Mr. Speaker, in speaking to Bill C-50 it is always difficult to, as my colleague from the Bloc said, pick winners and losers, and no question the bill does that. There are some winners in the bill and clearly there are those who are going to lose including a lot of my personal friends. They work for the Canadian auto workers in my region and whom I have worked with for a number of years. They will not benefit from this bill. There is no question about that.
Because of what we saw in past years with the number of layoffs and what we have seen prior to the enactment of this bill, they will not be covered. It is just that simple.
In saying that, we do not have unfortunately a sense within the House that we can go back and take a comprehensive look and review the entire system of employment insurance. What has happened is we have been piecemealing the system since it was reviewed in the 1990s. When it was reviewed in the 1990s, it was a review to gut it. That gutting of the employment insurance system, under the Liberal government, has given us what we have today; a patchwork quilt of help across the country that should indeed cover all of us and it does not.
What is happening now is we are adding bits here, adding bits there, we do not like this one, we do not like that one, and people move from this one to that one.
My own private member's bill that would have made sure that severance and vacation pay would have been kept by unemployed workers when they collected employment insurance was defeated by the Liberals. They chose to have that bill defeated.
Yet, the Liberals stand in their place and say that they want to reform the system. When they have the opportunity, they do not take the opportunity, which is really regrettable.
We need a comprehensive review. We need to ensure that employment insurance protects the unemployed. That is what it is meant to do. That is why workers pay the premium. They pay it because they believe, as workers, that if the eventuality falls upon them that they are unemployed, they will be able to collect EI benefits.
The bill will do that for a certain group of workers, but not all workers unfortunately. It will not protect those laid off in 2008. It will not add on those who have unfortunately had the misfortune of being laid off for numerous weeks over previous years through no fault of their own. That is regrettable. No one who is laid off can collect from the system voluntarily because one does not choose to be laid off. Employers choose to lay off workers.
Consequently, if workers choose to leave their jobs, they do not qualify at all. To punish those who are laid off through no fault of their own is erroneous from the get go. It is egregious at best.
One needs to look at EI in its totality, not in a piecemeal quilt but that is what we are doing. That does not serve workers in the country and it does not serve the unemployed.
However, this bill will indeed help some. In my riding John Deere workers were laid off in 2009 when their plant closed and moved to Mexico even though it was a profitable plant. It was making money for that corporation and it just simply decided to get up and leave. Those workers, as they head into 2010 and exhaust their benefits, will be the recipients of the help in this bill. That is a good thing for them.
Unfortunately, the workers at Henniges, which is about two kilometres away, who were laid off in 2008 will receive nothing from the bill. They too would have worked for long periods of time. It was a plant that continued to work for long periods of time and did not experience layoffs, similar to the Deere plant workers.
Unfortunately, we will have on the one hand one group protected and on the other hand one group not protected. That is the difficulty with trying to bring together one piece at a time into a comprehensive melding of things to make this work. That is why it does not.
As we look to ensure that unemployed workers are covered we need to start looking at it from a comprehensive perspective, so that we actually are going to reform the system, not add one layer of complexity on to another and take one out from underneath.
My colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley asked a question about $2 billion being put in the fund as we head into this new independent, arm's length body that will adjudicate the fund. Clearly, $2 billion versus $57 billion that was already there is inadequate. That is why we piecemeal systems because we do not fund them appropriately.
Yet workers and employers believe they funded it appropriately. They duly paid their premiums over a number of years and built up that surplus. We saw the surplus evaporate before our very eyes through the Conservative and Liberal governments' mismanagement of that fund. They simply spent it, and now we have to dip into general revenues to pay the unemployed.
I see the parliamentary secretary shaking his head. He is right. General revenue is now having to back up the unemployment fund. The governments had a surplus that was squandered, and I do not say that flippantly. Those two parties decided they would spend it on something other than the unemployed. That money rightfully belonged to the unemployed.
It is shameful that the unemployed are now asking why the system is not working for them. I do not think it does not work for them because people are trying to be nasty. The refrain is we do not have enough money, although we used to have enough. Someone decided to spend it elsewhere and that is regrettable. We have a premium freeze for the next little while and as we head out of it, we will ask workers to pay more.
My hope is that by the time they are asked to pay more, they get a comprehensive review of the system so if they are eventually laid off five years after paying their money, the money will be there again for them, not squandered like it was the last time.
As we can see, the bill will cover some workers. The number is 190,000. The numbers and dollar figures are bandied about. Is it $935 million? Is it $1 billion? No one knows for certain. Certainly the department and the commission are making some sense of what it might be and who it might be cover based on some other statistics. We will not know until the uptake. What we do know is workers out there need the help.
Most economists say that we may see a jobless recovery into 2010. If that is the case, we know people will be unemployed. Those who started their unemployment this year will be unemployed next year. How many is the debate. We do not know. I think that all of us in the House could agree on one thing. If it is not 190,000, but 150,000 or 100,000 because the other 90,000 have work, that will be a good thing. I do not think any of us in the House would say that is a bad. We will know they have jobs. They will be earning a living, putting money into the community and looking after their families. No one really wants to collect unemployment insurance.
When one thinks about it, workers only get 55¢ on the dollar. I am certain most members in the House would not want to make 55% of their wages. That is what the unemployed get when they are laid off. No one wants to be unemployed to make less money. They would rather work.
As we work through this system, this will help a certain segment of workers across the country. There will be regions, and the Bloc quite rightly points out that there are sectors within Quebec, that will not get covered. The forestry sector has been taking a hit for a long time. The vast majority of those workers will not be protected. The vast majority of auto workers in Ontario will not be protected either because of what they have suffered.
However, workers across the country may not always be in all of our ridings. There may be a few here and a few there. I am fairly certain there are a few workers in every riding. There will be pockets throughout the country that are larger than others. This is a national program. This is meant for all of us. This is meant to ensure we get protection across the country, no matter where.
Workers can be laid off in one region and move to another to try to seek work, while they collect unemployment insurance. It is a national program that we all used to cherish. We want to cherish it again as workers. We need to work hard in this place to ensure the system, as it goes forward, works like it did before the reforms came in the 1990s under the Liberal government. We need to ensure it works for workers and protects workers in their time of need. We need to ensure it is no longer what it is today, which is a patchwork quilt of protections across this land.