Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to talk about employment insurance. I want to commend my colleague from Trois-Rivières on the excellent work that he does. He moved this motion that allows me to speak in the House about the employment insurance program and how important it is.
The motion reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, employment insurance premiums paid by employers and workers must be used exclusively to finance benefits, as defined by the Employment Insurance Act, for unemployed workers and their families...
The motion goes on to explain how that would be accomplished.
What my colleague from Trois-Rivières presented is very important, and I know that he has been working very hard on this issue for some time now. It is an important issue that we have worked extremely hard on. Of course, we criticized the tens of billions of dollars in cuts that the Liberals and then the Conservatives made. In reality, they dipped into the EI fund in order to lower taxes for multinationals, corporations, instead of using that money for good.
I would like to point out that, in Drummond, I work with local organizations in order to serve the interests of my constituents. One of these organizations is the Regroupement de défense des droits sociaux des sans-emploi, or RDDS. This non-profit organization provides services to everyone, whether employed or unemployed, who wants to really learn all about their rights in terms of financial assistance of last resort, including employment insurance and labour standards. I have been working with this organization since 2011. I know it well and it has informed me about the problems of certain workers. We have worked together to meet the needs of these people and we continue to do so.
RDDS's mission is to improve the living conditions of employed or unemployed people and to help empower them by providing them with information and training on social rights. This organization is very important, and there are similar organizations across Quebec and Canada. They do excellent work and it is crucial to support them and, above all, to listen to them.
The Conservative members need to listen more closely to these organizations. They would understand why the motion moved today is extremely important.
I would like to acknowledge the excellent work done by the president of the Drummondville RDDS, Richard St-Cyr, and all of the other administrators, including Jason Grant, whom I also know very well. I also want to recognize the excellent work of the team: Joan Salvail, Sandra Malenfant and Stéphanie Bombardier. They do an exemplary job.
Recently, I had a meeting with the RDDS and the NDP riding association for Drummond, and we talked about how we could continue to inform people and what we could do to make sure that people are aware of their rights. We had the brilliant idea to invite someone who is a very well-known advocate of workers' rights and the employment insurance program, Hans Marotte, to come and give a speech in Drummondville. As members know, Hans Marotte has been the head of legal services at Mouvement action-chômage de Montréal since 1996. He has therefore been working on this issue for a long time. Mouvement action-chômage de Montréal is a community organization whose mission is to inform and defend workers and the unemployed with regard to employment insurance. Mr. Marotte also practises social and labour law. Mouvement action-chômage de Montréal and the Regroupement de défense des droits sociaux are two organizations that are working toward similar goals.
By way of information, Hans Marotte will also be running in the 2015 election in the riding of Saint-Jean. He is doing excellent work in that regard.
He came and gave a speech, and it was really interesting to learn about the various positions and about how the employment insurance program has changed over the years. First, the Liberals dipped into the EI surplus. Then the Conservatives took billions of dollars from the EI surplus, all at the expense of the people receiving employment insurance, which used to be known as unemployment insurance.
Let us remember one thing. In the past, 80% of people had access to the employment insurance program.
Over the years, Liberal and Conservative governments repeatedly made unfair reforms that did nothing to help our regions and our workers, but that instead made the jobless feel guilty.
There are many seasonal workers in the greater Drummond area, in sectors such as agriculture, forestry and horticulture. These are skilled individuals who have very good values. They have acquired valuable knowledge. The owners of these small businesses do not want to lose these workers. Employment insurance gets them through the off-season, when seasonal work is not available. They need employment insurance.
It is called employment insurance. A worker can apply for employment insurance when an accident or a problem occurs. It is very important. Hans Marotte compares it to car insurance:
I've never heard someone say that they look forward to getting in a car accident so they can file an insurance claim.
This situation is similar.
That goes for jobs too: nobody wants to lose theirs. What I do not understand is how people can get money for their car in three days but have to wait months when it is for their own selves.
See, it is the same thing. It does not make sense. When people have a car accident, they get service right away because they have insurance. They make claims. They get support. They even get temporary use of a car. They get to borrow a car. The insurer covers all of those costs because people pay for that insurance. That is how insurance works.
Employment insurance works differently. People have to fight to get their benefits, and they have to wait. We are talking about human beings and families. These are people with children; they might be the family's sole breadwinner. People are made to feel a bit like criminals when they claim employment insurance. With the new reform, people practically have to beg to get employment insurance even though it is something we should all be entitled to because we, both workers and employers, have paid the premiums for all of the years we have worked. That is why this motion is so important.
Let us take another look at the three specific points, a, b and c, of the motion. Here is what they say:
consequently, the government should: (a) protect workers' and employers' premiums from political interference;
We have watched the Liberals and Conservatives alike dip into the employment insurance fund. As of October 2015, the NDP will be in power. We want to protect us from ourselves and make it impossible for anyone to politically interfere with the EI fund. That is a wise thing to do.
(b) improve program accessibility to ensure that unemployed workers and their families can access it;
We said earlier that eligibility has gone from 80% to just under 40% today. It makes no sense to have an EI system that protects barely 40% of the people. Finally, the motion concludes:
(c) abandon its plan, as set out in Budget 2015, to set rates unilaterally, in order to maintain long-term balance in the fund while improving accessibility.
That is what we want. We want an employment insurance system that is there for Canadians. We want to listen to people on the ground who know what they are talking about. I mentioned the Regroupement de défense des droits sociaux, the RDDS, which is doing a great job. I also talked about Mouvement action-chômage and Hans Marotte, who are also doing a great job. We need to listen to them in order to reform the employment insurance system properly and take the politics out of the EI program. That is what we will do in October 2015 when we come to power.