Mr. Speaker, it is unusual for two members of the same party to speak one after the other. Today, some opposition members decided to pass, which gives us more time to explain Bill C-50 and its repercussions, including its negative repercussions, to people.
First, for those watching the proceedings on television, we are talking about Bill C-50, which is summarized as follows:
This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act until September 11, 2010 to increase the maximum number of weeks for which benefits may be paid to certain claimants. It also increases the maximum number of weeks for which benefits may be paid to certain claimants not in Canada.
Before I criticize the bill any further, I would like to explain how it came to be here in the House of Commons. The Conservatives introduced the bill, which required a confidence vote. The Liberals and the Bloc Québécois voted against it. The NDP voted for it to keep the current government in power. Did the New Democrats think that this bill would help workers? NDP members said it would not, but they thought it was a first step toward helping workers. So what is it, really? Maisonneuve en direct aired an interview with Pierre Céré. If I may, I would like to quote a portion of that interview.
Pierre Maisonneuve: Are some of the opposition parties right? Is this a step in the right direction?
Pierre Céré: I would say that the Conservative government is playing a little political game with the opposition parties because it did not have to introduce a bill to implement this measure. In fact, the cabinet minister said that it was not going to be a matter of legislation.
Pierre Maisonneuve: In other words, the government could have gone ahead and done it without holding a vote—
Pierre Céré: Proposing a pilot project is an administrative matter, an executive decision, so at the press conference yesterday, they should have simply announced that they were introducing a pilot project that could have been brought in immediately, and there you have it, on to the next thing. With this bill, however, the opposition parties will be forced to state their position, and then debate and vote on it.
Pierre Maisonneuve: And not bring down the government.
Pierre Céré: They cannot even make a bill like this a matter of confidence, since it must be voted through several readings, passed by a parliamentary committee, be sent over to the Senate, and so on. It is a very long process, a month and a half to two months. They are playing a little political game with the opposition parties, that is very clear. So if one opposition party supports them, that party has fallen into the trap.
The Conservatives set the trap, and the NDP fell into it. Here we are today discussing a bill that offers 5 to 20 additional weeks of benefits. But who will be entitled to those additional weeks? Are they for all unemployed workers? No, it targets only a small number of people who will be able to benefit from them. Who are those people?
The Globe and Mail has said that this measure favours the Ontario auto industry. That is clear. Indeed, the Quebec forestry industry cannot benefit from it, because it lays people off every year. So this bill does not apply. If people have worked 7 years out of 10, they are eligible for the additional weeks offered by the government. This part is unclear. What is also unclear is that the government is saying that this will help many people. According to the government, this measure will cost $935 million and will affect 190,000 workers.
We in the Bloc Québécois have taken steps to learn the real government figures, to find out if these figures are correct and if the bill will affect so many workers.
We asked a lot of questions in order to learn how the costs were calculated and which workers are targeted. This proposal is still unclear. Even the officials agreed that an evaluation could be made using the career transition program that was put in place as a result of the last budget. Instead of wondering about the government's estimate for this bill, the Bloc asked for written explanations of the costs arising from the bill, as well as the calculation of the number of workers affected.
We have not received any reply.
These figures are just more wild guesses by the government, which is trying to look good to the voters. Having said that, I do not believe that voters in general are the real target. In my opinion, they are trying to target people who have lost their jobs after working for 25 to 30 years. That program is called the Program for Older Worker Adjustment or POWA.
Let us remember that the Liberals erased that term from their vocabulary because, in the past, people aged 55 and older working in the textile industry benefited from that legislation and its funding. Today, however, we are seeing a lot of layoffs in many sectors, and even the closing of businesses. Moreover, the OECD forecasts for 2010 include more layoffs, more business failures and an unemployment rate between 8% and 10%.
The Minister of National Revenue said in the House that this was a golden bridge for older people. They will have to wait a little longer for the golden bridge. If they really wanted to help older people, the Conservatives should have first restored POWA and they would not have tabled Bill C-50. There would have been no need to debate the subject and a pilot project would have been enough.
The government only wants to look good; but it does not deserve to look good on this issue.
In my opinion, POWA is important. Here is a specific example. A person in my riding, whom I met during the last election campaign, told me that the plant where he was working was going to close. That person, who was 60 years old and had been working at the same plant for 35 years, would receive one year of employment insurance benefits. Who would hire him after that? We already know that many businesses are closing. How could that man, with limited formal education because he started working at a young age, find a new job? What could that man do? Absolutely nothing!
The Program for Older Worker Adjustment provided that a 55-year-old worker could receive employment insurance until the age of 60. Then, once the worker reached 60, the Quebec pension plan benefits would replace some employment insurance benefits and the worker would continue to receive some income until the retirement age of 65.
We see too many of these people: men and women who have worked hard all their lives to provide food for their families, to educate their children so that they could go to university and have a better life with jobs that would be safe from unemployment.
At the end of their working days, these people will end up unemployed, with children still in school and a house to pay off.
