The House resumed consideration of the motion and of the amendment.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my friend and dear colleague, the member for .
I want to start by wishing you well, Madam Speaker, as you return to the Bar of the House for a second parliamentary session that I hope will be filled with less uncertainty than the last one.
This Parliament will no doubt mark a special time in Quebec and Canada's shared history. In the coming months, you, Madam Speaker, will moderate debates that will guide us as legislators and citizens, if the government and the NDP will actually allow us to debate. I will come back to that a little later.
The choices we make here in the House about this pandemic, or rather, how to get through this pandemic, will shape our future, for better or for worse. My greatest wish, at the end of the day, is to serve my constituents and represent their aspirations to the best of my abilities with the sincere belief that there is no gain too small for Quebec.
Bill sets out some of these gains. That is why I was happy to see that the bill contains something that my party and my constituents have been calling for since the CERB was implemented, and that is employment incentives. It is also clear to me that the fact that the government is finally making changes to employment insurance is a good thing. Those are the two main points that I want to talk about today and obviously, as usual, I will not hold back in expressing my views.
At the height of the pandemic, parliamentarians approved a benefit that would help Quebeckers and Canadians get through the difficult but necessary lockdown. The Canada emergency response benefit was last-minute and imperfect, much like those who designed it.
Since we expected the economy to re-open in the short term, on the advice of business owners who help sustain the communities that elected us, the Bloc Québécois quickly called on the government to apply a similar, just as imperfect logic to the CERB as it does to employment insurance. More specifically, we asked the Liberals to introduce a concept that makes a good deal of sense, that of 50¢ per dollar earned rather than the $1,000 maximum.
The government's answer was quite surprising. We made that request in April and we were told that it was impossible. The former finance minister, who is no longer in the House, told us that it was impossible. All of my Bloc Québécois colleagues were told the same thing.
Make no mistake, I am glad it is in Bill C-2. I now know that no one will lose money going back to work, as a matter of principle, and that no one will refuse to work full time just because people can count. However, we have to acknowledge that the government is responsible for putting people in a tough spot and businesses in a precarious situation.
Will the Liberals take responsibility for that? I would tend to doubt it, now that they are implicitly admitting that our request was legitimate. I hope so, but beyond the Liberal's responsibility for the inefficient use of public funds—that is pretty well their trademark—I feel it is very important that we reassure Quebeckers and Canadians that the benefits are being properly administered. Many are wondering why that would work this time if it did not work in the past. That is important. We cannot fail under any circumstances. I am not going to predict failure. I think it will work well.
The government of the day and its Prime Minister were quick to declare that public servants are incapable of administering government programs. The WE Charity affair may have been forgotten because Parliament was shut down for six weeks, but that is in essence what the Prime Minister said about public servants. However, we do have a competent public service.
As we have seen throughout the crisis, every member of this illustrious House has been supported by public servants despite programs that are hard to explain and often hard to implement. I, for one, trust public servants. If any of them are listening to us now, I want them to know we will be here to support them in the months to come.
I think it will work well, but only if the government listens to opposition members, primarily Bloc Québécois members, and trusts them.
Ever since the beginning of this Parliament, we have never stopped suggesting legitimate changes to Canadian laws. We have never stopped advocating for common sense in Canadian politics. We have never stopped speaking up for Quebec, and the provinces too, as well as for the division of powers as set out in our precious Canadian Constitution.
When 32 separatists try to improve federal government programs, it is obviously not because they are trying to steal jobs from people across the aisle. It is because we want what is best for our people. Whenever the Liberals listen to the Bloc Québécois, things work. I have said this before in the House, and I will say it a third time with utter sincerity. Yes, we want a country for Quebeckers. We want the country of Quebec. However, in the meantime, we also want what is best for people who have lost their jobs. If there is one group of people the feds should listen to, it is the people we work for.
For decades, workers have been telling us that the EI system is no longer functional. In 1996, the Liberal government made so many cuts to the program that most workers who lose their jobs no longer have access to it. The proof is that an entire multi-billion dollar program had to be hastily created in two weeks because EI could not deliver. Worse yet, the Liberals, who pride themselves on being champions for the rights of youth and women, let the program create unacceptable disparities, which overwhelmingly affected youth and women. Leading statisticians have even calculated that two-thirds of women and youth under 30 who have lost their jobs are no longer eligible.
In addition, just for good measure, the Liberals and the Conservatives have dipped into the EI fund to balance the budget. Experts have even estimated that $59 billion has been taken from the EI fund. Some Canadians will say that $59 billion is not enough to cover the deficit accumulated by the Liberals, and they are right.
It is sad to put it like this, but Canada's tax policy is fundamentally based on oil and gas, cutting transfers to the provinces, and limiting eligibility for assistance programs. It is as simple as that. One of my fondest wishes for this bill is that it does not repeat past mistakes. It is imperative that the government reassure parliamentarians and workers that EI will be protected from political games. I would love to hear a minister confirm that the government will not do as it has in the past, that it will leave financial control in the hands of EI officials and ensure stable funding. Would anyone on the other side of the House have the guts to say that?
By hitting the reset button on democracy, the Liberal government evaded a multitude of scandals while waiting for the second wave to hit, and unfortunately, it is almost here. I will therefore keep co-operating to ensure that the response is appropriate and the focus is on this issue.
Now more than ever, opposition members come to Parliament knowing how important the federal government's response will be in the lives of those who are counting on their elected representatives to get us out of this. I would like to remind everyone that counting on their elected representative is not an absolute. In this chamber, we have been given a seat that comes with certain clear, limited powers. All members are intelligent people capable of forming their own opinion of how this crisis is being managed, but it is not up to us to supplant our provincial and municipal counterparts. Humility is very important to me, and it is a quality often lacking on the other side of the House. We need to have the humility to look after our own affairs and do it well. That is the only thing we were elected to do.
Yes, there needs to be generous, appropriate programs, but not if that means interfering in the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. Millions of people expect us to do our utmost for them. They want us to do our job better than ever, and they do not expect us to give lessons to anyone. Doing our job means reforming EI to fix the flaws we have been criticizing for so long. Doing our job means encouraging people to go back to work while reassuring them about their financial future, giving seniors what they need to make ends meet, providing the promised aid to farmers, and giving Quebec and the provinces the health care money that is rightfully theirs. Doing our job means respecting the democracy that has brought us here and providing enough time to do our work.
There is no denying that the Bloc Québécois is against these types of procedures designed to circumvent democratic principles and limit the rights and privileges of parliamentarians. The government is using this bill to make itself look good to the public while putting the opposition parties under the gun. The Bloc Québécois has always been accommodating because the government's proposed measures provided help to Quebeckers and Canadians. Why does the government believe this motion is necessary? Because it is in a rush, since time is running out on the CERB and the pandemic is getting worse. There is no other reason.
Nevertheless, I want to thank them. I hope that the coming weeks will rekindle the spirit of co-operation that emerged at the start of the crisis, when partisanship and political manoeuvring were set aside.