Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this House. I am here today because of the citizens in my riding of Saint-Lambert and because of the trust they have put in me. They know that I will never go back on the principles and values that have always carried me through. And it is these principles and values that will keep me from voting for this budget. This budget has brutally attacked the concepts of social justice and solidarity in too many ways. This budget goes against the responsibilities I believe in and that guide my judgment, as well as those of the party I am pleased to be a part of, the Bloc Québécois.
Let us first look at what is planned for women. For the status of women, the budget continues the assault that the Conservatives began when they came to power. By making pay equity negotiable, the Conservatives have trampled a right that many, with good reason, consider to be a fundamental right, a vested right. This serves as a reminder that wilful ignorance, which they do so well, should be denounced at every opportunity, as the Bloc Québécois did when this same government announced cuts to the 2006 budget of Status of Women Canada. Do we need to be reminded that these cuts led to the closure of 12 of the 16 regional offices of Status of Women Canada, one of which was in Quebec City?
We could also mention the abolition of the court challenges program, another shameful tactic to silence citizens' claims against the government. Women's groups made extensive use of this program to assert their rights. I could also talk about this government's decision to reject the recommendations of the pay equity task force. Some years ago, it instructed the government to adopt proactive pay equity legislation, modelled after the existing Quebec law, which provides that pay equity disputes must not be settled through collective bargaining. That law is fundamentally different from the legislation proposed by the government.
No matter, I will continue to add my voice to those unconditionally defending women's rights, as long as I am able to stand, as will all Bloc Québécois members.
I cannot ignore the fact that women are most vulnerable when it comes to employment insurance benefits. In fact, only one out of three women qualifies for employment insurance benefits when she loses her job. Why? Simply because more women hold part-time or temporary jobs, work on contract or on an occasional basis, or are self-employed. In fact, approximately 40% of women hold a so-called atypical job, which considerably decreases their chances of receiving employment insurance benefits. I cannot stress enough how devastating these rules can be for certain families, especially mother-led single-parent families.
But women were not the only ones forgotten in the most recent budget. All manner of unemployed people were forgotten despite what this government may say. Adding five weeks of employment insurance benefits when more than half the unemployed do not meet the program's eligibility criteria will not make much difference for half the workers and will make no difference at all for the other half.
The Conservative government can go ahead and accuse the Bloc Québécois of not working with it, but the Bloc Québécois has long been calling for major changes to the employment insurance system, changes that would certainly have made it possible to provide unemployed men and women with substantial assistance. This morning, in fact, my colleague from Chambly—Borduas has introduced a bill in that connection. I will employ a formula much favoured by the hon. members over the way and invite them to work with us to ensure that the changes he proposes are accepted as promptly as possible. In fact, the main proposals in this bill are: reduction of the minimum qualifying period to 360 hours worked, regardless of the regional unemployment rate; increasing the weekly benefit rates from 55% to 60% ; abolition of the waiting period; and making it possible for self-employed workers to belong to the program on a voluntary basis. There are other measures besides.
After helping themselves to over $54 billion from this fund—to which the unemployed have contributed while working, week in and week out, year in and year out—the least they could do would be to make amends and restore the spirit that lay behind this program when it was created.
The unemployed have suffered for years from this undue hardship, and now that the number of people needing EI benefits will be greater than ever, this government does nothing to improve access to benefits—it does the opposite.
What is there in this budget to remove these inequalities, this profound injustice? Nothing, absolutely nothing. This has led many people to say that the Canadian employment insurance program has been a real joke for more than a decade, but the least funny joke imaginable. It is a very lame joke, indeed. Lame, because everybody has heard it before, and lame, because the consequences are not an imaginary situation, as they are in a really funny joke, but very real. And above all, because those consequences have been rubber stamped, endorsed, and approved by one government after another that ruled this country.
By handing out mind-boggling—not to mention permanent—tax cuts, this government is depriving itself of precious revenues, just as it did when it cut the GST by 2%. These generous donations, which do nothing to help the less well-off who, in many cases, do not pay taxes, have a minimal effect on domestic spending and on gross domestic product, as the government itself admitted in its budget. In fact, every dollar spent on employment insurance contributions returns two times more than a dollar invested in tax cuts, and every dollar invested in infrastructure returns 10 times more than a dollar invested in tax cuts. However, it seems that this government would much rather line the pockets of the rich than help those hit hardest by the economic crisis, which, let us not forget, is still in its early days.
January 2009 was the most devastating month in Canadian history in terms of job losses: 129,000 jobs were lost. If the current trend persists—and there is, unfortunately, no reason to expect it to change—nearly 70,000 of the newly unemployed will not be eligible for employment insurance. What will they do? Where will they go? Where will older workers who cannot be retrained go? The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development continues to deny reality, just as she did in the House last Friday, and insists on creating a false dichotomy between retraining workers and paying out income support benefits for older workers.
The fact that we are asking for this program—a program that worked well in the past and would cost the federal government less than $50 million per year—does not mean that we do not want older workers who have been laid off to get back into the workforce. We are simply recognizing the harsh reality these people are facing: having to change jobs, perhaps even fields that late in life when getting back into the labour force is certainly more difficult.
In 2005, the Employment Insurance Commission reported that approximately 40% of older workers have not completed their high school education. The result is simple: according to the commission's report, when older workers lose their jobs, they are more likely to remain unemployed longer than younger workers. After spending their entire life working to give the next generation the means to succeed, and as they are approaching a new phase of life, is the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development prepared to tell them what the member for Jonquière—Alma and the Minister of National Revenue did, that they should move to Alberta where the unemployment rate is lower? Does this government not have any empathy for older workers or will it simply tell them to pack their bags and move if they want to find work?
In closing, I would simply like to say that I appreciate this government's efforts to build concrete infrastructures. However, as women's advocacy groups have said, we must not overlook social infrastructures, which are essential to human development. Their value cannot necessarily be calculated in dollars and cents, but it is nonetheless real. And because I believe such social infrastructures have been overlooked in this budget, I cannot bring myself to vote in favour of Bill C-10, Budget Implementation Act, 2009.