Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for Brome—Missisquoi, for introducing Bill C-241.
This is the sort of bill that would provide real, invaluable assistance to tens of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs or unfortunately will lose them because of the serious economic crisis we are going through.
Over the years, workers who lose their jobs have suffered countless injustices.
Do we need to remind this House that the percentage of unemployed workers who receive employment insurance has shrunk from 84% to 46% in the past 20 years?
Do we need to remind this House that Liberal and Conservative governments have siphoned off more than $57 billion belonging to workers? And that this money will likely never be returned?
In light of this, the waiting period only adds insult to injury for the unemployed, at a time when what they really need is a helping hand from the government.
What exactly is the purpose of the waiting period?
It is very simple: this is nothing more and nothing less than a way of punishing people for losing their jobs. Let us keep in mind that in order to draw EI benefits, a person has to have fallen victim—and I emphasize that word—to a layoff that has nothing to do with failure to perform, and even less to do with voluntary departure. These are people who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves without a job between one day and the next.
So what exactly does the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development want to punish them for?
Another aberration, and again according to the minister, the reason for the waiting period is that this is supposedly an insurance, like other kinds of insurance, and all commercial insurance does include a deductible before one gets any pay-out.
I have never heard such an unfortunate expression of cynicism in this House. In comparing the state to a business, this government is demonstrating what little empathy it has for the less well off members of society. By denying its social role, by virtue of which it is supposed to redistribute wealth rather than contributing to the inequalities, it is demonstrating a doctrinaire and ideological vision that is totally inappropriate.
But let me get back to the bill from my Bloc Québécois colleague who, on the other hand, is demonstrating a real understanding of the difficult situation in which workers who lose their jobs find themselves.
It must be understood that it is not a matter of adding two weeks of benefits, but merely of changing the start date of payments, so that unemployed workers are not in an untenable situation for the first two weeks.
According to Human Resources and Skills Development estimates, such a measure would cost some $900 million. Nine hundred million dollars is far less than the $57 billion confiscated—to avoid using unparliamentary language—from working men and women.
So $900 million would be plowed back into the Canadian economy, as the government itself admits in its assessment of the economic spinoffs from EI-related measures in the last budget.
In this period of recession, that means $900 million which would benefit not only the unemployed workers but also the businesses where they would spend the money they received.
When a person loses his job, and his sole source of income is EI benefits, it is rather a rarity for his first reflex to be investment, contrary to what the Prime Minister implied in a CBC interview during the last campaign.
What interpretation can one put on the scandalous comment he made at that time that Canadians should look on the bright side and take advantage of the weakness of the stock market to buy some stocks?
This kind of behaviour unworthy of a Prime Minister shows us just how profoundly disconnected this Conservative government is from the harsh reality that this crisis has created for hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.
Bill C-241 would provide some relief. This measure, simple yet concrete, efficient and direct, has been called for by dozens of groups representing workers' interests and by unions as well.
This is a perfect opportunity for the government to show goodwill and openness with regard to one of the greatest injustices ever committed by this government.
I invite the members opposite to give us their support so that this bill can be passed as quickly as possible.
The sooner this bill receives royal assent, the sooner the unemployed can receive the benefits to which they are entitled, those they have been paying into week after week, month after month, year after year.
When they pay their premiums, they do not skip two weeks. They cannot decide to stop paying for two weeks of the year. They have to pay every week.
Why should the government force them to wait two weeks before they can access their money?
And I must emphasize the word “their”, because apparently, previous governments, like this one, did not seem to understand this nuance, although it is fundamental, between the government's money and that of unemployed workers.
Yet government members fully understand, for instance, the difference between money they receive as salary and money paid to them by the House of Commons to carry out their responsibilities as MPs, for example. These are two different accounts, completely separate, that have nothing to do with each other, just as public accounts have nothing to do with the money paid by contributors to the system.
Fortunately, the government listened to the Bloc Québécois, which has always stood up to defend workers. Yes, it is thanks to the Bloc Québécois that the Conservatives agreed to separate those two accounts. It is thanks to the hard work of my colleagues who tirelessly denounced the deficiencies in the system.
I would like to talk about the contributors' money for a moment. It is truly appalling that in 2006, barely 64% of those who paid into the system were eligible for employment insurance. That is less than two thirds. And we are talking about workers who, I repeat, pay into the system week after week. The fact that the system is so inaccessible is positively scandalous, since, although they finally agreed to separate the employment insurance account from the federal treasury after years of pressure, they have definitely not done anything to improve the pitiful coverage provided to workers.
But, once again, as I was saying earlier, the Bloc Québécois was there to throw a lifeline to this government, which is sinking further every day into the depths of indifference. However, as a last resort, we especially want to throw a lifeline to the workers, and let us hope they do not have to wait two weeks for it.
In closing, I would like to congratulate my hon. Bloc Québécois colleague on his foresight and his efforts to really do something for unemployed workers.