Mr. Speaker, I actually hope to speak specifically to Bill C-50 and give a brief summary on what we are talking about in the House. A lot of what we are hearing today is what is not in the bill.
The bill specifically addresses the needs of people whose benefits began after January 4, 2009 and who have claimed less than 35 weeks over the last five years. They would get from five to twenty extra weeks of benefits depending on how long they have been paying into the EI system. The maximum additional weeks for those who have been paying at least 30% of their maximum annual premium in seven of the last ten years is five weeks. To get more they need to have been paying that 30% for a longer period and, to get the full 20 weeks, they need to have paid in for 12 to 15 years. Of course, there is a time limit on this. This measures expires in September 2010. Therefore, what we are talking about is a temporary measure.
In all of the back and forth debate that has happened in the House today, what I have been hearing is the reason not to support the bill because of what it does not contain. What I have not heard is a valid reason for voting against those workers and their families who would benefit from the bill. I have not heard a viable argument that says that those workers who have worked a long time in an industry do not deserve to have this additional benefit.
Much has been said in the House about what is not contained in the bill. I want to touch on that. The bill does not address some of the pressing needs of employment insurance. What many of us in the House know is that in the mid-1990s the Liberal government of the day started to take apart the employment insurance system. As a result of the measures the Liberal government passed in the 1990s, today thousands and thousands of workers simply do not qualify for employment insurance or, if they do qualify, the number of weeks they can claim are insufficient to meet the needs in these economic times.
We have heard people talk about forestry workers and fishers. In my riding, there is no question that many forestry workers would not benefit from Bill C-50. However, I have not heard one forestry worker say that since he or she does not benefit that we should ensure that those people who have worked a long time in a particular industry should not benefit.
The forestry workers in my riding are telling me that we should get on with it, that we should pass the bill and then they will take their issues to Parliament so they can have another piece of legislation that will meet their needs.
Canada has a system that designates labour market areas where unemployment rates are determined. Nanaimo--Cowichan is attached to the Vancouver labour market. Conditions in the Vancouver labour market are better than they are on Vancouver Island so the unemployment rate is lower than it is on Vancouver Island. However, because the unemployment rate is attached to Vancouver, that means that the forestry workers in my riding get less weeks of benefits.
I have been calling on the government to fix that anomaly in the system and to recognize that economic regions that are set, perhaps in Ottawa, do not necessarily recognize the differences in the labour market. This legislation obviously does not deal with this and actually we do not need legislation to fix it. It can be done through a directive.
I know members of the House have spoken about the importance of forestry in their own communities and yet I challenge some of those members because those are the very members who supported the softwood lumber deal.
I want to acknowledge the members of my party, for example, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster who, when the bill came before the House, consistently, with my other colleagues, raised the problems with the softwood lumber agreement. Here we are, some years later, seeing the impact that agreement has had on many of our communities, especially our forestry sector in British Columbia which is in a huge crisis.
I want to remind people that over 90% of the land in British Columbia is crown land, which has some forestry tenure attached to it. This means we are not in a sunset industry in forestry there. We need meaningful reform that will ensure forestry remains viable to the workers, to the families and to their communities. Many communities are suffering because of the softwood lumber agreement.
In addition, as I said, the employment insurance system does not meet the needs of the forestry workers. Many of them have been off and on work for the last five, seven, ten years. Despite all the talk and the rhetoric in the House, we are simply not meeting the needs of the forestry workers.
As well, we have seen the collapse of the sockeye salmon fisheries in British Columbia. I know the minister was out on the west coast, but did not respond to the concerns raised around an overall comprehensive plan to deal with west coast fisheries. This needs to include the fact that many of the commercial fishermen and women will not qualify for employment insurance benefits this year because they simply have not been able to get out on the waters.
Bill C-50 does not deal with the fishermen and women. It may deal, sometimes, with some of the fisheries workers.
In addition, we also have seen that many of our communities, because of those transitions from forestry and from fishing, are now reliant on seasonal and part-time work. In fact, when we look at the numbers that have come out about where jobs have been created, we consistently see that the overwhelming amount of those jobs are in the part-time sector. Bill C-50 does not address the fact that many workers are in part-time seasonal contracts, self-employment.
Again, New Democrats have put forward a comprehensive plan to deal with the deficiencies in the employment insurance system right now.
Back in June, we put a motion before the House of Commons that talked about the kinds of changes we saw as important for the employment insurance system. Those changes included reducing the number of hours that were required to qualify, eliminating the two-week waiting period and increasing the benefit rate.
We have also talked in the House many times about the $57 billion theft from the employment insurance fund. It cannot be described in any other way. Workers and employers contributed premiums to the tune of $57 billion. That was taken away from workers and their employers and put into the general revenue fund to offset a deficit. In any other place where we have funds that are designated for a particular purpose and they go missing sounds like theft to me. When I talk to workers in my communities, they say they want that money back. They do not want it in their own pockets. They want that money to come back into the employment insurance fund so there is money for training for workers who need to make a transition out of the industry in which they are. They want more money for the kinds of innovations and upgrades that are needed in some of the workplaces. They want a higher benefit rate for workers so they can have money to spend in their communities.
While I talk about benefit rates, we also know that the single biggest economic stimulus that we can provide to families, to their communities, is ensure they have an adequate income. One of the ways we can ensure adequate income is to ensure they qualify for the employment insurance benefits, which they have contributed to for many years.
The NDP support for Bill C-50 should in no way construed as overall support for the Conservative government. In this case we are saying that there are workers out there who can benefit from the increased duration of benefits and there simply is no good reason to tell them they do not deserve to have that money.