Mr. Speaker, on October 2, I rose in the House to ask a question about problems with employment insurance. During the election campaign, the Liberals made many promises in that regard. Solving the spring gap problem was one of them. After two years, however, the problem has still not been resolved. Despite the promises, many seasonal workers will again have no income next spring.
Although urgent action is needed, the Liberal government still cannot find a real solution to help families who are in a precarious situation because of its failure to act. More than 16,000 seasonal workers are grappling with the spring gap, and almost 40% of them are Quebeckers. The majority of these seasonal workers will once again run out of EI benefits up to four months before they are to return to work. These people are not just numbers, they are people who are suffering a great deal of stress and are afraid that they will not be able to feed their families at the end of winter.
What makes this even harder to understand is that we saw this crisis coming. When the unemployment rate goes down in some regions, it has an impact on eligibility for EI. The new calculation can shorten the benefit period for workers, making the spring gap even longer. For example, in the Restigouche-Albert region of New Brunswick, where the unemployment rate has gone down, workers now have to accumulate 490 hours of work to be eligible for 23 weeks of benefits, whereas they previously had to work 420 hours for 30 weeks of benefits. Workers now have to go even longer without an income, even though the work resumes on the same date the following spring. Imagine going almost 21 weeks with no benefits and no income. It is impossible.
The worst thing about this is that the Liberals continue to blame the Conservatives, when in reality, the extended spring gap is a direct consequence of a mechanism put in place by the Liberals in 1995. Since then, the regional unemployment rate has been an integral part of the EI eligibility criteria. Today, the government insists that the solution is to wait for the unemployment rate to go up. What a joke. A lower unemployment rate should be good news, but in this case it spells bad news for seasonal workers.
That is not the only promise the Liberals have broken with regard to EI. In December 2016, the Prime Minister himself promised to take swift action to extend EI sickness benefits. A year later, guess what, we are still waiting. More than a third of recipients need far more than the 15 weeks set out in the program. It makes no sense.
Fifteen weeks of sick leave is not enough, especially for someone struggling with serious health problems. We cannot expect people who are sick to get better when they are under a tremendous financial strain. EI is important for everyone, including people who are ill and seasonal workers.
When will the government finally do whatever it takes to fix all the problems associated with EI, so that all Canadians receive the benefits they are entitled to?