Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to get up and speak for a few minutes on this important issue of employment insurance and the fact that there needs to be a viable program in this country that provides support to unemployed workers, their families, and their communities.
There was such a fund, until the Liberals got their hands on it back in the mid-90s. At that point, 80% of unemployed Canadians had access to this fund. By the time the Liberals got through with it, that had been reduced to 45%. Now, since the Conservatives have had their go at it, it has been reduced to 36% or 37% of unemployed Canadians who actually have an opportunity to access these funds.
I want to talk a bit about that, because that is really at the heart of why we are dealing with this motion today. It is to not only protect the fund, and I will explain why that is important, but to make sure that the account is set up in a way that truly does the work necessary and does what employment insurance was originally established to do, which is provide support for unemployed workers, provide support for parents on parental leave, provide sick benefits, and even provide training for people to bridge the period between jobs.
Let me talk for a second about why access has come to be such a problem.
As I indicated earlier, before the Liberals got at this account, 80% of unemployed workers had access to it. Under their reforms, EI access fell to below 50%. The Conservatives saw an opportunity and have continued to reduce access. As recently as 2012, they brought in some major changes that have particularly affected seasonal industries in Atlantic Canada, which is my part of the world. They made it particularly difficult in a number of different industries that depended on shorter term, seasonal work to the point that in July 2013, fund eligibility reached 36.5%. It is up a bit now and is a little closer to 40%. One reason for that is the high level of unemployment in this country.
Only 60% of new mothers receive maternity benefits, mostly because they have insufficient hours under these Conservative changes.
On top of those eligibility issues, unemployed workers and their employers have a problem with Service Canada. Of the applicants for EI, 25% are waiting beyond the supposed service standard of 28 days. It is now in excess of 40 days. We raised this issue last fall. We have actually raised it for the past two years, but last fall, the minister responsible stood in this place and talked about how his parliamentary secretary had done a study on this work and had made some changes. We asked him to table the study to show us what the results were, and all of a sudden, that study was not good enough to be released. We still have not seen it. What we do know is that people seeking unemployment insurance benefits are still having to wait over 40 days.
As I indicated, the government made a number of changes in 2012 in terms of eligibility for benefits. One of the particular issues was related to the Social Security Tribunal.
There used to be an appeals process that was tripartite. The worker had a representative at the appeal, the employer had a representative at the appeal, and there was an independent chairperson at the appeal. In other words, there was due process. There was justice. Workers could expect that they would have an opportunity to have their cases heard.
That process has been completely revamped. Now there is an official within the department who looks at this. That individual does not share information. A lot of it is done behind closed doors. The worst thing of all is that at the end of 2014, there was a backlog of 11,000 cases. Not only was the process turned upside down, with workers no longer having access to due process, but now the process is not even going forward, so these appeals are not being heard.
The other point I want to make is in regard to the EI fund. My colleague from Trois-Rivières said that we have tabled a bill in this House to protect the EI fund. Why are we doing that? Why do we have to protect the sanctity of that fund? It is because the Liberals took $54 billion in the EI fund, and they used it for other purposes. In other words, the money that was put into that fund by workers and employers to provide employment insurance when workers lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, was appropriated to other places. The Conservatives came along and thought that it was pretty neat to have access to that fund, and they tried that too. The Conservatives went ahead and had their way with over $3 billion in that fund, all the while, of course, not changing premiums.
Now we have a situation where there is less money in the fund, Even so, now the current government is proposing to reduce premiums next year. If we even left the premiums at their current level, we could provide EI benefits to another 130,000 unemployed workers. We think that makes a lot of sense.
My point is that the EI fund should be managed independently. Decisions about premiums should be independent of government. They should not be influenced by the political whims of the government of the day. We have seen the damage that can be done as a result of what the Liberals and Conservatives have done. It is wrong. That is why we are proposing this motion and why we have talked with Canadians about how under an NDP government, we will certainly make those changes.
I want to go back to what we want. We want to ensure that more Canadians and middle-class families have access to the support they need if they lose their jobs, need to take parental leave, become ill, or need to care for loved ones under the compassionate care leave program. That was extended in this budget to six months, which we support. We pushed for that. However, the eligibility problems are still the same: it is accessible by very few people. People caring for ALS patients are unable to have access to that fund.
The NDP wants to make sure that the premiums workers and employers pay to the fund are actually used to provide EI benefits for the unemployed, special benefits for families, and training for Canadians. That is why I had the pleasure of tabling Bill C-605 to put a fence around that fund.
We want to make sure that Canadian workers and businesses are involved in creating an EI fund that actually works for them. When the current government made those five massive changes in 2012, it did so without any consultation with the Atlantic provinces, with Quebec, or with any other provinces. That had a very detrimental impact, and the provinces said so to the federal government.
We are committed to working with the provinces, to working with workers and their representatives, and to working with employers to make sure that we have an EI fund that is protected, that is independent, and that actually supports working people.