Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise the House that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Malpeque.
It is a pleasure for me to speak to the jobs and growth act, part of economic action plan 2012, and to talk about how economic action plan 2012 is playing out in my province.
I will give a little refresher for those here. Prince Edward Island is the birthplace of Confederation. It is still a province and thereby an equal partner in Confederation, although sometimes we wonder. Prince Edward Island has 140,000 people. It has a seasonal economy. Its biggest industries are agriculture, the fishery and tourism. Not many potatoes are dug in January, not many fish are caught and not many tourists land in Prince Edward Island through the winter. As a result, through the winter months about 27,000 of its citizens rely on the employment insurance system. The second largest employer in my province is the Government of Canada. One in twenty of all workers is employed by the Government of Canada. The economic policies of the Conservative government as they relate to the civil service and as they relate to employment insurance are absolutely critical.
I want to start with the policies of the government with respect to employment insurance and talk about three of them in particular: the working while on claim provisions that we have heard so much about from the member for Cape Breton—Canso; the frequent user provisions that are part of economic action plan 2012; and something that was quietly done last month, the changes to a pilot program for high employment areas.
I want to tell the House a story about a gentleman by the name of Roger Byers . Roger Byers has given me permission to use his last name because he wants his story to be told. In fact, Roger is going to be at a rally on Saturday in front of the office for the minister of the Canada Revenue Agency and he is going to be telling his story in front of a large crowd.
Roger Byers is a real person. He lives in a real apartment on Hillsborough Street. He works for the city of Charlottetown sweeping streets. He makes $17 an hour, works 40 hours a week, six months of the year. In addition to that six month full-time job, Roger works 20 hours a week calling bingo at a local bingo hall. For six months of the year Roger Byers works 60 hours a week. He is not lazy. For the other six months of the year, he works at the bingo hall making $10 an hour, $200 a week. Under the provisions of economic action plan 2012, $100 of his $200 a week will be clawed back through the winter.
Late on a Friday afternoon on a break week, the government announced that it would make changes to the working while on claim provisions. Mr. Byers had the opportunity to elect under the old rules, which was a much smaller clawback of only about $6 a week. However, those changes will come into effect January, February and March of the new year. Therefore, Mr. Byers, through the winter, will be in a situation where one-half of his wages will be clawed back. That is how he will get through Christmas thanks to economic action plan 2012.
Economic action plan 2012 also targets frequent users of the employment insurance system. Prince Edward Island has 27,000 of them. This will have a devastating effect on our economy.
There is a trend in the country of people moving from small communities to bigger centres and people moving from east to west. Apparently it is not happening fast enough for the government. The economic policies of the government will gut small communities, eastern communities and places that rely on seasonal economies, as it will in my community.
Finally, I want to talk about something that happened just last month.
There was a pilot project to help in areas of high unemployment, such as my province. Quietly, without notice to the participants, without notice to the provinces, this program was cut. This means that people who rely on employment insurance in areas of high unemployment, such as Prince Edward Island, will get five weeks less in benefits. Their benefits will run out in the middle of the winter.
If this is not bad enough for the citizens of Prince Edward Island, what about the provincial government? These people are invariably headed for the welfare rolls. We have the downloading of a social program to another level of government. The provincial government will have to look after these people on the welfare rolls.
However, this is entirely consistent with what the Prime Minister said in 1995, “Caring for the poor is a provincial responsibility”. Now that he has his majority, we see that being played out.
I wish to invite all hon. members to a rally that will take place in front of the office of the Minister of National Revenue on Saturday afternoon at one o'clock. We expect a big crowd. The leader of the Liberal Party will be there. It would be great for members on the government benches to come and listen to how the economic action plan is working on the ground in Prince Edward Island. I would very much appreciate seeing some Conservative members there to listen to how their policies are working.
I indicated at the outset that the second largest employer on Prince Edward Island is the Government of Canada. On page 221 of the budget, there was an indication that when the civil service cuts took place that no region would be unfairly treated, that the regional distribution of civil service jobs would be largely unaffected. However, the cuts to the civil service across the country was 4.8%, but not in Prince Edward Island where it was 10% to 12%. Therefore, when the axe was applied to the civil service, it was applied in the province of Prince Edward Island twice. This is the continuation of a very disturbing trend that we have seen in recent years.
In recent years, the civil service actually had grown across Canada from 2009-2011. There was a growth in civil service jobs in the country of about 2.9%, with 5.1% in Ottawa, but not in Prince Edward Island where it had declined by 3.5%. Therefore, the budget is a further insult to a gradual withdrawal of jobs from my province and it is a direct hit on our economy.
As I have indicated, we have a seasonal economy. We have 27,000 people dependent on employment insurance for their livelihoods during the winter. Some of the good paying jobs in my province are federal civil service jobs, but they are leaving at a rate twice the national average because of the economic policies of the Conservative government.
However, worse than the impact on the civil servants themselves and the businesses they frequent in my community is what is happening to front line services.
In every province in the country, if taxpayers wants to talk to a live person about their income tax returns, they can go in to a Canada Revenue Agency office and speak to a live person, but not in Prince Edward Island. If veterans want to talk to a live person at a district office, they can do that in every province in the country, but not in Prince Edward Island. If immigrants want to talk to a live person about their situation, a person employed by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, they can do that in every province in the country, but not in Prince Edward Island.
Prince Edward Island is still a province. The economic policies of the government are punishing Prince Edward Island. In our country, that is not right.