The federal government is stealing money from the country’s employment insurance fund that should rightfully belong to Canadian workers, federal NDP Leader Jack Layton said today.
Successive Liberal and Conservative governments used $54 billion from the fund to help pay down the national debt, he said in a speech to the Canadian Labour Congress.
A clause in the budget implementation bill, currently before the finance committee, states future governments won’t have to repay the money, Layton said.
Liberal and Conservative committee members voted to debate the clause for just five minutes, he added.
EI was created to help unemployed workers, but current and previous governments have treated the fund like free money, Layton said.
"This is $54 billion that belonged, and still does belong to, the working people of Canada," he said before hundreds of union representatives. "It was contributed by them and for them and it is being stolen.
"It is the biggest theft in Canadian history."
The NDP is doing everything it can to delay the bill’s passing, Layton said.
In question period earlier this month, the NDP leader raised the issue with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Harper rejected Layton’s claims the government is stealing money from workers, and he blamed previous Liberal governments for the misuse of EI funds.
The Conservative government has improved the management of employment insurance as well as established a $2-billion surplus for the fund, Harper said at the time.
The $54 billion from the EI fund has already been spent, and the Conservatives want to ensure the practice is not repeated in the future, the prime minister said.
Employers and workers can expect to pay higher premiums coupled with fluctuating rates if the government fails to reimburse the funds, Layton said in his speech.
He also touched on other issues such as the environment and job losses in the struggling manufacturing and forestry sectors.
The NDP will also work to protect public sector jobs and work for further equality in the workplace, he said.
"(Governments) have been carrying out a sustained attack in the form of downloading, downsizing, privatizing, right down to the corner post office in rural Canada," Layton said.
He also promised to bring back previously defeated anti-scab legislation, and to support First Nations on their national day of action.