Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for his excellent speech and for his passionate work on the EI issue. He is a great MP for the constituents of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.
We are having a very important debate today on the issue of employment insurance.
Our economy has been through many ups and downs over the last number of years. We have seen booms and busts. We have seen rapid technological change. We have seen globalization. We have seen the complete undermining of our manufacturing sector and hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs lost in this country.
Certainly in my province of Ontario, we still see communities that are on very hard times because of the loss of those good manufacturing jobs. When people do manage to find other work, sometimes after many months of looking, it is usually at a much lower rate of pay, and this has meant that many families are struggling to adapt. People have lost homes. They have had to move to other communities. It has broken up families. It has been a very difficult number of years.
In most modern developed countries, there are adjustment programs to help working people and businesses adapt to a changing economy. What do I mean by adjust? Adjustment programs will help with income support. They will help with training. They can help with job search. A whole range of supports can often be available.
While we see the economy shifting and changes taking place, it seems as though much of the risk involved in this change is borne by working people, whereas much of the benefits go to employers, who are doing very well. Companies are sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars in cash that they are not investing in the broader economy. They are doing very well, but we see many Canadian families struggling.
Workers are taking on much of the risk, and employment insurance was designed to help working people adapt so that we would not be in the situation that my grandparents were in during the Great Depression. At that time, if an individual was out of work, they had literally nothing. My mother tells me that when she was a child, her father, who was unemployed, had to go out and hunt for rabbits. Her mom would skin and clean the rabbits, and my mom would go door to door selling these rabbits to try to get money for them to live, because they were practically destitute.
We do not want people in this country to be destitute, because we are a wealthy country. Employment insurance was designed to help our economy and the people in it adapt to change. However, during the 12 years of the majority Liberal governments, what did we see? Unemployment insurance became employment insurance, and the rules changed. Where once more than 80% of unemployed workers received benefits if they were unemployed, suddenly fewer and fewer people were qualifying, and the number went down to around 45%.
That was a period when the economy had been growing during that part of the economic cycle. The economy was putting more money into the EI fund, and there was a big surplus. What should happen is that we would have a surplus during the good times, and when the economy went down, we would use that surplus to pay out benefits to protect working people. That was what it was designed for.
Instead, the Liberals used that surplus, $54 billion worth, to balance the budget.
What did they do when they balanced the budget? They gave corporations a great big fat corporate tax break. That is what they did, and those corporations put that money into their back pockets and said, “Thanks very much.” There was not even a requirement for them to create new jobs.
Then the Conservatives came in and did the same thing. They took another $3 billion out of the fund and put it into general revenues. Then they gave more corporate tax cuts, and companies said, “Thank you very much” and took that money. They are now sitting on over $600 billion of corporate revenues, and today fewer than 40% of working people who are unemployed get access to EI benefits. In Toronto, the number is 17%. That is in our largest city, one of the most expensive cities in this country.
What did the Conservatives want to do today, now that they and their predecessors, the Liberals, have stolen this money from EI and now that they have denied so many people access to EI benefits? They want to give employers, small businesses, another EI tax break. That means employees, workers, would continue paying the same amount, but employers would get a break. That does not help any unemployed workers. It does not give one more unemployed worker any more benefit. It takes more money out of the EI fund.
What do their cousins in the Liberal Party, who have a similar approach to the economy, want to do? They want to expand that and give it to everybody. Employers would not have to prove that they have created a new job. The Liberals would just give everybody, all the businesses, a break on their EI premiums, while the workers would still have to pay the same amount.
Also, their math is wrong in their proposal, which I suppose is not shocking. I suppose we should have expected that from the Liberals.
However, it is not going to help the working people who need to access EI. If they wanted to do what the Conservatives have done, an idea the Conservatives borrowed from us earlier, which is to give a tax credit to small businesses that create jobs, we support that idea. It was our idea. The Conservatives took it.
We supported that idea. We thought it was a good idea. We disagreed when they cancelled that plan, because it was a job creator. Now there is this idea to further plunder the EI fund and give that money back to employers, when it ought to be going to unemployed workers who desperately need that money now.
I can tell members that there are people living in my riding who have to make a decision every month about whether they buy food or keep a roof over their heads. They have to walk miles because they cannot afford the TTC. There are people who are truly struggling, not just in my town but across this country. It is a disgrace that some in this House are trying to pull the wool over people's eyes by saying that they are trying to do something for unemployed workers. The government is overseeing a stagnating economy, and their handmaidens in the Liberal Party are just helping the Conservatives pull the wool over people's eyes.
Canadians do not have a choice between the bad economics of the Conservative Party and the bad math of the Liberal Party, but they can choose a party that will defend working people, a party that has really good, strong, progressive ideas for growing this economy. That is the New Democratic Party.
I want to make it very clear that New Democrats do not support this idea that they are proposing. What we do support is protecting the EI account so that the money in that account cannot be plundered and will be used for the purpose for which it was designed—that is, as an adjustment program to help working people adjust during a period of calamity for them, which is when they lose their jobs.
We do support a hiring tax credit. We do not think it is a panacea, but it would be a positive thing to do. We support restoring higher benefits so that when people do lose jobs, they would receive benefits to protect them during that time of turmoil.
We also have a lot of good ideas about how to create jobs in this country. We call on government to play a leadership role and to set a path that would give business confidence. A strong, stable, New Democratic government at the helm would encourage business to invest and create jobs, but we do not support this plan that we are being offered today.