Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague who did some duty work, even on the standing committee, allowing me to be near my wife as she was giving birth to our second child. However, now I am back.
To hear the comments that some of my colleagues opposite have made since I returned early this afternoon, one would think that they do not often get out into the community to see the people on employment insurance and the social fabric that the governments have tried to put in place in the past 50 years, since World War II, in order to help people at specific times in their lives, especially when they lose their jobs.
We are not going to talk about social housing or old age security, but about employment insurance, because this vital program to help people in an industrialized and modern country has also been abused.
Employment insurance was created after the Second World War, on the eve of the 30 glorious years, to give employees and employers a tool that would guarantee employees a stable income during the transition period between two jobs, but also, and more importantly, during temporary layoffs, since that is always happening in the manufacturing industry.
The employment insurance program allowed employers to keep a skilled workforce that was available as soon as business picked up. In other words, it provided an income to employees who were temporarily laid off so that they could pay their rent, feed their families and purchase essentials, such as clothing and school materials. When employees went back to work, they would pick up their daily tasks where they left off, as though nothing had happened, and no training was needed. Of course, they sometimes needed to upgrade their skills, but the workers came back and carried out their duties properly.
Over the past few decades, industries that rely on seasonal and temporary jobs have developed. Although they sometimes involve non-standard employment, these industries contribute to the regional economy. Take for example tourism, agriculture and the fishery.
What happens when employment insurance is not there to fulfill its basic mandate, which is to meet the needs of Canadians, allow the regions to continue to survive and stabilize their economy? Employers lose their workers and have to train new ones, which costs them time and money.
That is an important part of the equation, since seasonal workers are not slackers. They are skilled men and women and single-parent families that often live in the regions. This sector of economic activity is often found in the regions.
When the government eliminates social housing programs, makes it harder to access old age pensions, cuts services for people with disabilities and does not provide employment insurance when needed, communities are destroyed and people can become disengaged. People no longer believe in the economy and no longer trust these governments. Some will even become disengaged, and it leads to domestic violence, suicide attempts, and so on.
The local economy includes the restaurants in the little village or the municipality, the credit union, the post office. When all of that disappears, the social fabric is torn. That is what we are currently seeing in Canada's regions.
I will be speaking on behalf of the regions because that is where it hurts the most. There are a number of urban sectors in which things are going well, but in which there are still high unemployment rates, especially among young people and women. These are people who are often looking for work and who are left behind. If they are also denied access to employment insurance, it is catastrophic in many regions of Canada.
I will talk about the Eastern Townships. Back home, we rely on agriculture, forestry, tourism and culture. These are all of the industries that bring in billions of dollars and provide tens of thousands of jobs. These are people who still believe that they deserve their job. When the time comes they are prepared to go back to those jobs. Perhaps we should make employment insurance more accessible to self-employed workers. There are some needs there as well. People do not have access to employment insurance even though the employer and the employee paid their premiums.
The system works. It can work. Someone is whispering that it could be a lot more effective. It is not effective. In the past, eight or nine people out of 10 who had paid into the employment insurance fund had access to it; now it is four people. Sometimes it is less than four. Why? Because there are so many hassles and refusals. No one will talk to these people. The administrative tribunals are stretched to the limit. People give up. We cannot even include them in the workforce statistics. They are not even unemployed. They are no longer workers. Where are they? Are they working under the table? I do not know where they are, but these people have paid into the employment insurance system and they are entitled to employment insurance.
Canada is one of the industrialized countries where the system is the most callous toward the unemployed.
I am going to tell the story of a company in the Eastern Townships where the workers had 20 or 30 years’ experience. The company closed down overnight. There were no layoffs; the whole company closed down. There were so many hassles that half of the people who were entitled to employment insurance ultimately never had access to it. These people found themselves unemployed, with three or four years of mortgage payments still to make. They had worked and contributed their whole lives, and then they were refused access to employment insurance. The employer and the employees had paid their premiums. The money is not there. What is happening with this system?
I must correct what I said earlier. I said that the system worked, but it does not.
In the early days of the scandal involving the $50 billion that was misappropriated by the Liberals, who did a really fine job that was continued by the Conservatives, one of my former economics professors, Jean Lacharité, told me that the workers had worked their whole lives and contributed to a system that was supposed to be there to serve a purpose: to fill a temporary need and help people move from one stage to the next.
A rich, modern, industrialized country like ours needs an effective employment insurance system. With a motion like the one put forward by my colleague from Trois-Rivières and especially with the NDP in power in the fall, in a few months, we will put things right. There will be no more hoops for the unemployed to jump through. Workers will be working in a prosperous economy.