Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my presentation today by congratulating the member opposite, the hon. member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette.
I too represent a rural region. We certainly do not have any iron smelting plants back home. The mines closed a long time ago, but we still have primary industry, such as the fishery. We have fish processing plants. Our colleague across the way said that employment insurance will ensure that those people can continue to work all year long.
I can assure you that if people were to fish all year long back home, the fishing industry would not be around for very long. It would not take very long before the resource was depleted. A seasonal industry cannot magically be converted into a permanent industry that lasts all year. That is certain. There is no mistaking that many regions in Canada depend on seasonal industries.
Employment insurance has always been there to support these industries, and that is not for nothing. It is not because people do not want to work during the winter or because they are not interested in working. The inescapable reality in Canada is that we have a winter season to contend with. In the winter, a number of industries slow down drastically. There is nothing anyone can do about it. The hon. member from the third party told us about a snowplow operator who might remove snow only one day out of four. A person like that cannot make up work.
I should have mentioned that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier. I am telling you now, because I will be stopping in about 10 minutes.
To come back to the issue of seasonal work, I would add that the nature of the industry in our regions is such that we cannot just magically create an industry that operates year-round. Employment insurance has a very important role to play in our regions. It is wrong to think that people are not interested in going to work. EI allows our industries, our small and medium-sized enterprises to work to their fullest during the summer and to operate effectively during that time. EI allows regions with a seasonal economy to enjoy a smooth-running, profitable economy during the summer months.
I can tell you that, in the Gaspé, the Magdalen Islands and a number of regions in Canada with seasonal industries, the summer industries—often tourism, as is the case in my area—are profitable not just for small and medium-sized companies, but also for the government, which collects taxes. These industries create employment and wealth and unfortunately require support.
We can do nothing about the fact that tourists do not visit our area in the winter. There is very little in the Gaspé of interest to tourists in the winter. Naturally, if my colleague from Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette can find a magic solution to make winter profitable, we will listen. However, until we find a solution, all we can do is find a means of keeping workers in the winter. Then, at the start of the tourist season, in the summer, the trained workers who are familiar with our region are available for work and can start right at the beginning. They are trained workers.
If we lose these workers because of reforms to employment insurance, if they are forced to move to other parts of Canada because they do not have the support of employment insurance, we will not be able to train other employees. It is very expensive for small and medium-sized firms. They do not have the money.
If there is no money for employment insurance, we will have to find other programs to support small and medium-sized firms in the regions. Quite frankly, it will cost much more than the employment insurance program.
I would just like to make a small comment. We are told that everyone who wants to work will find a job and that this reform will not impoverish these people. That was mentioned, but I want to mention it again.
In the past three years, the pilot project to support people working while on claim cost $130 million. This year, it is estimated that it will cost $74 million. If this amount is reduced by almost 50%, how can the government say that it will not affect the income of these people?
The people most affected by this reform will be those who make the least amount of money. If we do the math, it is not the people who work three, four or even five days while on EI who will be most affected by the government's proposed pilot project. The people who work only one or two days stand to lose the most with this reform.
In my riding, those who benefited from the pilot project in the past while they were receiving benefits were only working one or two days a week, not four or five. They were filling in at certain processing plants. From time to time, fish arrives and workers are needed for a day or two to process the stock. There is not enough work for the week, just for a day or two. These people will be affected by the reform because they will earn 50% less than they did in the past. Half the money they earn for a day of work will be deducted from their benefits. They will not make as much money as they did in the past. They will have to spend a lot of money to commute and to pay for child care. It is very expensive to work just for one day and it must be cost-effective.
The reform will do exactly the opposite. It will encourage people to refuse the work they are offered. This will have a negative impact on the region's labour force and on small and medium-sized businesses and processing plants. These plants will have difficulty finding workers and will be unable to operate. This will harm the seasonal economy. A certain kind of economy exists in our region in the winter. This will make the situation even more difficult because there will be a shortage of workers.
The hon. member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, who spoke just before me, said that we are not here to force anyone to work in other regions. I would like to quote his colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour, who made the following comment in the House last Thursday:
EI recipients will now get job postings twice a day for those chosen occupations within their community, as well as postings for jobs in related occupations in other geographic regions. This will enable them to make more informed decisions about how to conduct their job search.
When I read that, I do not think that claimants in seasonal work areas will benefit from the fact that they can stay at home. The government is really offering them an incentive to leave the region.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour said that claimants would be sent job postings for jobs in other regions.
I will give an example of how this translates in my region. A woman in the Magdalen Islands received a written notice indicating that four jobs were available in her region. Her region is defined as extending from Chandler to the town of Gaspé. To get from the Magdalen Islands to either Chandler or Gaspé, it takes a five-hour ferry ride and about 10 hours of driving. I do not understand how this could be profitable for this claimant, or for the small business that would have hired her. Of course there would be absences every now and then if one had to commute 15 hours each way every day. It would take 30 hours of commuting in a 24-hour day. It makes no sense.
With this reform, the definition of one's region is incomprehensible. What does it mean to offer a claimant employment in another region? The region has nothing to do with where one lives. Claimants will feel so harassed with the new system that they might give up on EI altogether.
Will these people have to leave their region? Will they be forced to turn to social assistance? In that case, it will not cost the federal government anything, since that is a provincial program.
My colleague just said that they do not want to take money away from claimants. Frankly, the government should be consulting claimants, because that money belongs to us, to claimants and employers.
In closing, there has been a serious lack of consultation and that is—