By Robert Chisholm (guest opinion)
$57 billion. That’s the amount of money this federal Conservative government and previous Liberal governments took from the Employment Insurance while at the same time cutting EI benefits.
Fewer and fewer unemployed Canadians are eligible to receive support and wait times are out of control. Here’s the kicker: Canadians are now forced to pay the EI account out of deficit — a deficit that wouldn’t exist if Liberals and Conservatives had not misappropriated the premiums.
New Democrats know the $57-billion surplus belonged to workers and employers, not the government. Unfortunately, Liberals and Conservatives have shown we need a law to stop the government from taking EI premiums to cover other expenditures.
That’s why I recently introduced Bill C-605. This bill puts a legal fence around the Employment Insurance Operating Account (EIOA) to make sure that the government doesn’t raid the account whenever they feel like it.
New Democrats understand the need for a properly funded EI program that
is available to Canadians when they need it.
My bill legislates that money paid into the EIOA is used only to pay for EI benefits and other spending authorized under the Employment Insurance Act. It also requires the Minister in charge of the EI program to receive unanimous consent from the Canada Employment Insurance Commission (CEIC) if he or she wants
to close the account. The CEIC has members representing both workers and employers.
This government’s contempt for people who’ve lost their job is clear. Recently, I asked the government if they would finally sit down with the Atlantic premiers to discuss the 2012-13 changes to Employment Insurance and how they affect our region. Not only did Minister Kenny suggest that the EI system was none of their business, he insulted the unemployed, saying they needed to be reminded to look for work.
Minister Kenney’s response was offensive to all Canadians and it oversimplified the coverage provided through the EI system. People also access Employment Insurance when they are too sick to work, take maternity and parental leave, or act as a care-giver to someone who is critically ill. When Canadians who have been paying in to EI for many years need support, they shouldn’t have to wait six or eight weeks to get their benefits or be insulted in the process.
We deserve better. That is why an NDP government will work with the provinces, workers, and employers to ensure our EI system is healthy, sustainable, and there for Canadians when they need it.
Robert Chisholm is the NDP MP for Dartmouth – Cole Harbour and Official Opposition Deputy Critic for EI