Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill at the third reading stage. As others have already said, this bill is supposed to help long-tenured workers. I said “supposed to”, because few long-tenured workers will be helped by this bill. I will explain.
This is a smokescreen to make us forget that the Conservatives, just like the Liberals, do not take care of the unemployed. As I said earlier, I am happy that the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour said what he did, because I think he is sincere. Could his party vote at all stages of bills, like Bill C-241, which deals with the removal of the waiting period? I hope so. I know that is his goal. This is a bill from my Bloc colleague, the member for Brome—Missisquoi, which would ensure that people are not penalized when they join the jobless market. I call it the jobless market, because it has practically become a market for the government, as it saves money on the backs of the unemployed, with the EI fund as it is.
The Bloc Québécois is against the bill for long-tenured workers. The Bloc is against it because it is a discriminatory bill. The bill picks and chooses good and bad unemployed workers, as well as being a terrible bill in and of itself. That is why we are not the only ones in Quebec who are against it. The major unions are against it. These unions, in Quebec alone, represent more than 1.5 million workers out of the 4.5 million people who are of working age. There is a reason they are against it. Unemployed workers themselves and the organizations that represent them in Quebec are against it. The unemployed, the major unions, the churches, and in some areas, groups in some municipalities that cut across all social lines known as the Sans-Chemise—these people and organizations are against it.
Some of the industries that have been hardest hit by the economic crisis and by job losses have spoken out against it. The forestry industry is against this bill. They have their reasons. One of them is that this is a terrible bill. This bill creates a smokescreen to try to mask this government's weaknesses and its abandonment of the unemployed.
I said this was an exclusionary bill. Why exclusionary? Because to benefit under this bill, you must have worked for at least seven years, and in those seven years you must have contributed at least 30% of the maximum annual employment insurance premium. As well, during those seven years, you must not have received employment insurance for more than 35 weeks. There again, it is five weeks more and it will gradually increase based on the number of years you have worked, up to 15 years. It makes no sense whatsoever.
This is discrimination based on time worked, premiums paid and use of the scheme. One of my colleagues said in this House that it was as if we were telling someone they will not be entitled to get health care under a health insurance program because they have already used it in the last seven years. They are not entitled to it again. They had access for a certain number of weeks and so they are no longer entitled. It is the same principle. This is insurance that people have paid for in case they lose their jobs.
The bill is also discriminatory in that it directly targets people for exclusion. Even if someone has worked all those years, and I note again, in order to be eligible, they have to have worked at least seven years.
Even if an individual has worked seven years or more, if they are employed in precarious work, for instance seasonal work, or part-time, or on call—and we are now talking about a majority of people in society—they will be excluded, because in all those years they of course turned to employment insurance. So each time that individual was laid off, they were probably entitled to employment insurance. Now, if that individual was not entitled to claim, they will no longer be entitled now, because that means that the individual did not meet the eligibility criteria. So here we see everyone we are excluding. In addition to excluding a large number of people to start with, we are also targeting people who have precarious jobs for exclusion.
As I said when I started to speak, this bill is terrible, because it makes a law that assigns status to people based on their being bad unemployed workers or good ones. People do not decide on their own to be a bad unemployed worker. worker? It is the law that excludes them based on the length of time they have worked, paid premiums or received employment insurance benefits.
That makes no sense. In that respect, this bill is terrible. It creates a principle in a law that is completely appalling. As well, it is misleading in its very form, as well as in the words of the government and its ally the NDP. The government claims that it will affect 190,000 unemployed people, and pay out a total of $930 million. The NDP says it is more than that; it says it is $1 billion. The NDP says this is what it asked for and it is happy with the result. We have to be straight with the people we represent. We owe them the truth. Are they covered or are they not covered? We have to tell them.
The residents of the Gaspé peninsula and the Acadian peninsula need to know whether they are covered. Yesterday, in the remarks I heard, people mentioned companies that should be insured but that will not be. I looked at who those companies were and most of the employees have claimed employment insurance benefits in the last seven years. They will therefore not be affected by this measure. We have to tell them that.
They say that 190,000 unemployed will be affected. But in the study of this bill, the government and its ally, the NDP, were utterly incapable of explaining how they arrive at this conclusion. Neither the public servants, the minister or the secretary of state could tell us. If we take their figures and do the math, it turns out that 6% at most of the unemployed all across Canada would qualify. Again, this is at most, and it would amount to about $300 million.
The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst says that even if it is not much, it is something. I can understand that. If it were shared equally, dished out objectively to ensure fair, equitable treatment, I would agree with him. I would say at least we got that much. These people have been eating poop for ages because of government decisions. I say eating poop because there are people who are literally forced into poverty when they lose their jobs. Even if they are entitled to benefits, they do not get any. The eligibility criteria have been tightened up so much that they do not qualify.
I would agree with him if it were done fairly and equitably. But that is not the case. All Quebeckers, everyone who represents workers, the unemployed and sectors that are supposed to be targeted, are unanimous in their opposition, because this is basically a bad bill, that creates unacceptable precedents. We cannot accept the unacceptable.
