Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time here today with the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.
That said, I would like to answer the question myself.
Someone who earns $75 will make less money at the end of the day, that much is certain. I did the math regarding someone who earns $300 a week, and that person would have $30 less per week. So the answer to that question is that that individual earns less money, not more. That is clear. The Conservatives should learn how to count.
I am pleased to rise here today to speak to the NDP motion moved by the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, the official opposition EI critic. I would like to thank her on behalf of my constituents in Hochelaga.
My colleagues from La Pointe-de-l'Île and Honoré-Mercier could definitely join me in speaking at length about the current situation in the east end of Montreal Island, where many residents and their families are still suffering from the effects of the last recession and the many plant closures in the manufacturing sector.
I cannot help but think of the impending closure of the Mabe plant in my riding of Hochelaga. Over the next two years, several hundred more high-paying jobs—700 jobs—will disappear. This is in addition to the closure of the Shell refinery in Montreal East, which also employed many skilled and highly paid workers.
It goes without saying that the changes made to EI by the Conservative government in its Trojan Horse bill do nothing to help workers and their families. On the contrary, they continue the work started by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, which was carried on by the Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin Liberals.
It is quite interesting to go over some of the history of the misappropriation of the unemployment insurance system, which, ironically, is now called the “employment insurance” system.
In 1990, the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney permanently withdrew from funding employment insurance, clearly showing the government's unwillingness to intervene in problems having to do with unemployment and employment. From then on, workers and employers had to fund the program on their own. Changes to employment insurance also significantly changed the rules of eligibility for benefits.
On March 26, 1993, the Liberal leader, Jean Chrétien, who was the leader of the official opposition in the House of the Commons at the time, wrote the following, and rightly so I might add, in a letter to opponents of the Conservative bill to amend the Unemployment Insurance Act:
The Liberals are dismayed by these measures. By reducing benefits and further penalizing those who voluntarily leave their jobs, clearly the Conservative government cares very little for the victims of the economic crisis. Instead of attacking the real problem, it is attacking the unemployed.
Nonetheless, hopes raised by these comments and the 1993 election campaign were dashed. When the Liberals came to power, they changed their tune entirely, proclaiming that unemployment insurance created unemployment and that the legislation needed changing in order to deal with those who “stay home drinking beer”. I am quoting what the Prime Minister said in an article published in Le Devoir on April 21, 1993.
The government walked away from its responsibility to create jobs. Unemployment became an individual responsibility. In other words, the unemployed had only themselves to blame.
In 1996, the fatal blow was dealt to the Unemployment Insurance Act. It was abolished and replaced with the Employment Insurance Act, which once again narrowed eligibility criteria and reduced the benefit rate.
To add insult to injury, since the mid-1990s, the Liberal and Conservative governments have been misappropriating tens of billions of dollars from the employment insurance fund in order to balance their budgets, when this fund should be used to compensate the unemployed. First the government hijacked the purpose of the system, then it attacked the fund.
As a result, the fund became unstable and to correct that, employer and employee contributions were increased.
Let us be clear: when premiums go up, when eligibility is restricted, and when the money gets used for purposes other than the intended ones, it looks a lot like a tax.
What are the consequences of all these counter-reforms today?
In July, 508,000 claimants were receiving regular employment insurance benefits, but 1.38 million Canadians were unemployed.
That leaves 870,000 unemployed people without any benefits to make up for their loss of income. That means 57% of unemployed workers are not currently entitled to benefits. This historic record was reached through changes made by successive Conservative and Liberal governments. It is unacceptable.
What are the Conservatives doing to deal with this situation? We cannot truthfully say they are doing nothing, since they really have gone even further in limiting access to the EI system. What are they doing to help workers avoid reliance on the EI system, aside from limiting access to it, of course? Nothing.
The government can brag about creating jobs, but the facts are clear: 300,000 more people are unemployed than before the crash in 2008.
The Conservatives’ 2012 omnibus budget, which they brought down in March, amended dozens of acts having nothing to do with budget implementation, and also amended a number of EI regulations.
For example, the new definition of “suitable employment” means that claimants are obliged to accept employment in another field of work than they worked in previously, and they must accept work quite far from their homes or accept a much lower salary than they were earning before. My colleagues have presented many examples of the unbelievable situations cause by this new interpretation.
And then the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and her parliamentary secretary ask us why we voted against their budget.
All these examples make me a little skeptical of the Conservatives’ good faith when it comes to helping workers. Are they completely out of touch with reality?
As for the working while on claim pilot project, it ought to enable EI claimants to add to their income while receiving EI benefits. Pardon us for doubting the minister’s words when she states, as she has a number of times, that most claimants who work while receiving benefits will be better off because of this pilot project.
Obviously, she has never been able to provide us with the numbers to back up her statements. On the other hand, she always gives numbers related to people who work more or who earn higher wages.
Here are the facts. The recovery formula used in the current 2012-15 program is likely to discourage many claimants from part-time work or low-wage work, because some of them will earn less than under the system that was in effect from 2005 to 2012.
The proof is in the amount of money provided for this program. Here are the numbers: in 2009, $141 million was earmarked for the project; in 2010, this amount was $132 million; and in 2011, it amounted to $130 million.
So when the Conservatives say that the new program is better but only $74 million over two years—or $37 million per year—is allocated in the 2012 budget, we have obvious reasons to be skeptical.
The employment insurance system was designed to help workers and their families in the event that they lost their jobs. What I have talked about today clearly shows that the system's initial purpose has been hijacked. The employment insurance fund must be used to provide benefits to unemployed workers and not to balance a budget or impose an additional tax on workers and employers.
I hope that the government will listen to reason and revisits its policies, which clearly attack unemployed workers more than unemployment and have swollen the ranks of the unemployed to more than 1.4 million, including nearly 900,000 workers who have no access to benefits. Otherwise Canadians will have to wait until October 2015 for the first NDP government to deal with the real problems of our society.