Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise here in the House to come revisit a question I asked the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development on February 6. I will be coming back to this question frequently over the next few weeks during our adjournment proceedings, because my question deserves an answer. Yet I have received none from either the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development or the Minister of Industry on the situation regarding the consolidation of EI processing sites, and particularly the relocation of the EI processing centre from Rimouski to Thetford Mines.
I will begin by giving a brief history. The consolidation itself was announced five years ago. So, people have known for five years that there would be some kind of consolidation of EI processing services across the country. It was not necessarily a very wise decision, but that is what the government decided. That is the direction it has chosen to take.
In 2009, we found documents, including internal memos, that showed that the decision regarding Quebec had already been made. Only 6 out of 25 EI processing centres would remain, including the EI processing centre in Rimouski.
That decision was confirmed by a number of other documents. The matter was settled. However, in August 2011, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development mentioned in a press release that there would indeed be a consolidation and that the number of employment insurance processing centres would be reduced to six. We already knew that, but of the six remaining centres, Rimouski was out and Thetford Mines was in. This is particularly troubling because Thetford Mines happens to be in the riding of the Minister of Industry, the hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable.
A few days later, in the local papers in the riding of the Minister of Industry and hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable, the minister himself made a statement indicating that this was very good news for his riding and his municipality. According to the minister, this good news came as a result of his presentations to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and the fact that the centre was located in a nice building with qualified people. I do not doubt that, but the decision had already been made in 2009 and had been announced many times.
We have a situation here where we have a Minister of Industry and a Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development who, without any process, any opening, or opportunity for anyone to be able to intervene in the matter, decided behind closed doors to change the location of an employment insurance processing centre. And we have a minister who brags about his role in the transaction.
As the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, I too could have made presentations to the minister if the process had been open, if there had been a fair process for such a transfer, but there was not.
What we have here is an arbitrary, unilateral decision by the minister, with a suggestion by the Minister of Industry, to change the location of the employment insurance processing centre and ask the 37 people who work there to move to Thetford Mines.
There are people who left Saguenay, Rivière-du-Loup and other parts of Quebec to go and work in the employment insurance processing centre in Rimouski because they were told that it was going to remain there. They have thus already had to move once to go to Rimouski. They were happy in the riding, in Rimouski, which is a very beautiful city. Now, they are being asked to move to Thetford Mines. Why? It is just because the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and the Minister of Industry decided that is how it should be.
On February 6, in the House, I asked how the process was done, why the decision was actually made and why the government, which is currently so set on trying to reduce spending—as we saw in budget 2012—was going to now close the employment insurance processing centre in Rimouski. The closure of this centre will result in the loss of 37 jobs for the region and the government will have to pay, among other costs, over $1.2 million in rent for a building in the riding that it will no longer be using. All this at a time when there are major delays in the processing of employment insurance claims.
I would therefore like an answer. Why did the minister make this decision without a competitive process behind closed doors?