Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to speak on the subject of employment insurance.
Workers across the country who know me know that I came to Parliament in 1997 the day we booted out Doug Young because he and the Liberals made changes to the employment insurance program in 1996.
I would like to talk about what led up to that event and read from a letter by a former Canadian prime minister, Jean Chrétien, to a group of workers in Rivière-du-Loup. The letter was written on February 17, 1993, and it was about unemployment insurance. I like to call a spade a spade, and I would rather talk about unemployment insurance than employment insurance. Here is how the letter goes:
The Liberals are dismayed by these measures. By reducing benefits and further penalizing those who voluntarily leave their jobs, clearly the government [it was the Conservative government then] cares very little for the victims of the economic crisis. Instead of attacking the real problem, it is attacking the unemployed. These measures will have a disturbing impact, for they will discourage workers from reporting harassment cases and unacceptable conditions in the workplace.
That was the former prime minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, who said that. He was elected because of it. At the time, Doug Young, the former Liberal MP, did not have nice things to say about the Conservatives. On July 31, 1989, he told Acadie Nouvelle that he was urging all New Brunswickers to fight tooth and nail against changes to employment insurance because they would be disastrous for New Brunswick.
Yes, it has been a disaster for New Brunswick. In September or October 1993, the Liberals took office. They discovered that the employment insurance fund could be the government's cash cow. Money was coming in from all over the place. They said they needed even more, and in 1996, they made some huge budget cuts and introduced the 420-hour and 910-hour conditions to be eligible for EI. Whereas in the past 82% of workers had been eligible for EI, at that point only 38% were eligible.
The biggest pilfering of the EI fund happened under the Liberals, who helped themselves to $57 billion. That is right, $57 billion was taken from the EI fund. The Liberals' defence, however, was that the government was running a deficit and cuts had to be made somewhere. They made cuts to EI and to health care. In 1994, Paul Martin made Canada's health care system sick. At a time when the federal government was paying 50% of health care costs in each province, the Liberal government cut that down to 15%. Then the Liberals went after the CBC and cut $350 million there.
Next came the Conservatives, who said that they did not want to steal from employment insurance and that they would make some changes. They proposed a new independent fund—although that would not really be the case—and a new framework. They therefore transferred the $57 billion the Liberals had stolen back into the fund and said they would not touch it again.
The government's latest budget announced a surplus of $3.4 billion in the EI fund. However, the government is reporting a budget surplus of $1.4 billion. If it were to take that $3.4 billion out of the employment insurance fund, the government would be running a deficit. It would not be able to say that it has balanced the budget or all those wonderful things, or everything else it is saying about the EI fund.
It is not the workers who depend on employment insurance, but rather the Conservatives and the Liberals.
I have known the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso for 15 years. I was disappointed when he answered the Conservative member's question on whether or not he agreed that a person should work only 42 weeks a year. Instead of saying no, I would have liked him to say that Nova Scotia has seasonal employment and people who work in the lobster fishery, for example. Sometimes they stop working for three or four weeks. They collect employment insurance and then go back to work. That is what seasonal employment is all about.
The Conservatives made cuts to the employment insurance program. People down east said they could not go on like that, and they left to go work out west. Now we have temporary foreign workers doing the work back home and contributing to EI. When they have an accident, they are put on the next flight home and do not collect a dime of EI. Again, this government is stealing from workers.
Is there something wrong with the NDP motion that the Conservatives cannot support? It seeks to “protect workers' and employers' premiums from political interference”. In this motion we state that we are going to protect workers' premiums. We are going to tell politicians to stop stealing from the employment insurance fund and relying on it, because it belongs to the workers. They are the ones who contribute to it. The Liberals and the Conservatives like to say that employment insurance premiums are a tax. That is false. They should consult a dictionary. It is a premium that people pay in the event they lose their jobs. It is not a tax. They say that the NDP wants to increase employment insurance premiums. The Conservatives had a $7 billion surplus and the Liberals had a $3 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund. The Conservatives lowered corporate taxes by $40 billion at the same time that the banks made $22 billion in profits and their presidents paid themselves $11 million in bonuses. That is another example of money being stolen from Canadians and taxpayers. That is the work of the Conservatives. Shame on them.
Given all that is happening with employment insurance and workers, there is only one thing to say. I once mentioned it to the Prime Minister: what have workers done to the government for the government to hate them so much? With all due respect for employers, how is it that, if one of them runs into difficulty, the government rushes to that employer's aid to make sure that he does not lose his business? However, if a worker loses his job, he is abusing the system. Were it not for workers, the honest men and women who get up every morning and work for those employers, there would be no employers. There would not be any rich people, any millionaires and billionaires. There are now more billionaire CEOs in the world than ever. Some of these people are hiding their money in other countries and not even paying their taxes. Even Paul Martin owned ships that did not fly the Canadian flag and hired cheap labour. He eliminated jobs for workers.
I see these people in my riding. I see women and men who work in fish processing plants. I see people who work in the forest. I meet with them. I meet with people who pick blueberries. I meet with people who cut trees to make Christmas wreaths, who are trying to earn a living and buy food for their children. The Conservatives could not care less about these people. Today we are hearing insult after insult, as we have heard from the minister who represents the riding of Madawaska—Restigouche. He says that people back home have not changed and would rather receive EI so they can hunt and fish instead of working. What an insult to workers. That is unacceptable. They deserve an apology.
The NDP's motion is commendable. It is commendable to say that we will protect workers' premiums. We want to create a system that will guarantee that women and men who lose their jobs will receive an income while they search for another job, instead of being forced to claim social assistance or work in other provinces.
I hope this motion is adopted. I hope that the NDP wins the next election and that the government starts to respect the men and women who get up every morning and work to build this country.