Mr. Speaker, I would like to continue along the same lines as my hon. colleague, the House leader of the Bloc Québécois and member for Joliette. This throne speech leaves much to be desired, from many different perspectives. Many groups are left out completely; entire categories of citizens are not mentioned at all in the throne speech. We will see more of this at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon, during the budget speech.
Given that the throne speech serves to outline the government's parliamentary agenda and budget, it is reasonable to assume that the Conservative government will continue ignoring those groups of people.
During this completely inappropriate prorogation, we had the opportunity to meet with people from various communities. It did not mean that the members were not working. I can assure this House that the members of the Bloc Québécois were very active on the ground. We did not have time to attend the Olympics in Vancouver, because our constituencies needed us. The economic crisis in the regions of Quebec seriously affects us as parliamentarians. Meeting with the people on the ground really showed us just how much they are affected by the current economic situation.
I would like to come back to an issue that affects most of Quebec's resource regions, the lack of any real reforms to the EI system. Yes, I had the opportunity to go to Haute-Côte-Nord to take part in my party's prebudgetary consultations in Baie Comeau. My hon. colleague from Manicouagan and I met with groups of unemployed workers, specifically the group Action Chômage Haute-Côte-Nord. Although we met with various groups, the same rang true throughout Quebec. This government is completely oblivious to the reality in the regions of Quebec.
There is a category of unemployed workers for whom the EI system is ill-suited and poorly adapted, and that category is workers in seasonal industries. It is not right to call them seasonal workers, for they are not workers with seasonal qualities. They are workers who happen to work in seasonal industries. It is the industry that is seasonal.
Even if someone wanted to do silvicultural work in the forests, this was an exceptional winter in Quebec in terms of the number of centimetres of snow that fell. It was a below average snowfall. I am no expert, but this may be an indication of climate change. For example, seals in the Magdalen Islands will not be able to give birth on the ice pack because there is no ice pack. That being said, the Bloc Québécois is still in favour of a seal industry for the people of the Magdalen Islands.
When there is between 100 cm and 150 cm of snow and tiny shoots need to be planted, forestry work cannot be done. When there is extremely thick ice, commercial fishing cannot take place. This is also a reality for the inns and lodges in the Charlevoix region, which I represent. A few Europeans come to discover the charms of Quebec winters, but the reality is that the inns and lodges in the region are not at full capacity during the winter months. Therefore, the workers in these seasonal industries have to claim employment insurance benefits. Unfortunately, under the current system, the benefits do not last long enough to carry the workers through until their work resumes in early May.
That is happening right now, in March and April in particular.
Judging by his reaction, the Speaker agrees with what I am saying. I am sure that in his region, in Ontario, there are people affected by this. Those people do not receive employment insurance benefits in March or April. They often live in their own homes and own a vehicle and therefore cannot receive social assistance benefits because they own property. They would have to liquidate all their assets in March and April, but they start working again in May.
The employment insurance program creates a vicious circle that is out of step with the needs of workers in seasonal industries. That is why we asked for an extended benefit period. We also asked the government to reduce the number of hours required to qualify, but the throne speech did not address these issues.
People who do not work enough hours because their season is too short cannot qualify for benefits, but they certainly do pay into the fund while working. Employment insurance contributions are a hidden tax, no more, no less. People contribute to the fund, but they cannot collect benefits. That is outrageous. The system does not work.
The Bloc Québécois wonders when we will have a government that takes its responsibilities seriously so that people who unfortunately lose their jobs or are periodically unemployed can collect benefits. Nobody wants a system that traps people in this vicious circle.
I would like to challenge the Speaker to visit my riding, to come to the Île d'Orléans, the Côte-de-Beaupré, Charlevoix and the Upper North Shore. I would like him to ask people whether they would rather work year-round, whether the existing system works for them. People would rather work.
Our regions are in the middle of an economic crisis, and the regions of Quebec, which are struggling with crises in forestry and manufacturing, are no exception. There may not be much in the way of forests in some regions, but many manufacturing facilities have had to close their doors or lay off huge numbers of people because of the economic situation. These people, especially the workers, need help.
The Bloc Québécois wants loan guarantees for the forestry industry. The industry is not asking for subsidies; it wants loan guarantees to help it get through the crisis.
One major player in Quebec is a paper company that produces more newsprint than any other company in the world: AbitibiBowater. It has laid off workers and shut down plants across Quebec. In my riding, in Beaupré, which is a wonderful place, a plant that once cleared $52 million a year had to close its doors because of the economic crisis and AbitibiBowater's financial situation.
The government should have included such promises in the throne speech. We hope that the budget speech we will be hearing in 30 minutes will contain measures to help these workers.