May 6, 2004 (37th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Suzanne Tremblay

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Suzanne Tremblay

I appreciate your comment, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to emphasize again a very important process which the hon. members must understand. Reference was made to the democratic deficit. We do have a democratic deficit in Canada, and a huge one at that.
The events of the past three or four months have made one thing clear: it is essential to have a fixed election date in order to know when an election will be called.
I could be making my last speech in this House and not be aware of it. Then again, I may get to make another speech next week, in September or in January 2005. No one can tell. If only I knew when I will be able to go on holiday, that would be just great. Instead, I have to wait, as the election call depends on what the polls and pundits have to say.
In 2000, just before the election, people were told not to worry, that changes were forthcoming. Since 2000, we have been saying and proving to the government, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the situation of seasonal workers makes no sense. It makes no sense to create such hardship for our fellow citizens who pay taxes, allowing the government to accumulate astronomical surpluses.
If we talk about lost revenue, it is because in every single one of the regions of Quebec, in all the ridings surveyed, the average loss is $40.5 million. That is the average for 75 ridings, ridings such as Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, Ahuntsic, Beauce, Bourassa and so on. As an average they lost $40.5 million.
Our numbers are different from those of the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord because we do not have the same reference point. We take into account those 60% of workers who are not eligible to EI. It is a real number which creates hardship for 60% of the people.
Let us have a look at the system we had before. I am not a supporter of the overly generous system we had before where you needed 10 weeks of work to get 42 weeks of benefits. The Bloc Quebecois does not want to get back to that either. That is not what it wants.
The Bloc Quebecois has worked in good faith with members of all parties. That work resulted in a report containing 17 unanimous recommendations. What we want, among others, is an end to the discrimination against young people, women, and the elderly. We want to see an end to discrimination. It does not make sense, in view of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that people be the target of discrimination. It is a shame. We demand an end to this kind of discrimination and equal treatment for all.
We ask the government to make an effort on behalf of workers who are the victims of the seasonal industry. When he was on this side, the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord was singing from the same song sheet as us. Now that he has crossed the floor, he is singing a different tune. Are we here to be blind to the needs of our constituents or to represent those who put their trust in us and voted for us?
How can people in his riding have any confidence? He may change his mind again after the next election and find it makes no sense. If he lands up in the opposition as a Liberal member, will he go back to his old Conservative buddies, since they will be forming the government next time around? At least, I sincerely hope so, because we have had enough of a bunch of people who won't understand anything. I say this openly.
How many times have we risen in this House to state the need for a special program geared to older workers, those aged 55 and over?
A number of plants are closing all over Quebec and Canada because the government has decided to engage in free trade, for example. In the case of cotton, it decided to open our borders to products from Bangladesh and China, and this has brought about plant closures. People who have served their employers for 30 years have reached an age where they are no longer able to do a different job.
In the past, we had this kind of program for older workers. It was tailored to their needs and worked just fine. We also had pilot projects that worked extremely well. It is not as if the government does not have examples of what can be done with the billions of dollars of surplus it is stealing from the fund for purposes other than those of the people contributing weekly to their employers. They pay premiums to get insurance. But then, somebody comes along and says: “This is a nice pile of money. I can put it to some other use. I can use it as I like.” Part of the EI fund was put into the Canadian unity fund. Anyway, we do not know were this money came from.
This does not make any sense. Older workers need support from the government because they do not have an easy time. They are good citizens who served their country well and paid taxes for 25 or 30 years. When they lose their job, we should support them.
We also asked for an increase in the mean benefit rate to 60%. When you buy insurance for your home or your car, the insurer asks you what deductible amount you would like, $250, $500, $1,000 or whatever. Several things can make the insurance more or less expensive. Workers are being told this: “Your premiums will be so much, and you will have a two-week waiting period.” But they are not paid 100% of their salary. The two-week waiting period is similar to the deductible I choose in my insurance plan. It is like a two week waiting period, so I should get at least 60%. Workers are not asking for so much. They are asking for benefits that will replace 60% of their salary. They are really quite generous not to ask for more. The government pockets the difference. Right know the benefit rate is 55%.
In my opinion, and this is the basis of the reform, the fund should be managed by those who pay into it. The government withdrew in 1990. Before that, it paid one third, employers paid one third and employees paid one third. Now, employers contribute 50%, and employees contribute 50%. The government does not contribute to the EI fund anymore, but it says that that money belongs to it. It is shameful. That money belongs to the employers and employees who contribute to the fund.
Since when does the money in your bank account belong to somebody else? You may have agreed to share a joint account with your spouse, which is perfectly normal, and that is what employers and employees do. They agree to share a joint account, but the government has nothing to do with it. So it is clear and simple, it is the basis of the reform: we need an independent employment insurance fund managed by those who pay into it. We want an independent fund that is separate from government operations.
We want a fund similar to the pension fund. We want a fund that will capitalize surpluses and that will be managed by contributors, that is employers and employees. We want the premium rates to be established in a way that will create a balance between debits and credits.
Recently we became aware of a letter sent by the Prime Minister to the provinces, including Quebec. He told them to increase taxes, to get the money they need to discharge their responsibilities. What employers and employees want is to be able to manage the fund, to balance debits and credits and to build a reserve. The government's actuaries have always said we should do so. There would be no problem in taking all these things into account and in building the kind of reserve that would help us through tough times.
We are calling for an indepth reform of the employment insurance plan, which needs to be rethought from a to z .
I remember hearing a minister—who is now responsible for health—say that what they wanted to do in fact was to send everyone back to work. It is ridiculous.
Currently, one of the negative impacts of the employment insurance program is that it contributes to young people leaving our regions. This is disastrous. The Liberals must stop their nice rhetoric to the effect that they wanted to put everyone back to work. When a young person from the Gaspé or the Lower St. Lawrence region has worked 600 hours at a summer job, he or she is forced to go to Montreal or to Quebec City to complete the required number of hours of work, if he or she wants to be able to get his or her job back in the region the following year. Quite often, a young person who left the region to be able to continue to work does not come back in our region.
The government should stop wearing blinkers and look at the negative impacts of its reform to truly be able to conduct the in-depth employment insurance reform that is needed in Canada.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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