Madam Speaker, it is with some mixed feelings that I rise today to speak to this issue, simply because while the opportunity is afforded all members of Parliament to address this important issue, what we are talking about is a tragedy in the making. It is a prescription of government policy run out over years, manifesting itself in the devastation that we are seeing in homes and families across this country.
I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver East, Madam Speaker.
In some ways, as a representative of northwestern British Columbia in the beautiful Skeena—Bulkley Valley, we have been to some extent the canaries in the coal mine. When Canadians hear about the recession, hear about the job losses and downturns, we, unfortunately, in the northwest of British Columbia are ahead of this particular tragedy in that we have seen the loss of thousands upon thousands of jobs across the mining, forestry and fishing sectors. We have seen what the consequences are when we take out the foundations, the very pillars of an economy, and what the ripple effects can be to all sectors.
The ability of local governments to handle the infrastructure requirements, the ability of schools to stay open, the ability of churches to gather their congregations together, the very fabric of communities can be torn apart when such economic devastation is visited upon them.
I have watched the government time and again, and I heard my colleague from the government side say that Canada is well prepared, that somehow the tens of thousands of job losses, 68,000 full time job loss in January in British Columbia alone, is somehow a government claiming that everything is fine and rosy.
I understand the government's need or desire to paint a positive and perfect picture of how it has handled things, but to any economist who studies issues such as this, and national economies, knows that Canada does not tend to lead in downturns nor lead in recoveries, that the global downturn that has been happening is now fully affecting itself upon the Canadian economy. The government is pretending that the corporate tax cuts that happened were somehow buffering the Canadian economy against this.
Thankfully, we have this strong and supportive banking sector, one that the Conservatives argued for years needed to be more deregulated. They argued for years that we should allow the bank mergers and cited examples like Citibank as something that we should allow here in Canada. Allow our banks to get together to be more competitive internationally was the call, hue and cry.
In 2003, 2004 and 2005 the New Democrats stood virtually alone in this place saying this was not a good idea. This was not supportive of a sound and safe banking sector to allow the mergers to go on. We were called anti-competitive. We were called too far left on the issue and that we should allow the banks in Canada that were pleading and crying with the government and previous governments to allow them to get together and merge. Thank goodness we did not. Thank goodness the government now feels that it is worthy to take credit for allowing a more regulated banking sector, a safer banking sector that has allowed Canada to not feel the full effects by showing no interest in the government policy at all. They were interested in the opposite.
In Skeena, in the northwest, we see time and again government skewing the numbers to fit their own purposes when it comes to employment and the unemployed. We know, time and again, when people who have paid in to an employment insurance program believing that the form they filled out every week or two weeks on their paycheque meant that they had employment insurance. When they go to the teller to find out what support they will get when they have lost their jobs, they find out that 60% of the workers in my region simply do not qualify. I am not talking 60% across the board. I am talking 60% who actually paid in to this insurance scheme who suddenly find themselves not eligible for the program.
Why is it? Does the government have a cold heart? Is the government uncaring about these things? One might suspect that. It helps the government establish numbers that it knows patently to not be true. It helps the government over-collect on employment insurance year after year and establish a slush fund that is now available to the government to spend in any way it sees fit.
It does not reduce the actual contributions from employers. We heard some strange, convoluted message from the parliamentary secretary earlier about freezing rates to employers and employees, where they are actually obligated to reduce rates at this point, and somehow then equating that to being economic stimulus, that they did not increase the penalty upon employers and employees and that will somehow derive itself to be now part of its stimulus package. What mad accounting is going on with the so-called conservative government?
In the northwest, they talk about the public forums and consultations. I know I might be agitating some of my Conservative colleagues who feel that this is not an important issue. At public consultations, we saw a bit of the Conservative travelling road show that went through the northwest.
I am not kidding. By some strange coincidence in the universe, some of these consultations would happen on the very night that I would be conducting community-wide consultations. We would have 80 to 120 people show up from the business community, the faith community, social justice and environment groups and general citizens. On the same day, the Conservatives would have their road show in town.
On two separate occasions, by some strange stroke of luck and coincidence, it happened on the same day or the day before. We found that two or three people had shown up. Two councillors had been phoned the day before from the local municipal council and were told that their government wanted to hear from them. They were asked if they would mind showing up for a cup of coffee. In some bewilderment, the councillors would show up and talk to the Conservative representative. That was a tick box of consultation. That was somehow seen as getting the pulse of the communities in my region.
Do not even try to pretend this is a consultation exercise where there is no public notice or actual requirement or desire on the government's part to hear from ordinary working Canadians. It is some sort of selective wandering process to say that they met with so many communities. It is false, cynical and simply not true. It goes to the very ideology of the government. Unprepared for the economic firestorm now upon our country, the government has stepped its way into a place of denial. It has put itself into a place where everything is fine, that the people who are losing their jobs are in some other land, not Canada. The people in the northwest of British Columbia and Skeena who have been losing their jobs by the thousands are not in line with the government's message that everything is okay.
Second, they moved to anger. Just last week, we saw the Prime Minister rattling the sabre again in anger, asking for his $3 billion blank cheque or he will force us all back to the polls. Two weeks before, he said that Canadians needed an election like a hole in the head. It is a government that has simply not gotten to the point of accepting the reality. The reality is that Canadians are losing their jobs at an unprecedented rate. The very foundations of the Canadian economy, the value-added manufacturing foundation that has built this economy for many decades, are being eroded as we speak, in part due to policies that are prescribed by the government.
We all remember that the ideology and rhetoric was that if we keep cutting corporate taxes, even for those most profitable, things will be fine. I spoke to the forestry companies in my region and asked them how the tax break was helping them out right now. They said that they were losing money. They are in the red. What does a tax break mean to companies that are going out of business? Nothing. What does it mean to the small businesses and the contractors in my region who are unable to even get to or qualify for the employment insurance program? How is the government supportive of small business when it will not even consider that?
The aspect of seasonal workers goes right across this country. I imagine that even those who are heckling right now have some seasonal workers in their constituencies. If they fall below these threshold requirements for employment insurance, which are raised year after year by the government and therefore remove more people who have in good faith and conscience paid into the employment insurance program, they cannot collect. Go to those families in their constituencies. Sit at those kitchen tables and tell them that the employment insurance program is just fine as it is and does not need to be affected at all. It is absolutely irresponsible.
The government tacks on five weeks and suggests that this is the fix when it knows that, with 60% of the people who actually paid into the program not qualifying, this five week extension does nothing for them. At the end of the day, the government simply must move past denial. It must move past its sabre-rattling, prompting an election, proposing that $3 billion slush funds are the solution to this, and that we should simply trust them. It must move to a place of acceptance and realize that employment insurance reform is an actual part of the recovery package that this country should be considering and implementing.
The last budget that the government brought forward, supported by the so-called official opposition, does nothing to address this key factor in Canada's need to recover as an economy. The pain will be felt, not by members in this place but by those hardworking families who thought they were paying into an insurance program and were paying into nothing but a scheme.