Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I stand to speak to this bill and perhaps bring a different perspective to it.
First and foremost, we recognize a good thing when we see it. What we see here is the government bringing in legislation which, for compassionate reasons, would allow individuals to receive employment insurance benefits in certain situations, such as if they have a very sick child, or a crime has been committed and the child has disappeared. There is a valid argument to be made, and I think no one inside the House of Commons needs to be convinced that we need to provide that sort of compassion when reforming our employment insurance system. To that degree, the government deserves some credit.
However, the bill does fall short. Ultimately, the bill will go to committee, will get third reading and will pass. We do not know whether or not there will be amendments brought forward. However, it is important to note that it does fall short in a number of ways.
What is somewhat ironic is that for the last while, members of our caucus from the Atlantic have been talking about their frustration in the minister responsible for employment insurance not recognizing the negative impact her decisions would have on individuals who are receiving employment insurance. Virtually every day we have been trying to explain that to the minister with the hope she will understand the profound impact it would have on those individuals.
The government of the day is offering a very attractive carrot and yes, we will take it. We will pass the bill. However, we want the government to do more. We want the government to revisit some of the decisions that are negatively affecting tens of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast.
I applaud the efforts in particular of my Atlantic colleagues who have been holding the minister's feet to the coals on this particular issue. They are asking her to try, in her very best way, to get a better understanding of that issue.
I have had the opportunity to ask questions during this debate. I have been asking why we are not looking at this in a more comprehensive way. There are many different ways in which we can ultimately argue on compassionate grounds that employment insurance benefits could be given to others.
Throughout time ideas are generated and talked about, but at some point in time we need to act on them.
If we look at the history of employment insurance, we would find that it evolved to what it is today after a lot of healthy debate and discussion both inside and outside this chamber. People might not realize that at one point it was actually under provincial jurisdiction, until Mackenzie King said that we needed a national program. He was prepared to open up a constitutional dialogue so that we could get that authority from the provinces. It went through the 1930s, but it did not work in terms of ultimately acquiring that power. It required that constitutional change and through the efforts of Mackenzie King, we were able to have an employment insurance program.
During the Trudeau years the employment insurance program was expanded. Not only was it meant to provide x number of dollars for an individual who is unemployed, but back in the 1970s, we in the Liberal Party recognized that we needed to play a role in training and retraining to ensure that individuals who lost their jobs were also being provided some assistance in acquiring skills to enable them to get a better job, or at least some form of employment so that they could provide for themselves and their family.
These are the types of things that have been evolving over the years and, yes, there have been some changes that maybe have not worked in everyone's favour. However, for the most part it has evolved into the relatively healthy program that it is today. It is one of those fundamental social programs that Canadians expect the government to maintain and move forward on.
Even the Auditor General of Canada has recognized what the Chrétien and the Paul Martin governments did in the 1990s in ensuring that it is all-in-one in terms of the general revenues. Many of the surpluses that the NDP members refer to actually went toward the funding of health care transfers, equalization payments and other programs that assisted real people, but the Auditor General of Canada recognized that this is something that should be all together.
We have seen governments, at least in the past, show that while we want the employers and the employees to be able to contribute, at times there is a need for the government to also go into the general revenues and provide the funds needed for future programs and potential further employment insurance benefits.
That is why we have had leaders of the Liberal Party, particularly Mr. Ignatieff, talk about extending on compassionate grounds the opportunity for a sibling or a spouse to provide firsthand care and to be with loved ones in their dying days. It was costed out at somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1 billion but it would be money well spent because Canadians expect their government to be there. It is one of the things that distinguish us from most, if not all, other countries around the world. We have demonstrated through our social programming that we can make a difference and we can make a difference through employment insurance programs.
Liberals have consistently articulated it, whether Mackenzie King as a Liberal prime minister during the 1940s or the Trudeau era of the 1970s that expanded the program to incorporate retraining or the idea of pooling resources to ensure the longevity of the program during the Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien years. We have done so because we believe that employment insurance is an obligation that we have to citizens, to all workers and to those who have the misfortune of being laid off or are unable to be employed for whatever reasons. People need to know that the government is going to ensure that their money, as my colleague points out, is being well distributed in a compassionate, caring way—