Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst for drawing our attention to seasonal industry. What we are talking about is the economy. This is an industry. It is a fact of life in our regions. This far-reaching change to employment insurance is going to destroy that industry. The harm has already begun.
This is a fact of life in our regions. There are people who are starting to leave because they know they will not be able to stay there; their plans for the future for their regions will simply be dead in the water. They want to make a go of it.
Since being elected as the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, I have tried repeatedly, as have many people in my riding, to communicate with the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development so we could meet with her and explain how things are in our region. Things on the upper north shore and in Charlevoix are not the same as they are in Quebec City or Montreal or Toronto or Calgary. Things are different. We wanted to talk to her about our concerns about employment insurance well before this plan to destroy it.
We tried to contact the minister by mail, by email and by telephone. We planned a meeting with her assistant. The result was a telephone meeting that was quite simply quickly forgotten and gave the impression that it was simply to stall for time.
I am more concerned than ever for the people of my riding, for the families who live on the upper north shore and in Charlevoix. Does the government realize it is causing an exodus from those regions?
I was talking with someone from Les Escoumins. She told me that when she went to get a coffee at the convenience store, the cashier told her that six people that day had let her know they were leaving the region to go and work in Sept-Îles, a city more than 100 km from Forestville or Les Escoumins.
Is this how the Conservatives deal with all the issues before them? Do they always go it alone? Do they always run the country as they like, with no consultation, without meeting with the people who are directly affected by this measure? Has the minister ever once set foot in Charlevoix? Has she ever gone to the upper north shore? Yes, Charlevoix and the upper north shore look nice on a postcard, but the people who live there see the landscape in a whole different way.
The government has to stop playing with numbers, because at this point its calculations are pitiful. It is not taking into consideration the regional economy, the reality of the lives of these people who are developing economies after the losses in the forestry industry and a declining tourism industry. The people are making plans and developing an economy so they can make a go of it.
I have a list of people I have met with on this issue. A lot of them would like to meet with the minister to explain the situation to her. We are prepared to cover her costs. We want her to meet with people. That is one of the duties of a minister and a member. We want the minister to come to us, but perhaps not in an F-35.
The Conservatives have completely lost touch with their human side. All that matters is their cronies and big business. That is all that counts.
There is another resident in my riding who works for an extermination company. There are very few bugs from January to March. There are not many insects. With three children at home, this resident needs money. What should he do? Go and work for a competitor? The competitors have no more jobs to offer than anyone else. Going to work for a competitor will mean that he will have to leave his employer. If an employee wants to climb the ladder in the business, he has to be able to trust his employer, and this trust has to be reciprocated by the employer.
Clearly, many sectors of our economy in the regions are seasonal, and there is not enough work in the winter to cover this period of the year where people are on employment insurance.
The Conservative government has climbed into bed with management and the rich and is abandoning workers. The government lacks an overall vision when it comes to the regions. It should trust the elected representatives who represent that segment of the population. I thought that that was something that the current Prime Minister wanted to achieve at one point, by giving more power to members.
Actions speak louder than words. Are we to conclude that the Conservative government is trying to divide the regions, to divide east and west? In eastern Canada, the sectors of economic activity in many municipalities are seasonal. The government is attacking the resource regions, which inevitably have to contend with work cycles. I would really like to know what regions the Conservatives were referring to when they said that they wanted to give the regions power.
To give you a better idea, here is what is really happening in Charlevoix. I have before me a regional overview prepared by the Charlevoix Mouvement Action-Chômage. For several years, the Charlevoix economy has been in bad shape. The population is not well educated, over 40% of the residents have no high school diploma; the employment rate is anemic, unemployment is verging on 15%; and the average person's income barely exceeds $21,000.
Charlevoix’s economy is based mainly on tourism. Unemployment of varying duration is a fact of life for many households in the region. Wages are low. A benefit rate of 55% of gross earnings leaves seasonal workers in an unstable financial position. Being dependent on weather and tourism, the economy is vulnerable and people are increasingly concerned. The number of hours required to qualify for employment insurance has increased from 420 to 560. That is troubling, particularly when you know that work lasts 12 to 14 weeks for some people. When they do manage to qualify, benefits are not paid long enough for them to make ends meet for the year. There is a black hole. Some people cannot find work in winter because there is not enough for everyone. The economy they want to create there is not established. They need an economic safety net, a social safety net, to proceed with their projects. Some people in the region may go 14 weeks without any income, even if they have children, a house to pay for and grocery bills.
Transitional measures were introduced in 2000. Why were they introduced? Because the map drawn for the purpose of calculating rates did not reflect the actual situation in all the regions. The map has not been redrawn. Since then, pilot projects of all kinds have been introduced across the region. Is that not an indication that the act is ineffective?
Action-Chômage also briefed me, but I am going to go to my conclusion, since I only have a minute of speaking time left.
The following appears on the Service Canada website concerning employment insurance: "The plan is financed by premiums collected from workers and employers. The accumulated funds cover both the benefits paid to unemployed persons and the costs of administration."
Why do budget cuts have to be made to a program that is self-funded? Someone explain that to me. It seems to me, and to many others, that this bank should be highly effective in meeting workers' needs.
Is the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development familiar with the difficulties caused by a tight family budget? I may not be an eminent lawyer or a learned political scientist, but I have personally experienced that situation.
Once I was told at the employment insurance office that if I had been there a week earlier, I would have been eligible for benefits but that, as it was, I was short nine hours. I spent three months without any income, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I believe the minister should listen to the members in this House, who can teach her a great deal and explain the realities of our regions.