
This was an opportunity for Parliament to work outside of this chamber, for us to get together and say, “This is what we believe. We can back it up. Tell us what you believe. Give us something. Let us talk about it and see if there is some common ground”. There was nothing from the government.
On August 20, two months after the group was set up, we put forward our ideas and had nothing from the Conservative government. It was the last scheduled meeting of the group. This was when we spoke to the Parliamentary Budget Officer saying that if we were not going to get accurate information from the government, perhaps he could help us.
We asked him to cost our proposal. The proposal that the Parliamentary Budget Officer looked at was the proposal that the government had costed at over $4 billion. The Parliamentary Budget Officer came back with a cost of under $1.2 billion. He said, among other things, that the government's total cost estimate overstated the costs, that the government's dynamic cost estimate was flawed.
We tried very hard to act in good faith in this meeting.
It is not with joy or excitement or even trepidation that we bring forward this motion today. It is the cold eye of recognition of a simple, clear fact, that we have no confidence in the government and that in spite of numerous opportunities provided to the government to make Parliament work, it has chosen not to.
Canadians do not want a government that thinks it has all the solutions. Canadians do want a government that recognizes there are challenges and that it can help with those solutions.
It is the foundation of this country, of the ethic that holds together this large and diverse land. It is the ethic that brings us together.
The government does not see it that way. We do not see politics as the Conservatives do. We do not see government as they do. We do not see Canada as they do. We have no confidence in the government.