Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand in the House to speak to the NDP opposition day motion, which truly serves to represent the many Canadians who are worried about their futures in so many sectors of our economy and communities across our country. Those Canadians are voicing that concern not just to us but also to their members of Parliament and certainly members of Parliament on the governing side.
We are seeing a government go as far as to dismantle what is a critical foundation in our country, part of our social safety net, as many call it. This foundation serves to hold us up and to hold up the kind of quality of life that we as Canadians have fought for. The fact that Canada has been known in history as being one of the best countries in the world to live in did not just happen. It is because women and men across this country have fought for it, whether for our health care system, our pension system, our education system or our employment insurance system. In one fell swoop, the government is trying to dismantle, frankly, all of these, but with the real target of employment insurance.
My colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour commented in his speech that the fundamental notion we must all respect is that employment insurance is our money, that it is Canadians' money. It is not the government's money. It is not a corporation's money. It is all of our money.
The language the current government has used to describe people who access EI, who need to use the EI fund that we helped build, is offensive and frankly it is against the kind of ideals that we believe in as Canadians. The fact is that it is there to benefit all of us when we fall on hard times or when we fall through the cracks or when we are participating in a seasonal industry, which holds up our communities and builds our regions, in the season when that industry cannot be done in the same way.
I just want to start off by speaking to the government's true agenda, whether it is on the working while on claim program or on its systematic cuts to EI both in the omnibus budget bill and overall. I want to quote a statement made by the Prime Minister in 1997:
In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, I don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance.
That jogs my memory about a very recent statement that we heard from the gentleman running for the presidency of the U.S., Mr. Mitt Romney, who talked about the 47% of Americans who do not feel sorry for themselves and that he cannot help in power.
This is the kind of language that we see republicans espouse in the country to the south of us, a kind of exclusionary, critical eye on what is really about all of us. This is not about one group of people but who we are as Canadians. We believe in these programs. We believe that these programs should exist and we believe they should be supported. That is why we all contribute to them.
Yet, the Prime Minister of our own country has made such disparaging statements.
Here is another quote, from 2009:
We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it, not when we have significant skills shortages in many parts of the country.
That is a statement made by the Minister of Human Resources.
One quote after another from various ministers and from the Prime Minister himself speak to the underlying idea that employment insurance, frankly, in their minds, should not exist.
However, what they fail to say is what the alternative is for people in an economic cycle, in any economic cycle, who do fall out of work. What they fail to say is that the burden will be, first, on the unemployed themselves, on seasonal workers and on the families who depend on this work, and, second, on the provincial welfare system.
The reality is that the provincial welfare system would be further overloaded, as it has been due to further restrictions on employment insurance in recent years, and would be struggling to support people who will, as a result, fall further down in terms of their quality of life.
I can speak to the region of northern Manitoba that I represent. We started a petition this summer that was signed by thousands of people. Most of them come from communities that depend on seasonal work. I would invite the Prime Minister, the Minister of Human Resources and the Minister of Finance to come to my riding.
The Prime Minister came to Churchill, a community that depends on seasonal work as well. From what I understand this issue did not come up because there was no opportunity to sit down with local people to hear their concerns, to hear about the fact that entire communities depend on seasonal work and to hear the fear people have when they cannot access EI.
What will happen to the seasonal work that maintains their communities? These are not make-work projects. These are things like lake fishing, which helps to feed communities, helps to feed our country and is also part of Canada's export business.
These are things like tourism. The community of Churchill is known as the gem of the north in terms of tourism and its polar bears. The people we need to work there are seasonal workers. Here is a news flash: polar bears do not hang around northern Canada the whole time. They only stay for a while. We need people who can work when the polar bears are there for people to see them.
These are details that are being overlooked and I would like to say by chance. However, there is an insipid and systematic attack on people who do seasonal work and depend on employment insurance.
Perhaps one of the most egregious examples of seasonal work where people are very concerned about what the changes to EI will mean for them is forest firefighting. Every year communities across Canada, such as the ones I represent, are gripped by the fear and the risk that forest fires pose to them. The people we depend on most at the eleventh hour are seasonal forest firefighters. They cannot hang around to do this job all year, because most of the year is winter and we really need them in the spring and summer.
The cuts to EI and the difficulty for seasonal workers to access EI, which they have paid into, put our communities, public safety, the safety of our communities and the safety of entire regions at risk in a very real way. That is not what the role of a government should be.
We hear brash statements about the government's concern for Canada's economic growth. We also hear proud commitments to Canada's north, part of which I have the honour to represent. Yet it does not add up.
We see the attack on employment insurance. We see the attack on seasonal workers and on communities that have helped build this country, communities that are raising the next generation, communities that are helping to diversify the economy to what we ought to have in Canada. Yet the government is not at the table. It is sitting back, ready to bring down everything that we have worked for, that social safety net, that ultimate notion that we all have to be part of finding the solution in good times and bad.
Canadians have an official opposition on their side that will speak for them and work with them in calling for justice on EI and on all the issues that the government is taking the wrong path on.
I stand here proudly with my colleagues in the House on behalf of Canadians to say that we hope that the motion is supported by all of our colleagues. We hope that the government will, once and for all, stop its attack on workers in Canada and ultimately stop its attack on what we are all so proud of, the programs that we have built, the country that we have built and the future that we all hope to be able to contribute to.