Mrs. Michelle Dockrill (Bras d'Or—Cape Breton, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-44, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.
It is almost ironic that we are here tonight talking about the Liberals tinkering with the unemployment insurance, given that over the course of the last seven days, day after day, minute after minute, all of us have heard Canadians talking about our former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the legacy he left them.
Although at times not all Canadians agreed with the former prime minister, I think there is a sense across the country that he did believe in justice for all Canadians. What he also taught Canadians was to reach for the unreachable, to touch the untouchable and to dream the impossible dream. In order to do that he taught us to believe in ourselves and that it was the responsibility of the government to empower its citizens, and that it was also the responsibility of the federal government to play an active role in that empowerment.
Now I stand here in the Chamber and ask myself what kind of legacy the Liberal government will leave Canadians. What kind of legacy is the Prime Minister going to leave children, like my 11 year old daughter and my two year old son? Today in the discussions we had some sense of what that legacy is going to be. It is going to be about long waiting lines for health care and people who cannot access critical surgeries they need.
When we talk about the unemployed, what legacy has the government left? Being from Atlantic Canada I have to say it has been very clear that since 1993 the Liberal government has clearly made a frontal assault on not only seasonal workers but on Atlantic Canadians.
As my colleague from Halifax West noted, we have to ask ourselves, why now? Why at this point in time? We know there are a number of members on the opposite side of the House who have urged the government to recognize the problems its changes to EI have made and to effect some change. I guess the question is can we deny that in this bill there is no change? No we cannot say that. There has been some tinkering with the legislation.
The Minister of HRDC stood time and time again in the House and told us that her department was monitoring the changes to the employment insurance. Up until approximately two months ago she continued to tell us that Canadians thought it was working fine. We know that is not a reality.
In my part of the country people are not seasonal workers because they want to be. There is no such thing in the country as a seasonal worker. It is the work that is seasonal. People in my riding want nothing more than to work 365 days a year with holidays and vacations. However, at the hands of the Liberal government they have had difficulty doing that.
Some people on the opposite side of the House talk about the dependency on the government in Atlantic Canada. In my part of the country the dependency was created by the same Liberal government. We had walls which cost Canadian taxpayers over a million dollars. We heard about projects like Scotia Rainbow. Cape Breton Island is full of those kinds of projects. Were those projects initiated to assist people in gaining employment? No, they were not.
The reason for those projects and others was to make sure that the Liberal government could continue to funnel money to its friends and do it on the backs of poor individuals in Cape Breton who wanted nothing more than to get up every morning, go to work, come home and feel good about their ability to feed and clothe their kids.
When we talk about dependency, it has been created by the government. In 1997 less than 20% of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 qualified for unemployment insurance. We heard the government stand up time and time again to talk about how good it had been and how much it had done for youth. Today that figure is only 15%. That is the good job the government has done.
Thirty-two per cent of women who are unemployed receive employment insurance benefits. I even have a problem referring to it as the government employment insurance. As we know, it originated as a safety net, as unemployment insurance. We paid into it in the event there was a possibility that some day we might have to take out of that. However, when the name changed the government abandoned the unemployed of this country.
Why change it now? Are we on the eve of an election? Mr. Speaker, you might have more of an inside track than I do, but it sure sounds like it.
In 1995 the finance minister's own words were that any economic recovery would bypass Cape Breton. This is about buying votes. Everyone knows it. Backbenchers on the government side know that is what it is about. This is not about helping the unemployed. This is not about helping seasonal workers. This is about taking money from an individual's cheque for a specific purpose and then using it for another purpose.
I think that is the definition of fraud, when we take something meant for something specific and use it for something entirely different. We have a finance minister who sits in the House and who goes across the country and boasts about his $33 billion surplus. What does this legislation mean in terms of putting anything back? It means 1.5% of that $33 billion.
Do Atlantic Canadians buy this? No way. Do Canadians buy this? No way. We have a Liberal government that talks about values and talks about its commitment to social programs, but Canadians have suffered from the actions of the Liberal government.
I have no doubt that the government should never under estimate Atlantic Canadians. Atlantic Canadians sent them a clear message in 1997 and said “No more. You are not going to use us any more”. Atlantic Canadians will say that again.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Employment Insurance Act