Mr. Speaker, we are currently debating Bill C-4. A debate is fine, but it would have been nice if the government had observed the rules of democracy from start to finish.
Near the end of her speech, my colleague said that the government could have prorogued Parliament for just 24 hours, rather than the five weeks. Like all bills, this bill may contain flaws that we might not notice at first glance, which is why the parliamentary process is useful, as it allows us to study the bill properly and hear from witnesses. That will all be impossible, unfortunately. We have to accept it, since now the government wants to fast track this bill, ignoring the need for rigorous, thorough analysis.
Not that the situation is not urgent; far from it. As we have been saying from the outset, a work incentive should have been included in the CERB way back in April. The lack of any incentive may have gone unnoticed when we were in lockdown, when virtually everything ground to a halt. That said, over the summer, Quebec tried to lift the lockdown and get the job market moving again. It was an extremely difficult situation.
Let's be honest. The CERB is not the only factor causing problems for employment. In times of uncertainty and fear, it is easy to imagine that many workers are afraid or do not really want to go back to work.
Let's get to the heart of the matter. As we know, the Bloc strongly favours workers. For that reason, as we have said, we support Bill C-4 in principle. We are naturally in favour of the idea of benefits that incentivize going back to work and that support people who have to stay home from work because they are sick or self-isolating. We are naturally in favour of providing support to those who would be putting themselves at risk by going to work. We are naturally in favour of supporting caregivers. That goes without saying. There is no problem there.
Furthermore, the bill will probably help unemployed workers, whether they are salaried or self-employed. Capping the benefit at $500 a week is entirely appropriate because under this new program, if an employer brings rehires an employee on a part-time basis, the employee does not lose the $500. My beloved riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot is very reliant on agriculture and agri-food and is heavily dominated by the service sector. The coming into force of Bill C-4 will certainly do it some good. It will have a positive effect. While the CERB was rigid and vanished as soon as workers earned more than $1,000 a month, Bill C-4 adjusts the benefit in proportion to income. No worker will lose their income because they want to ply their trade. That is what the Bloc has been calling for since the spring. So much the better.
We are also in favour of support for caregivers. However, we think it would have made more sense to extend the benefit to parents of children aged zero to 16, instead of 0 to 11, purely because school is mandatory up until the age of 16. It is as simple as that.
We hope to be worthy of speaking for Quebec workers. Two days ago, Pierre Céré, from the Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses, said that these benefits will ultimately support the economy as the second wave begins. These benefits will help people pay their rent or mortgage and bolster consumer spending. These benefits will help keep the economy operating at a certain level during these difficult times.
Yesterday I also spoke about this with Mouvement action chômage in Saint-Hyacinthe, a partner of my office. This organization thinks the bill is worthwhile, which is similar to our position. We think the bill is worthwhile, but woefully inadequate, and we think it contains some grey areas. Some other aspects are worthy of mention, such as the single eligibility criterion, which we have not seen since 1977; the elimination of the waiting period until October 25; the 26-week minimum; the reduction of hours to 120; and the reduction of sanctions for terminations that are deemed invalid. In addition, the benefits system is much more flexible. The bill does contain all kinds of good ideas. As members know, the Bloc would prefer that Quebec be allowed to administer its own program and its own EI fund.
The fact remains that this bill contains many of our long-held ideas and requests, along with several things that unions and lobby groups have been calling for for decades.
It even makes good on some election promises that the Liberals made in 2015 but did not keep.
Some may say that all that is fine and dandy, but that is precisely the problem. Why did it take a pandemic for this to happen?
The pandemic did not create the difficult conditions for unemployed workers. It simply exacerbated a situation that has existed for a long time. The major difference is that all of the demands and proposals that I shared with the House, our own and those of the unions and lobby groups, centred on an overhaul of the EI system, not a temporary fix. It almost seems as though the Canadian parties are leaving some wiggle room so that they can go back to the way things were as soon as the opportunity arises.
What will happen when the pandemic is over? Will we go back to the old EI system, or will Bill C-4 be the basis for real, lasting change?
Over the last 20 years and more, the EI system has been slowly but thoroughly dismantled. Fewer and fewer people qualify for benefits. Only four out of 10 unemployed workers have access to the program.
I remember that when I first became involved in politics about 10 years ago, during the election campaign, there were already posters asking who had stolen money from unemployed workers. Unfortunately, nothing has changed. Employment insurance has been altered so drastically that it can almost be seen as more of a tax than an actual assistance program. That says it all.
The National Assembly has adopted several unanimous motions calling on Ottawa to stop making changes that negatively impact Quebec workers. The story is always the same, no matter which party is in power in Ottawa or which party is in power in Quebec City. We are being accused of engaging in constitutional squabbling. I am not afraid to talk about the Constitution. The Constitution applies to us until proven otherwise, so we should be talking about it.
Ever since 1996, Ottawa has orchestrated an outright misappropriation of money from the employment insurance fund. Surpluses have been transferred to the federal government's consolidated revenue fund. In 2014, the real government of Canada, the Supreme Court, overturned Quebec unions' case against Ottawa for misappropriating nearly $60 billion from the fund. Canada's highest court, which some see as the government of judges, allowed that money to be diverted. Then, in 2008, the Supreme Court found that surpluses were illegally diverted in 2002, 2003 and 2005, but it did not require the government to pay back what it took. What kind of a lesson is that? In all, workers were stripped of several billion dollars. All that shows a consistently predatory approach to employment insurance.
To sum up, we are not happy with the way Bill C-4 was imposed, but we do support, to an extent, much of what it contains. Here is the real question: Is this a major step on the path to concrete, long-term change, or is this a temporary change that will evaporate the moment the crisis is behind us?
It would be good to ask the parties seeking to govern Canada about this. If the past is an indicator of the future, we have good reason to be worried—quite worried. Luckily, the Bloc will not give up the fight.