Mr. Speaker, I am not at all pleased to be rising in the House today. In general, I am happy, indeed very happy to be here, but I am less happy to have to debate this issue.
I will say at the outset that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.
I would like to go back a few years in time to the root of the matter to remind hon. members that the problem we are facing today has been fabricated. It has been created by those who are now exploiting it for the purpose of making decisions that are truly contemptuous of Canadians in general, more particularly Canadians who are currently having trouble finding a job.
If, a few years ago, the Liberal and Conservative governments had not dipped into this fund, which Canadian workers paid into out of their own pockets, it would now stand at more than $50 billion and not be an underfinanced fund of less than $2 billion. Now, the government can exploit the idea that the fund needs attention because it will be short of money. It can say that people are abusing this paltry sum of $2 billion. Collectively, we had produced a $50 billion cushion, but it is no longer there. If we had that money today, we could introduce a pilot project to help the regions solve the problems the seasonal industries are facing. There would not be a problem.
There could be a major reform to do exactly what countries with few human resource problems, such as Germany and Norway, are currently doing: focus on ensuring the money is used for their obsession with ongoing training. That is the key. In Germany and Norway, when someone wants to take a course, they do not take away his employment insurance benefits if that course serves economic needs. If someone does not know how to read but wants to learn, he does not lose his benefits. He is asked if he is able to learn to read within a certain number of weeks. Those countries have understood that if they support their citizens in learning basic skills or trades that are in great demand, the entire community will be more prosperous in the short and medium terms.
If Canada had the $50 billion in its possession right now, it could start establishing those policies across Canada and see Canada become as prosperous as Norway and Germany.
I would like to remind the House that the two countries in question are not at the same end of the spectrum. The Norwegians are clearly social democrats, but the situation is not that clear in Germany. However, both countries share this obsession with ongoing training and use job search tools with a view to training people. And yet they are stuck in an economic quagmire much worse than ours.
The U.S. economy is struggling to get back on its feet, but it is not a disaster. Yet, these two economies are located close to partners, Greece and Spain, which are having major problems and are on the verge of economic disaster. Despite this terrible mess, they are succeeding with fewer human resource problems and a level of prosperity that is comparable or superior to our own. They have not used tools as big as $50 billion to help people prepare for employment. This money was squandered on all sorts of things, so that now this government can exploit the bogus underfunding of what should have been a major tool for Canada’s prosperity.
Now we have before us Bill C-38, which reduces human resource and environmental problems to budgetary issues. The budget will fix everything.
I made an important note to myself: the budget is the top priority. The proof of this is that the vast majority of NDP governments in the provinces have an exemplary roadmap enabling them to deliver balanced budgets, with a few rare exceptions. Overall, the NDP has been more successful in this regard than other provincial governments. It is a top priority.
The problem, when it comes to the big issues and the major responsibilities in society—the environment and human resources—is that when things are limited to a budgetary analysis, it is easy to lose sight of the investment and sustainability side of things.
This is normal. If I am responsible for the budget, the only question I ask myself is whether I can save $2 tomorrow. I want to save $2 tomorrow. I do not ask myself whether that $2 is going to cost us $25 in terms of loss of skills and investments for the future. Bill C-38, the mammoth budget bill, reduces hugely important responsibilities, such as the environment and human resources, to a simple budgetary calculation, and nothing lacks long-term vision more than that.
My next comments will focus on what is happening in the regions. Since I was elected, Service Canada centres have actually been closed in the regions despite the fact that in the last election campaign the Conservative Party unveiled with great fanfare, in Quebec at least, a slogan that read “power to the regions”—that vaguely reminded me of slogans from a gentleman by the name of Duplessis, in Quebec—and despite the fact that for 40 days they plastered telephone poles with the slogan. In towns in my riding, 20%, 25% or 30% of the postal services have been closed.
We have just learned that there will be a 50% cut in rail service between Halifax and Toronto. Why not? The government is going to hit the tourism industry hard. Why not also arrange things so that fewer tourists can take the night train to go and spend a week in the maritime provinces or Quebec? Why not? An excellent idea, good timing, terrific.
And now here we are, dealing with this employment insurance reform that deals a huge blow to the tourism industry, which by its very nature is highly seasonal. Many regions are extremely attractive in the summer, but not in winter. They therefore find it difficult to develop. Even the most brilliant business people in these regions are unable to develop a 12-month cycle. Believe me, if they could they would. These are business people and they are brilliant. If there was a way to come up with an initiative that would be the least bit viable in December, January and February, they would do it.
For almost a month now, in my role as the NDP critic for SMEs and tourism, I have met with many people from Quebec and the maritime provinces. I met with Minister Paris in Nova Scotia. And of course, I met with the organizations in my own bailiwick, such as Tourisme Rivière-du-Loup. I met with the people who handle tourism for the Acadians, those who administer tourism for all of Newfoundland and Labrador and all of Nova Scotia, and those who handle special tourism development projects in southern Nova Scotia.
I met with dozens of organizations. Fully one-third of them said that they were worried. Two-thirds told me that they were truly angry about the decisions currently being made. They all said that they had never been consulted. We are talking about an industry that is worth billions of dollars. We are talking about close to $1 billion for New Brunswick alone, approximately $2 billion for Nova Scotia and over $5 billion for eastern Quebec. We are talking about a multi-billion dollar industry that necessarily goes through difficult economic cycles. The people in this industry are therefore directly affected by the kind of employment insurance reforms that are going to be forced down the throats of Canadians, even though they were never consulted.
The current government is telling them not to worry because of the so-called “reasonable””clause. They put the word “reasonable” in their bill. The word means absolutely nothing if it is not defined first. It will be reasonable based on what and from whose point of view? I will give just one example of something impossible.
Like me, a senior Conservative government official from eastern Canada asked the question, and he had no more of an answer than I did. Let us imagine a hotel manager who, in the four winter months, loses 80% of his business. It is a seasonal industry and there is no ski hill beside his inn. Will he work at the corner hardware store for four months?
The businessman who owns the corner hardware store knows that the hotel manager is a bright man and, for years, he has not hired him for those four months because it is not cost-effective to give him two months of training for him to learn all about paint, when he will then leave to go back to the hotel.
Business people in the regions are not idiots. They are bright people. I find this government extraordinarily presumptuous when it says that it will establish a system that will finally work for them.