What will they do? A year later, they will end up on welfare. Is it rewarding for someone who has worked their entire life, to end up on welfare and have to use up all their assets such as their RRSPs and their little nest egg they painstakingly saved over the years to buy a cottage some day?
Those people will have to liquidate all the assets they saved up over their lives just to make ends meet. It is quite something to make ends meet. It is tough for someone who is used to getting a salary.
The hon. member for Saint-Lambert talked about this bill earlier and mentioned all of its negative effects. In her speech, she truly put her finger on the problem with this bill. We have to find a solution to help our seniors.
Some opposition members have said that the Bloc Québécois will never accomplish anything because it will never be in power. I am here to say that they are wrong. We have often talked about the fact that self-employed people should have the right to opt into the employment insurance system. In fact, that is one of the Bloc Québécois' requests. Surprisingly, today, the Conservatives have decided to resolve this problem and allow self-employed people to receive employment insurance.
And so you can see the relevance of the Bloc Québécois here in this House. This party's ideas to try to help workers and all the people of Quebec are important. We see the opposition parties taking up the ideas of the Bloc as their own, and I think they are being ungrateful when they say they can do this or that. Of course, it is always easier using someone else's ideas, but there are laws such as the one on intellectual property. I think they should take time to think it over before they take up other people's ideas. They should tell people that they have taken a really good idea of the Bloc's and brought it forward in the House. From an intellectual property point of view, it seems to me it would only be fair to acknowledge such things.
But no. The Conservatives will not do it. According to the government, it is the source of everything. There are people at home who watch us debate every day. They see what goes on in this House of Commons. They can also see other parties taking all the work done by the Bloc and running with it. They must surely be saying that today the Bloc has a purpose here. It is here to protect the interests of Quebeckers.
So, who benefits? According to the Globe and Mail, Ontario and British Columbia were likely to benefit from the Conservatives' bill. At the end of 2008, the Conference Board of Canada announced that Canada would lose 15,000 jobs in the automobile sector, which is located in Ontario.
The president of the Quebec forestry industry council, Guy Chevrette, notes that nearly all forestry workers are unemployed at least ten weeks a year. It is therefore very clear that this political move by the Conservatives is aimed at drawing support from people in Ontario. When the automobile sector was in decline, the government decided to pay out billions of dollars in order to save the industry. And what did this same government do to try to save the forestry industry, which has been in decline for five years—zilch.
If I may be allowed to go further. There is $70 million over two years for all of Canada. That makes a big difference. Counting all the provinces and territories, that amounts to about $2 million each. Divided by two, because it is over two years, that makes $1 million.
That is a far cry from the billions of dollars given in Ontario. At that point, the political intent of the Conservatives became clear, as I was saying earlier. A pilot project could have done the job and would have achieved the same end for these workers. But no, the government decided to introduce a bill, thinking it would be defeated in the House and would head to elections. The NDP, as I was saying, is hiding behind the workers to avoid an election. So the government was saved. However, is it really helping workers in these circumstances? I do not think so.
Is it possible to go further in this regard? Is it possible to speak for the workers who contribute to EI? It is not always easy, because these workers have a very hard time making ends meet, and the worst is yet to come. It is true not only for Quebec, but for all of Canadians, because they will not benefit from these five to twenty weeks. It is disgraceful to see that, to see a government thinking it is helping people but is not.
On August 15, Quebec's Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife released a report on job losses in the wood and paper processing industry. The report indicates that since April 1, 2005, 130 plants in this industry have closed permanently, 10,251 workers have been laid off and 89 industries have closed temporarily, affecting 5,585 workers. This means that a total of 16,000 workers have lost their jobs. Workers who have been laid off every year will not qualify for these additional weeks of benefits.
What about the automotive sector in Quebec? I will give some examples. They saved the auto sector in Ontario, but there are also auto workers in Quebec. The eastern townships have the largest concentration of jobs in auto parts in Quebec, behind the Montreal area. The manufacturer of gaskets for car doors closed its operation in the eastern townships in February 2008. The company had cut staff significantly since 2005 and laid off more than 1,500 workers. Dana, in the same region, laid off 140 employees. In Rivière-Beaudette, in the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Montupet, a French company, has closed its aluminum engine parts plant, and 195 people will lose their jobs. In Trois-Rivières, Aleris and Dayco closed their doors in late 2008, putting more than 500 people out of work. In Quebec City, Veyance Technologies has also laid off workers. Most of these jobs were lost in late 2008. These employees will not qualify for the extended benefits proposed in this bill.
But what about the Bloc Québécois? I will tell you what the government could do. It could even appropriate the Bloc's intellectual property and come up with bills that should be almost perfect. It could introduce an eligibility threshold of 360 hours for all regions, permanently increase the benefit rate from 55% to 60%, create a POWA, increase from $2,000 to $3,000 the threshold of insurable earnings to qualify for benefits and allowing self-employed workers to contribute voluntarily to the employment insurance plan. We have already proposed these measures. The government could take them as its own and claim to be the saviour of the unemployed and the people of Canada.