February 28, 2000 (36th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Christiane Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Christiane Gagnon

Mr. Speaker, the government tightened the eligibility criteria. The problem is that these criteria are very difficult to meet. To be eligible, more hours of work are required. This is the first thing we noticed. Given the $26 billion surplus it has accumulated in the EI fund and what it has done to tighten the eligibility criteria, the government has nothing to brag about.
Let us look at where the money came from. It was taken from the support that could previously be given to parents to help them raise their children. I cannot understand why the government member would ask me this question. He knows very well that six people out of ten are not entitled to employment insurance benefits because the criteria have been greatly tightened and it is now very difficult to qualify. Indeed, I wonder why it is called employment insurance, because it is no longer an insurance, according to workers who have lost their jobs, since no assistance is available after losing one's job until another one is found.
My colleague and several other members have proposed a series of changes to be made to the department. For example, the Employment Insurance Act could be improved by eliminating the two week waiting period before becoming eligible to EI benefits. The so-called black hole of spring could be remedied.
People are no longer able to accumulate the number of hours required to get EI benefits until they start a new job. This is particularly true for seasonal workers.
One of my colleagues represents the Gaspé region, where seasonal workers in the fishing industry have a hard time qualifying for employment insurance until they can start their seasonal jobs again. This is also the case with forest workers in the riding of Matapédia—Matane, who are confronted to the same kind of problem.
We have been very vigilant with respect to the relaxing of eligibility criteria. It is also very difficult to qualify for parental insurance, particularly for women who work part time. They are required to accumulate inordinate hours of work to be eligible.
We in the Bloc Quebecois were calling for a reduction in the number of hours worked to qualify for parental leave, asking that it be reduced to 300 hours. We wanted to reduce the eligibility requirement from the present 700 hours to 300 hours. Too many people are excluded under the present criteria.
There is also a problem with employment insurance, and with the POWA program as well. We all know that this program does not do anything for the workers over 55 years of age because of a lack of funding.
We all saw how, over the years, this government has reduced the workers' share. It is no wonder that people are getting poorer by the day. It comes from the restraints on social policies and the lack of support from this government.
I remember the remarks of a minister opposite, saying “When the provincial governments are forced to cut back and to turn down requests of citizens, we will show Canadians that, with our social safety net, we in the federal government are able to meet their urgent needs”.
They can brag about health care programs and programs for the homeless, but we all know that it amounts to a drop in the bucket compared to the money taken from the provinces.
I would like to conclude by saying that I am expecting questions from colleagues.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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