What is unacceptable is creating categories of good and bad unemployed and excluding people on the basis of the sector in which they work and sometimes even their gender. We know very well that the precarious jobs that will be excluded by this measure are filled mostly by young people and women. That is why we are unanimously opposed.
If we were hearing anything different, we would take note. We have been all through it and cannot understand why Parliament would accept a bill like this.
Remember the government’s inability to explain exactly how it arrives at the figures it uses. This is a lost political cause that betrays the unemployed. It is a smokescreen. As an FTQ representative from the Eastern Townships said, it is nothing but a smokescreen.
To add insult to injury, the bill even excluded people as well on the basis of the time we would take to debate it and pass it in the House. We said that did not make any sense because we needed time to study it. The minister agreed to change this provision and give the House time to study it before it was duly sent to the Senate.
The amendments are accompanied by provision (a)(i) in Motion No. 1 to this very effect. For claimants, "the number of weeks of benefits set out in the table in Schedule I that applies in respect of a claimant is increased as a result of the application of any of subsections 12(2.1) to (2.4), in which case:
(i) in respect of a benefit period established for the claimant on or after [not “on and after”] January 4, 2009, that has not ended on the day on which this subsection is deemed to have come into force—"
What does this mean? As of this week, the regions have fallen, if I may put it that way. Automatically, they are no longer eligible. As I am speaking, Quebec City and Hull may not be eligible. Next week, it will be the turn of south central Quebec and Sherbrooke. It will continue this way so long as the bill is not passed. In saying that this bill will help people, one must be very careful. It probably will, but it will help very few and at what cost? At the cost of legislation assigning people a status and enshrining principles that are totally unacceptable. Even Quebeckers who might find it of benefit say it is unacceptable.
I will give forestry as an example, because it is a good one. There are two examples, one involving Canada's position and one involving Quebec's. So let us take the case of forestry. Representatives of the Canadian forestry manufacturing industry testified in committee that they supported it, while the Quebec forestry sector does not. Did they consult the people in the rest of Canada? I do not know. I do know that in Quebec, however, they were consulted. That means that it is not the same position. Just as the Conservatives and the NDP have decided to ignore Quebec, there are sectors of activity doing the same thing. And yet, the representatives of the Canadian forestry industry acknowledged that Quebec did not agree. However, they were speaking for Canada as a whole. Fortunately, they were asked to specify. The same thing happened at the Canadian labour congress, which is made up of people I highly respect, who do an exceptional job representing workers. The president and other representatives said they supported the bill, while acknowledging its many weaknesses.
In Quebec, however, their affiliate, the FTQ opposes it, for the same reasons we do.
Some things need to be examined very carefully. Does it help people and whom? If it does help, under what conditions, at what cost and is it worth the cost?
What should and must happen is an in-depth reform of the employment insurance plan. It has been rewritten over the past 14 years by the Liberals and now the Conservatives so that as many people as possible are excluded. Of all the people unemployed, some 54% are excluded, as the department acknowledges. And yet, they paid their EI premiums all their life, and when they have the misfortune to lose their job, they have no income. Their money is in Ottawa, and the provinces and Quebec have to meet their needs with welfare, the last resort.
The government is impoverishing the workers along with their families, the regions and the province involved and this adds to the fiscal imbalance. This is how the government amassed surpluses in the amount of $57 billion over the past 14 years and then used them for other purposes.
To restore the employment insurance system, we have to come back to more reasonable qualifying requirements. This refers to the 360 hours for which there is consensus support in the opposition—and the Conservatives were also in favour when they were on this side—taking into account, of course, the regional variations based on the unemployment rate. Raising the number of weeks of benefits to 50 is also being considered. This currently applies to workers, but this is a temporary measure that should be made permanent. In addition, the rate of benefits should be raised from 55% to 60%.
Most claimants are often low-wage earners, the vast majority of whom barely make minimum wage. This means that they receive 55% of the minimum wage. That is really not a big income. It would therefore make sense to raise the benefit rate to 60%.
What is needed is a comprehensive overhaul, including the elimination of the two week waiting period. It is wrong to penalize workers because they have lost their jobs. This two week period should not be tagged on at the end. The idea is to enable people to start receiving benefits immediately following a job loss. That is often when the shock is the greatest, because facing ongoing financial obligations can be difficult while trying to adjust to the loss of an income.
The self-employed should also be included. Thankfully, we are told legislation to that effect is forthcoming. We will review it. Unless we find unpleasant surprises in it as we did in Bill C-50, or something showing a lack of respect for everyone, if we find something good in the proposed legislation, we will support provisions to include self-employed workers.
How can all this be done? By changing the discourse and, more importantly, changing the political will so that we can make things better for the unemployed. This will require unfreezing premiums. The government padlocked the plan by freezing the rate of premium at $1.76, when the problem is not premiums but benefits, that is, the benefits payable under this plan.
I am running out of time. I will therefore conclude here and try to come back to the situation of older workers during questions and comments. In conclusion, two things are needed. One is to unpadlock the plan, and the other is to make sure that we have in this place a debate on a real, comprehensive reform that will be respectful of the unemployed, their families and all our different regions as well, by actually providing unemployed workers with benefits so that they can regain their dignity, even if they have lost their jobs.