Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to address the House today and join with my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques in demanding, as stated in his motion, that “the Government of Canada make major changes in the employment insurance system, particularly by lowering contributions and improving benefits for seasonal workers and workers who have joined the labour market only recently.”
During the last election campaign, we in the Bloc Quebecois made a commitment to press the government into dealing with these issues, and we will keep doing it through special initiatives.
I would like to remind you of a few figures, if I may. The EI recipient-unemployed worker ratio dropped from 77% in 1989 to below 41% in 1996. Under the Liberals, this ratio has fallen from 60% in 1993 to 36% in January 1997.
Since 1990, successive cuts have deprived thousands of people of EI benefits, and many of them are now on welfare. Under the current system, the unemployed in Quebec will receive $316 million less in 1997-98 and $534 million less in 2001-2002. As a matter of fact, this new employment insurance plan is a systematic impoverishment programm, and a hidden tax affecting many families in the Jonquière riding.
It looks like one of our initiatives will meet with great success in the Jonquière riding. Like my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, I have mailed out to my constituents in Jonquière postcards they can send me back to indicate their support for changes to the employment insurance plan.
More specifically, we ask the federal government to stop unfairly penalizing seasonal workers and new entrants to the labour market by amending the Employment Insurance Act and lowering contributions significantly by 35 to 50 cents.
The people of Jonquière as well as the local community and labour organizations, which are sensitive to the situation of seasonal workers, reacted positively to our initiative. In several parishes of Jonquière the priests invited their parishioners to send back their cards on employment insurance to make the Liberal government aware of the very harmful effects of the present employment insurance system on the workers.
Many times during the last campaign, people from my riding told me they were outraged by the reduction in benefits while the premiums paid by workers allowed the government to collect around $5 billion a year in revenues that are not used to help the unemployed, but to reduce its deficit.
The people across the floor brag about this, but they should be ashamed of the mess they created. The federal government and the Minister of Finance may benefit from the cuts, but such is not the case for low income people.
It is now clear that it is the workers and the employers who make it possible for the Minister of Finance to artificially lower its deficit. But the Bloc is there to remind you of the interests of the men and women of Quebec. And believe me, we will constantly remind the government of the facts to bring it back to the people's true reality.
Together with the Government of Quebec, we are asking for changes to the EI system. Premier Lucien Bouchard, the head of the Government of Quebec, said that he will, at the next federal-provincial meeting, make a proposal to change the EI system for the benefit of both employers and workers.
He wants to put forward the following changes: reduced premiums for employers and workers and increased benefits, or a combination of both. We are in favour of such an initiative, which would improve the situation of Quebec workers. Mr. Bouchard said that these changes would allow seasonal workers to escape the terrible conditions they are living with now, and which increase welfare budgets.
In short, the Bloc Quebecois reiterates its proposal that the Liberal government substantially decrease the EI premium rate and at the same time improve the program, which has become too restrictive, particularly for seasonal workers and new entrants.
I hope the Minister of Human Resources Development will take action on this issue. He will shortly have to respond favourably to Quebec workers' demands and needs, because year 2000 is fast approaching and he might be unprepared for what is coming.
Madam Speaker, I move:
That the motion be deemed votable.