Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity today to speak to Bill C-56, the Fairness for the Self-Employed Act.
I should say at the outset that the Bloc Québécois is opposed to this bill. I do not think that will surprise anyone, in light of the questions I have been asking the past few days. Although we were absolutely in favour of the principle originally behind this bill, we cannot support it, because it would be blatantly unfair for self-employed workers in Quebec. The Liberals and the New Democrats can see this unfairness, but have not bothered to speak out against it. On the contrary, they have endorsed it.
Let us have a look at some of the aspects of Bill C-56. This bill would allow self-employed workers to be eligible for special EI benefits: maternity benefits, to a maximum of 15 weeks; parental or adoption benefits, to a maximum of 35 weeks; sickness benefits, to a maximum of 15 weeks; and compassionate care benefits, to a maximum of 6 weeks.
Contrary to what the Bloc Québécois called for, this bill does not enable self-employed workers to have access to regular employment insurance benefits, but only special benefits. That is important. I believe that self-employed workers themselves understand what this bill means for them. This bill will be implemented on a voluntary basis. Self-employed workers will voluntarily enrol and contribute. They will have to earn a minimum of $6,000 in the calendar year preceding their claim to be entitled to 55% of their income. They will have to enrol when they file their income tax return for 2009 in order to have access to benefits the following year. Consequently, a self-employed worker will have to have contributed for a whole year before he or she can access these benefits.
We cannot support the bill because of the contribution rate that has been set for self-employed workers in Quebec: $1.36 per $100 of earnings. Allow me to explain. Bill C-56 proposes to allow self-employed workers to contribute voluntarily to the employment insurance system. However, unlike salaried workers, they would be entitled only to so-called special benefits, which, as I said earlier, include maternity and parental benefits, sickness benefits and compassionate care benefits.
Since Quebec already has a mandatory parental insurance plan for both salaried and self-employed workers, it goes without saying that Quebec must receive some sort of compensation to reflect the fact that self-employed workers there cannot receive the same benefits as Canadian workers. Moreover, salaried workers in Quebec already pay lower EI premiums because they also pay into Quebec's parental insurance plan.
To come up with the reduced contribution rate, the chief actuary of the employment insurance commission makes a relatively simple calculation that he publishes each year in his annual report on the break-even contribution rate and the maximum insurable earnings for EI. This calculation is as follows: the actuary calculates the portion of expenditures that pertains to parental insurance leave. This portion is then subtracted from the contributions Quebec workers are required to make.
The reduction is direct and based on a calculation, which means that the compensation accurately reflects the portion of expenditures that pertains to maternity and paternity benefits. This is a fair and equitable way to set the contribution rate for Quebec workers.
But in the case of Bill C-56, the government is completely ignoring this logic and proposing a totally excessive and abusive contribution rate for self-employed workers in Quebec.
For some reason, the government has decided to ask self-employed workers to pay exactly the same premium as salaried workers, even though they are not entitled to the same benefits. In other words—and I think all my colleagues here know it—salaried workers receive compassionate care and sick leave benefits, but also regular employment insurance benefits. However, self-employed workers, as I was just saying, will only get special benefits. They will not receive regular benefits, but they are being asked to pay the same premium.
Salaried employees and self-employed workers will pay into the same fund. That seems illogical for the reasons I just mentioned.
That means that Canadian self-employed workers will pay $1.73 in premiums, which would allow them to receive the three so-called special benefits. Self-employed workers in Quebec will have to pay $1.36, but those premiums will allow them to receive just two of the three special benefits. It just so happens that those two benefits are by far the least expensive. If I am not mistaken, the compassionate care and sick leave special benefits represent roughly 25% of the cost, whereas parental leave benefits represent 75%.
It took the working group some time to get answers to its questions on Bill C-56. Nonetheless, according to the estimates that were finally forwarded to us by the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, maternity leave benefits will probably represent 70% of the cost of this new plan for the employment insurance system. You do not need a math degree to know that by paying $1.36, or 79% of what Canadian self-employed workers will pay, Quebeckers are being had.
In other words, Quebeckers are being asked to provide 19% of the funding for the plan, but, according to the department's numbers, they will collect only 6% of the benefits. That is scandalous.
We all agree that it makes sense for insurance plans to spread the risk. That is a basic principle of insurance. Insurance of all kinds is a risk-sharing endeavour that requires all beneficiaries to assume a portion of the risk because they cannot predict what events might cause them to lose their income for one reason or another. What we take issue with, however, is the disparity between how self-employed Canadian workers are treated and how self-employed Quebec workers are treated. The Canadian portion of the plan will result in a huge deficit at a contribution rate of $1.73, while the Quebec portion will produce a huge surplus at a contribution rate of $1.36.
It is expected that the Quebec portion of the sickness and compassionate care benefits, the only benefits to which self-employed Quebec workers will be entitled, will cost some $22 million in 2014, whereas premiums collected from Quebec will amount to $45 million. In contrast, in Canada, also in 2014, benefit payouts will be on the order of $280 million and premiums, $178 million. In other words, the government is asking self-employed Quebec workers to absorb the deficit for self-employed Canadian workers.
Of course we believe that is unfair. And we are not the only ones. We asked Michel Bédard, who was the departmental chief actuary for over 12 years, to provide an estimate of what he considered to be a fair contribution rate for self-employed Quebec workers. As it turned out, Mr. Bédard confirmed our initial suspicions. The contribution rate to be imposed on Quebeckers will be outrageously high, and the return they get will be ridiculously low.
That is why the Bloc Québécois cannot support this bill.
We know that, generally speaking, this government's employment insurance measures in no way meet the needs of Quebeckers. I said so yesterday and I will say it again: the program for long-tenured workers does not apply to Quebec forestry workers. The additional five weeks are a temporary measure. Self-employed workers in Quebec already had access to parental leave, and the contribution rate for compassionate care and sickness benefits is three times what the rest of Canada will pay. So there is a serious problem regarding employment insurance.
We now realize that it is Quebeckers who are always paying for others, although improving the employment insurance system, as the Bloc Québécois as been proposing for several years now, would be a good way to help all workers. We therefore cannot support this bill for the reasons I have just given.
I encourage our NDP and Liberal colleagues, especially those from Quebec, to ask themselves some serious questions and examine this issue closely, because it is very clear that self-employed workers in Quebec will be the ones to foot the bill for everyone else when it comes to this employment insurance fund.