Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join this debate. I want to thank my good friend, as well as the other members of the committee, for all of their hard work. As he said earlier, I would thank the chair, the member for Edmonton—Leduc. I have worked with him in the past, and I have always found him to be an honourable gentleman who embodies the sense of trying to work in a non-partisan way, especially at the committee level. I appreciate all of his hard work.
I want to thank the members of our party, the New Democrats, who worked on that committee. These documents are not props, because they are documents that have been tabled and we can actually use them. This is the kind of work that goes into the prebudget consultations by a committee of parliamentarians. They go out and talk to people across the country, and people from all walks of life from across the country come to speak to them.
It is not just the financiers that folks talk to. Our members are absolutely passionate about making sure that folks from every walk of live have input, because that is what this place is about. This is their place. It is their House. It belongs to the common folk of the country, hence its name, the House of Commons. The greens out at the front are called “the commons”. They are the common place for all of us to come. That is what this document is meant to do.
It is unfortunate that when the people speak through their elected representatives the government does not hear them. It seems to turn a deaf ear to the folks who come forward and say, “Here are the things that we would like to see for us”. The “us” is not the members who are sitting in the House, but the folks across the country that we represent who are saying what things they would like to see, the things that they want us to work on, the things that they think would help them. What did we find? We found that basically most folks were ignored.
I found it fascinating. I looked at the supplementary report that was submitted by my good colleagues. One of the pieces was on employment insurance and what that should mean to those who are unemployed. Mr. Speaker, I know that your riding is in southwestern Ontario and, like mine, has come through a huge restructuring in the manufacturing sector. Literally tens of thousands of folks are unemployed and have gone on employment insurance.
When I first came to this place, I heard the government talk about what the previous Liberal government had done in raiding the EI fund. What it said, and I absolutely agreed with it and almost applauded it one day, was that it would never do what the Liberal government had done previously and raid the fund. What did it do to balance the budget? It raided the fund. When we have the highest youth unemployment that the country has seen in decades, instead of making sure that there is money for training, retraining, and job opportunities for young people and those who do not have work, the government took about $2.1 billion out of the fund and decided to balance the books.
Why did the Conservatives want to do that? It is an election year. They promised that they would balance the books, but they did not promise to balance the books on the backs of the unemployed in this country. That is not what they said they would do. They said that they were good, prudent, fiscal managers and they could manage to do it without doing what the Liberal government had done years ago. Well, they failed. They failed on that score. They put the test in front of themselves and they failed.
There are teachers in this place. I would suggest that when they give the Conservatives a report card, they give them an F, because that is exactly what they deserve.
On the other hand, what we had said was that the employment insurance fund belongs to those who are unemployed. It belongs to all of those who contribute, because it is indeed an insurance fund. I have said this many times before. If we buy insurance for our car and have an accident, the insurance should cover the car. Therefore, I have no idea why it is that the government seems to think that we should enrol in the employment insurance fund and pay the insurance, but people should not be able to collect it if they become unemployed.
There is one thing that is absolutely crystal clear, and the law has been this way since the mid-1990s. The rules changed and people cannot quit their job and get employment insurance. People must be unemployed and they must have been laid off by the employer, which means that the employer put them out of work and that they did not leave voluntarily. There have been some minor tweaks to the rules, such as if there was harassment or some other things that gave just cause, or some other things can happen.
Clearly, the government failed on this particular attribute, and it failed the youth of this country. We all recognize that this country has high youth unemployment. It is apparent here in the province of Ontario. It is apparent in the province of Quebec, and across this entire country.
One thing we talk about in this place is the human capital, the human potential of this great country, which is embodied in its youth. We continue to say that we need to ensure we have those folks in the future who will look after us, because we all get older. The one thing I can say about today is I am a day older than I was yesterday, but I am a day younger than I will be tomorrow. The bottom line is that we will all get older and at some point in time we may need those young folks to look after us. Some of us are older than others. I will not point any fingers. I could point a finger at myself, I suppose, because I am older than some, but I am also younger than others.
The bottom line is that if we do not invest in that human capacity, that human potential, all those young folks, when will they have the opportunity and when will they finally join in the capacity to make sure that when we need them, they will be there? The government has lost an opportunity.
New Democrats, on the other hand, would not have lost that opportunity. We would have made sure that opportunity was taken. We would make sure that young folks actually have an opportunity to go forward. If youth do not have the opportunity, then they are stymied, and we put them in a place where they lose hope. If they lose hope, there is no sense in going forward, so what would be the point? The very things we want to remove in the sense of impediments, we did not do, which is really unfortunate in this case.
That takes me to infrastructure. One thing that has to be built is capacity, because we need capacity for the economy. I am not an economist, but I am a Scotsman, so I can count. God knows, I count pennies. The bottom line is that if we are going to have an economy that functions, we have to be able to move throughout the economy. We have to be able to move physically as well. It is not all just electronic stuff. It is not a question of going on the Internet, pressing a button and shooting it through the air, through the wireless spectrum. The bottom line is that goods and services and people have to move. In order to move them, there has to be infrastructure. If there is no infrastructure, they are not going to move.
The investment in infrastructure that this budget proposes is lacklustre at best, and it is also down the road. I hate to tell the Conservatives about that road, but that road has a pothole in it. In fact, it has more than one pothole. It is going to be pretty tough getting down that road to get to where we want to go if we do not fix the potholes. I will not say everyone knows this, because the Conservatives decided to remove the long form census, so they do not really know what they need because if they do not have information, they cannot make firm decisions.
That reminds me of my days when I was a municipal councillor. I know a number of us in the House at one point had that career previous to this one. That information was of absolute value to municipal politicians in deciding whether to build a home for the aged or an arena for young kids. Without the data regarding the demographics and where things are headed, it is hard to know which one to build. What should we do? Should we flip a coin, hope for the best and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure that sits vacant because the group we built it for no longer exists? It makes no sense.
We need information. We need hard facts to make decisions on what is going to be done. If we have those hard facts and data, we can build the infrastructure in the appropriate places at the appropriate time to make sure we are getting what colloquially is called a good bang for the buck, which the Conservatives always say. However, I would refer them to the Auditor General's report of yesterday, which really was quite shameful in the sense that the Auditor General said that when it came to antimicrobials, it took 18 years for them to do something, and they still have not done anything, which I find surprising.
It is unfortunate the Conservatives did not listen to the folks who came before committee, but that is par for the course, because they do not like listening to us either. Time and time again there has been time allocation in this place. Over and over there has been time allocation.
Mr. Speaker, I move:
That the House do now adjourn.