Mr. Speaker, first I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Joliette.
I would like to take this opportunity to say hello to my constituents in the riding of Chambly—Borduas and assure them that our political party, which is an important part of the opposition, will work as hard as it ever has to ensure that their interests are always well represented in this House.
One way to do so is to give our opinion on this Speech from the Throne. It is not for nothing that the three opposition parties were so united in their opposition. This Speech from the Throne does not reflect the concerns of the public—concerns that were expressed during the election campaign, that is, quite recently.
As the human resources and skills development critic for my party, I would first like to address this subject in relation to the Speech from the Throne.
My colleagues from the Bloc and I are certainly going to vote in favour of the amendment. I would like to talk in particular about the first part of it on the establishment of an arm’s-length, but not privatized, tri-party commission to ensure employment insurance premiums are used only for workers' benefits.
It is very important that this House pass this amendment. Failure to do so will mean many workers who no longer qualify for employment insurance will be kept in poverty. Eligibility requirements have become so strict that only 38% of those who contribute are entitled to receive benefits.
In response to a question I asked him last week, the Minister of Finance said that the employment insurance fund had been part of the consolidated revenue account for many years—since 1986, if I am not mistaken. Before 1986 it was a separate account.
In the first years this fund was part of the consolidated revenue account, there were relatively few difficulties. However, the requirements that have appeared since 1993 have gradually whittled the number of contributors receiving benefits from the 75% of workers who were contributing to the fund and were entitled to it to 38%.
All workers are penalized, of course, but women and young people in particular. Women are penalized by the very complex rules, which take into account the rate at which the required hours of work are accumulated. Because many women—more women than men— work part time, only 33% qualify for employment insurance. That is pretty dramatic, and the percentage is even lower for young people.
Hence the importance of ensuring that the government no longer uses the fund as a pot of gold. It uses it for other expenditures, like paying down the debt or transferring amounts to the reserve fund. Whatever the case may be, this fund is not designed for anything but employment insurance, providing social insurance to those who have had the misfortune to lose their jobs.
I have heard much praise of our country's geography from members defending the throne speech. They spoke of our green forests, our pristine lakes, the graceful outlines of our mountains. Great emphasis was put on all that. While I agree that we must take care of our environment, what I have just listed is not the product of governmental policies.
What is, is the hardship caused to many families across the country. I heard hardly anything at all about that in the throne speech. It was touched on only superficially, with fancy words in obscure passages, a couple of lines, for instance, providing that “the government will continue to review the employment insurance program to ensure that it remains well-suited to the needs of Canada’s workforce”. That is all it said.
And yet, we see all the difficulties facing workers when they find themselves unemployed. That is to say nothing of the rules, which are both restrictive and very difficult to enforce. Even civil servants recognize that, sometimes, people are not treated fairly because they themselves have a hard time understanding what the rules mean exactly. They take into account average earnings, regional unemployment, weeks not worked, flexible work schedules, and the list goes on. How can one make heads or tails of all this?
Consequently, people who must rely on employment insurance for their meagre subsistence must put themselves in the hands of the public servants, because very often they do not understand things.
Thus, $45 billion has been diverted from this fund in recent years. This is $45 billion that could have gone to the people who needed it the most. This is $45 billion that has impoverished families. This is $45 billion that was not injected into the economy of any of our regions, any of our constituencies. In the riding of Chambly—Borduas alone, there is a shortfall in revenue of over $38 million per year.
Of course we must vote in favour of the amendment. I invite every member in this House to do so. Moreover, I invite the House to reflect on an amendment that could be made during this session, in order to return the $45 billion to the EI fund, and that this repayment be spread over a number of years, which can be determined later.
Since I have two minutes left, I will be brief, although there is much I could say about seniors. There is $3.2 billion that belongs to them but has not been given to them, because the government did not provide enough information on the guaranteed income supplement program. Since this is a program for the lowest incomes, once again the least fortunate were the ones affected.
In the matter of child care, as far as the economy of Quebec is concerned, there is a shortfall of $230 million annually, because Quebec has its own system of child care centres. As a result of the tax rebate system, $230 million less goes to Quebec every year.
Then there is the matter of manpower training. We should have expected to hear in the throne speech that the rest of the training funds remaining in Ottawa would have been transferred, as they ought to have been in 1997 as well. Not only was the funding for targeted clientele, the disabled, the immigrants, the young and the old not transferred, but with this bill we have before us, they are nibbling away just a little bit more into others' jurisdictions. I will return to that point.
I will make my conclusion very brief. The government has missed a great opportunity, there is no denying that. The member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell has told us the year he started in this House. That is the year I was born. I was surprised at that, because I have seen his past vigour. He ought to have joined with us in stating that the government should have taken its cue from the 2001 report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
That report ought to have come back here to the House and been reflected in the main thrust of the throne speech. It was a unanimous report and contains reference to what have just raised. But there is no sign of it today.
That is why this Speech from the Throne cannot be accepted in its present form.