Mr. Speaker, I said in an earlier speech that I thought it would be my last speech before retiring, but here I am again. I am sort of like a dirty penny.
It is with pleasure today to join in the final hour of debate on Motion No. 475. For clarification, the motion reads:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should modify the Employment Insurance (EI) program to establish specific status for seasonal workers, regardless of the EI economic region in which they live.
In effect, as I understand the previous debate on this motion, the hon. member who introduced it is seeking to establish this special status for seasonal workers regardless of where they happen to live in the EI economic regions across the country. In effect, this would create special eligibility requirements for all seasonal workers.
I believe that in order to fully debate this kind of motion, it would be profitable for us to take a step back and review the employment insurance program overall. That will set the context by which we can adequately look at the workings of Motion No. 475.
As we all know, the employment insurance program, or unemployment insurance as it was once known, was originally intended to provide temporary assistance to workers who found themselves unexpectedly out of work. Its original and intended objective was that both employees and employers would contribute to an insurance fund that would provide workers with the short term means to continue to meet their financial obligations in the event that they were laid off.
Unfortunately, however, past governments, and the Liberal government in particular, have used and abused the financial and political implications of the EI program much to their own advantage, regardless of the implications to the individual workers and employers.
In the November 2003 Auditor General's report, with which I am certain all Liberal members are now very well acquainted, there were several crucial points brought forward. The unfortunate point is that while the Auditor General has been able to confirm the numbers, the official opposition has brought forward many of the same points in the past, only to be ignored by the government.
Here are just a few of the points that came out of the November 2003 Auditor General's report. In 2001, 15.1 million Canadians contributed to the employment insurance benefits program and 2.4 million actually received benefits. The EI account surplus has reached $43.8 billion. This is money that has been wrongly taxed from working Canadians. This is money that should have remained in the taxpayer's pocket. This is money that the current Prime Minister, when he was finance minister, used to balance the budget. He simply balanced it on the backs of working Canadians.
Furthermore, and this is nothing new, the Auditor General has brought this same issue to the attention of Parliament since 1999.
Another point from the Auditor General's report of last year is that the current surplus is about three times the maximum reserve that the chief actuary of HRDC considered sufficient in the year 2001. Three times is a 300% overrun collected from employees and employers. That is money that could have been used by the employees for personal expenses, put toward their child's education or to enjoy a well deserved family holiday. That is money that the employers could have used to hire and train new staff, to replace old equipment or expand their market share.
In 1996, the Employment Insurance Act went through a series of changes. Unfortunately, neither the Canada Employment Insurance Commission nor Human Resources Development Canada have reported on what savings have resulted from these changes. It is indeed unfortunate that HRDC is so selective with its own performance measurements.
In her closing remarks of chapter 7, the Auditor General made several recommendations concerning EI. Among them were the following: First, that HRDC ensure performance targets are met across the country and that the causes of performance problems be further assessed. This seems like an obvious target. Unfortunately, the EI program has not always been properly monitored and acted upon.
The second recommendation was that HRDC should design and implement an evaluation plan for the EI income benefits program.
The third recommendation was that CEIC should ensure that all changes to the EI Act are monitored, assessed and evaluated.
Unfortunately, the EI program has been used by this very tired old Liberal government as a regional and industry subsidy for many years now. Due to these past actions, different benefits go to different groups of people. I agree with the motion's attempt to ensure that the EI program is consistent all across Canada. Unfortunately, the motion seems to be a bear bones type of motion that lacks many key components and much information which we would use to make an intelligent decision as to how to vote.
Simply put, we must ensure that the EI program provides adequate income protection for Canadians in all regions in the event of unexpected income loss, all the while ensuring that there is a fair eligibility requirement and payments into the fund.
Clearly, the original intent of the program was to ensure that the payments by employee and employer alike were reasonable to maintain it as an insurance fund, rather than to be used by the Liberal government to simply balance the budget. I believe we need to return the program to its original goal.
While I respect the intent of the motion, I am concerned with the vagueness of the terms used. “Specific status” does not really describe for us as legislators what is included. It would appear that there are financial implications involved in the motion. However we currently are unable to determine what those implications and those options may actually be.
The real story behind the EI program and something which needs to be addressed far more than the motion is not seasonal workers, but the abuse that the Prime Minister and the failing Liberal government have inflicted upon the program and the payment mechanisms themselves.
Once again Canadians are being overtaxed by the government. Once again we see the Liberals using $1.5 billion to serve their own needs. Once again we see a tired Liberal government that simply needs to be replaced with a government that will provide a vision and will provide hope, not only for workers but for every Canadian.
I suspect that in the coming weeks Canadians will decide that the government will be the new Conservative Party of Canada.