Mr. Speaker, in order for politicians to get through their very long days and heavy schedules, they have to take some pleasure in what they are doing. I must admit, however, that I did not enjoy reading Bill C-4 at all.
I therefore took a few minutes before writing these words to escape into my own mind a bit, and my thoughts turned to movies. I really had the feeling as I read through Bill C-4 that I was being shown an old movie—I am trying to refrain from saying a really bad one—in which I had played a role. I began to imagine the titles I could give to it.
If it were a French film, we could call it Rebelote. If it were an American film, we could call it The Empire Strikes Back. I must admit I spent a few moments imagining certain members of the party across the way wearing the emperor's costume or dressed as Darth Vader. I will not name them, but I will leave it up to my colleagues to picture them, given that Halloween is this week.
After these few amusing moments I allowed myself, I came back to more serious things and thought I would perhaps begin my speech with a reference to the words of the anti-slavery Republican President Abraham Lincoln, who defined democracy in the following way:
Democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people.
That is quite simple, but quite concrete. I will not analyze this wonderful definition in detail, but the more time goes by under the Conservative regime, the more certain I become that our country is straying dangerously far from that democratic ideal.
When day after day I see how the members of this government, the Prime Minister's Office and the Prime Minister himself seem mired in expense scandals, questionable deals made behind Canadians' backs, the silencing of dissident voices and the introduction of measures that are so complex that people feel their basic rights are being breached, I sincerely worry about the very future of our parliamentary system.
For the fourth time in two and a half years, this government is trying to circumvent parliamentary and public oversight. As the saying goes, just the once will not hurt, but four times in two and a half years means it is becoming a habit for this government.
Canadians deserve better than a Conservative omnibus bill that again hurts Canadian families by increasing the cost of living and that creates very few or no jobs when all is said and done. This bill is very big. Its 300-odd pages cover 70 acts, and we have only a few days or a few weeks, to study such a bill. The entire package will very likely be studied by the Standing Committee on Finance, which must really have significant expertise in appointing Supreme Court justices, employment insurance and immigration. The committee members are exceedingly multi-talented.
I often wonder what I am doing in the House, if not fighting for democracy. These bills are so huge that it becomes very difficult to properly analyze and fully understand them. They usually contain an alarming number of wide-ranging measures intended to hide other controversial ones, such as the measures attacking Canada's public service.
For months now, the government's methods and attitude when it comes to employment insurance matters have been symptomatic of the Conservative ministers' inability to implement a policy and measures to move the country forward. These same ministers are being given more and more power with each omnibus bill.
The democratic process that is based on dialogue and collaboration was so violated that the reform turned into a hatchet job. Everywhere I go, Canadians feel attacked, deeply hurt and, worse than anything, poorer. When people feel poorer, it is because they can see it when they manage their weekly budget.
This is why we as NDP members are categorically opposed to this bill. The reasons are many, but I am going to focus on several points that deal specifically with employment insurance.
The NDP has opposed this reform from the outset. After months of consultation in the field, we came to the obvious conclusion that employment insurance reform is an economic failure and it has to be stopped as quickly as possible.
Curiously, in the provinces most affected by the reform, it is the provincial governments that now have to work to assess the disastrous consequences it brings. That is co-operation for you.
It does not make any sense. It is disrespectful for a federal government to refuse to work with its partners in other levels of government, or with practically all the members of this House. Even inside the federal government, voices are being raised to decry the way in which the government is imposing its ideology on such a sensitive issue.
I have given up counting the times when federal officials, who have always worked to serve their fellow Canadians, have shown their distress and their incomprehension at the authoritarian and brutal methods with which they are required to process claimants' files.
Unfortunately, these are not just files that have to be processed with profit-making quotas, probably. These are families that need help. That is the approach that the public service used to have. It is about supporting communities and stimulating the economy.
Bill C-4 follows the same path as the three previous omnibus bills. I am talking about Bills C-38, C-45 and C-60. Now Bill C-4 is amending 70 pieces of legislation and adding two completely new acts. I hope for the next time that this is enough. It also includes such measures as the one to abolish the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board.
To be specific, Bill C-4 abolishes the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board and gives the Minister of Finance the power to manipulate rate-setting. Yet another power gathered unto the bosom of a minister. What does the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board do, or what is it supposed to do? Well, surprise, surprise, the answers in the bill are quite vague. We might say that there are none.
When the Conservatives set up the Employment Insurance Financing Board in 2008, we might have thought that they were headed in the right direction. We heard it said repeatedly in the House that this was probably a step in the right direction. However, one step forward, two steps back—that is what we have become used to with them. We thought that it might be the very tool to prevent successive governments from stealing employment insurance funds to eliminate other deficits. We expected the board to really prevent another misappropriation of that fund such as we saw under the Chrétien and Martin governments.
At that time, tens of billions of dollars in worker and employer premiums were simply stolen by the government. However, when it comes to the Conservatives, appearances can be deceiving and should never be trusted. The board remained a good intention, but in actual fact it is an empty shell, an institution without a soul, without powers and without purpose.
Let us go a bit further. The Employment Insurance Financing Board seems to bother the Conservative government. Why is this organization so bothersome? Why does it want to abolish it?
By eliminating the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, once again the government is toying dangerously with morality. However, we feel it is essential to guarantee the protection of the premiums paid by employers and workers throughout Canada. It is a matter of social justice and fairness for all. Who among us can be sure that he or she will have a job for life and will never have to turn to employment insurance? The answer is simple—no one can.
Why continually attack those who are looking for work? Why does the government constantly attack those who are having trouble finding long-term, stable, permanent employment?
In conclusion, unemployment is of course a major concern for NDP members. We will introduce reforms to create jobs and curtail employment uncertainty everywhere in Canada as early as 2015, and even earlier.
In 2015, when we replace this tired government that is mired in scandals, we will restore a mechanism to protect the employment insurance fund so that the money that is put into it is used in the way it was intended.