Mr. Speaker, after the speeches I have heard today on the motion before us, the least we can do for workers who work hard year-round would be to support this motion.
I am proud of the work done by the NDP on employment insurance and workers’ rights. It is important that we be able to speak about our concerns and the concerns of the constituents I represent when it comes to the looting of the employment insurance fund.
Unfortunately, the government would rather lower the premium rate for campaign purposes and divert money that belongs to workers, and thus deprive 130,000 jobless people of the benefits for which they have paid their premiums.
I would note that according to the last EI monitoring and assessment report, barely 39% of unemployed workers have access to their benefits. That is fewer than 40%. Recently, the Conservatives presented us with an eighth deficit budget, were it not for the $4.2 billion pilfered from the employment insurance fund. They have the nerve to claim that they are good managers, on top of that. That is too much for me. It is time for things to change. After diverting the money, the government then announced that it would reduce the premium rate, the effect of which will be to reduce access to the employment insurance program.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, if the premium rate is reduced as the Conservatives propose, 130,000 workers will be denied access to employment insurance that they have paid for. One hundred thirty thousand workers is virtually the entire population of a riding. Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, the constituency I proudly represent, deserves better. More specifically, it represents the people from the Beauport area of Quebec City to Colombier in Haute-Côte-Nord, including the Île d'Orléans, Côte-de-Beaupré and the greater Charlevoix area. We would be mistaken to think that only the workers are affected. When we say 130,000 fewer workers, we have to read between the lines: that is 130,000 families, women and children.
The objective is to improve access to the employment insurance program, in order to offer Canadians a better quality of life. That is what the NDP is proposing to the House in this motion, and also in a number of other proposals to help middle-class families.
At present, in a region like Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, there is a black hole, a period without income that ranges from one month to four months. That is 15 weeks without income for families of workers in seasonal industries, when, in fact, the employment insurance fund has all the money needed to help those families; excuse me, it had all the money needed, before the government used it for other purposes.
An image just came to mind: The employment insurance fund has become the financial cushion of bad managers among the Conservatives, and the Liberals before them. They broke and raided the piggy bank with all the hard-earned money that workers and employers saved up. We must do something about this questionable approach to making extra money. The money needs to go back to whom it belongs.
I do not think I need to remind the House how important it is for a company to keep the same workers from one season to the next, in order to maintain a quality workforce.
Instead of using the money from the EI fund, which was put there by workers and employers, the current government would benefit from allowing workers to have an income during the hard times. We must support workers and stop stealing their insurance money.
Fortunately, the NDP is proposing concrete measures to help middle class families.
Again, our motion states:
That, in the opinion of the House, employment insurance premiums paid by employers and workers must be used exclusively to finance benefits, as defined by the Employment Insurance Act, for unemployed workers and their families and that, consequently, the government should: (a) protect workers' and employers' premiums from political interference; (b) improve program accessibility to ensure that unemployed workers and their families can access it; and (c) abandon its plan, as set out in Budget 2015, to set rates unilaterally, in order to maintain long-term balance in the fund while improving accessibility.
That is the least it could do.
The Conservatives will not be able to pat themselves on the back for much longer with a biased unemployment rate. The people of Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord are not easily fooled, contrary to what the Conservative government seems to think. We know that access to the employment insurance program has been limited since it has been managed by the Conservative crew and that the present government has passed the buck to the provinces by forcing honest working people to apply for social assistance. They no longer qualify for employment insurance benefits, which have become inaccessible. When the time comes to find all the tricks for keeping the money to which Canadians are rightfully entitled, our government demonstrates considerable creativity. Unfortunately, it lacks the imagination to find effective solutions for creating jobs.
Seasonal work is a reality in a number of regions of Quebec, but this government is unfortunately not interested in protecting those regions, and instead it is abandoning them.
We have to find solutions, as my colleague did when he moved this motion, and as my other colleagues did when they introduced bills like Bill C-605 in the House. That bill offered genuine solutions to help honest Canadian businesses and their employees. The money that working people pay in premiums belongs to working people.
Conservative management means billions of dollars misappropriated from the employment insurance fund in hidden taxes and more than $100 billion added to the national debt in less than 10 years; it means a reduction in federal transfers to the provinces and tax cuts for the wealthiest, but nothing for the middle class; it means offering billions of dollars in tax relief, only to have that money lie dormant in the coffers of big corporations; and as the Minister of Finance says, it means shifting its responsibilities onto our grandchildren.
Yes, Canadians have had enough, and on October 19, we will finally have a responsible New Democratic government that will stimulate the economy and put an end to the Conservatives’ and Liberals’ misappropriation of these funds.