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41st PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 154

CONTENTS

Thursday, September 27, 2012




House of Commons Debates

VOLUME 146 
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NUMBER 154 
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1st SESSION 
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41st PARLIAMENT 

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Speaker: The Honourable Andrew Scheer

    The House met at 10 a.m.

Prayers



ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

[Routine Proceedings]

  (1005)  

[English]

House of Commons

    I have the honour to lay upon the table the report, “Strategic Outlook for the 41st Parliament”, of the House of Commons administration.

Criminal Code

     He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce a bill to amend the Criminal Code, which would establish personating a peace officer for the purpose of committing another offence to be considered by a court to be an aggravating circumstance. I introduced this bill in the previous Parliament and received support from all parties, but Parliament dissolved before it could be read a third time. I am confident that members of this House will also see the merit of this important amendment.
    My bill seeks to preserve the trust and respect for authority that we have for police officers and to increase penalties for those who breach this trust to cause harm.

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Petitions

Pensions 

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition on behalf of the constituents of Random—Burin—St. George's. They are calling on the government to reverse a decision to raise the age for receipt of OAS from 65 to 67 years. I hear repeatedly everywhere I go in my riding and throughout the province that this is not acceptable. It is going to impose a hardship on our seniors. Those who have given so much to all of us are asking that the government consider that and reverse this decision.

Citizenship and Immigration  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the members of my riding of Davenport in Toronto who continue to express concern over Bill C-31. This petition calls for the reversal of some of the more egregious elements of that bill.

The Environment  

    Mr. Speaker, I have another petition on behalf of Canadians from coast to coast to coast who have grave concerns over the cutting of Canada's Experimental Lakes Area. There are hundreds upon hundreds of signatures on this one petition.

Abortion  

    Mr. Speaker, I am proud to present a petition on behalf of constituents who note that Canada is the only country in the western world, in the company of China and North Korea, without laws restricting abortion. My constituents call on Parliament to do as the Supreme Court suggested be done many years ago, which is to enact abortion legislation that restricts abortion to the greatest extent possible.

Katimavik  

    Mr. Speaker, I have petitions from coast to coast to coast, from Halifax, Toronto, Calgary, all the way through to the west coast and into the north. The petitioners are calling upon the Government of Canada to reverse the ill-timed and shortsighted decision to cut funding to the Katimavik youth program that had helped unite Canadian youth from right across the country in a spirit of great pride for Canada. The government's decision to cut this $11 million program seems more out of spite than out of reason, as the petitioners note.

Canada-European Union Free Trade Agreement  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed mostly by my constituents who are concerned about the effect of the Canada-European comprehensive economic and trade agreement on farmers. They are concerned that it might force them to use genetically modified seed. They are concerned about the dangers inherent in genetically modified foods. They are also worried about multinationals that are using CETA to take control of our food supply.

The Environment  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by many residents of my riding of Winnipeg Centre. They call upon the Government of Canada to save the Experimental Lakes Area, Canada's leading freshwater research station. Many of the signatories actually work at the ELA and live in my riding. They are calling upon the government to recognize the importance of the ELA and the Government of Canada's mandate to study, preserve and protect its aquatic ecosystems, to reverse the decision to close the ELA research station and continue to staff and provide financial resources to the ELA at the current or higher level of commitment.

Questions on the Order Paper

    Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
    The Speaker: Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

[Government Orders]

[English]

Helping Families in Need Act

    The House resumed from September 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-44. This is a bill that we support at second reading because obviously this is an issue of helping families. It is not a question of ideology or partisan politics; it is about helping families in their time of need.
    As members well know, Bill C-44 would amend the Canada Labour Code, the Employment Insurance Act, the Income Tax Act and the income tax regulations to allow workers to take leave and draw EI in the event of their child's serious illness, disappearance or death due to crime. These are all very serious and challenging circumstances which unfortunately too many Canadian families are dealing with.
    It goes without saying that we agree with supporting families in their time of exceptional need and at a time when there is suffering and trauma going on in a family. However, I do want to remind the House that during the 2011 election campaign the Conservatives campaigned on a promise to fund this measure from general revenue and not the EI fund.
    We note that the grant for the parents of murdered and missing children would be paid from general revenue. That is what is being proposed here. However, it appears that the Conservatives have ignored their own campaign promise, in that the benefits to be paid to the parents of critically ill children will not be paid through general revenue but will be paid through EI.
     This is by far the more costly of the benefits because of the number of people involved. This is at a time when the cumulative deficit for the EI fund is at $9 billion. This is at a time when we have a sluggish economy, persistent exceptionally high unemployment in Canada, and sadly at a time when the government has been attacking and rolling back the benefits to which Canadian families can have access. That is extremely problematic.
    The Conservatives are making this proposal at a time when more than half of Canadians who are unemployed cannot access EI benefits. That is simply unacceptable. New Democrats will continue to fight for an EI system that is fair, accessible and available to Canadians right across this country in their time of need.
    I do remember some years back when the Conservatives also agreed with that. At one point in time they had called unemployment insurance, as it was called at that time, the best adjustment program that we have in this country. It is an adjustment program that is necessary during periods of downturn in the economy, but also during periods of great economic change in our society.
    New Democrats have spoken many times in this House about the deindustrialization that is taking place under the watch of the current government and the previous government. We have seen hundreds of thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs leave this country. Far too many people ultimately do not get access to EI benefits. They end up in jobs that are very low paying, contract or temporary positions, and face a dramatic decline in their standard of living.
    The EI system was designed to help working people during these periods of adjustment in a changing economy. What has been so grossly unfair is that the current government and the previous Liberal government plundered tens of billions of dollars out of the EI fund to balance the books. The money in the EI fund was paid by workers and employers across the country and ought to have been available to people in their time of need when they faced unemployment.

  (1010)  

    Today we are left with this legacy of more than half of unemployed workers not being able to access benefits. We have a deficit in the fund, and benefits have been reduced. I want to make the point that further tapping into this fund for a new benefit, which is in complete contradiction to the Conservatives' campaign pledge, is simply not acceptable. Of course we do support the principle of helping Canadian families in their time of need.
    There are many tragic stories of Canadian families that have been affected by the critical illness of a child or children who have been victims of very serious crimes, including murder.
    Recently I spoke with a constituent in my riding of Parkdale—High Park in Toronto, a mother who is a strong community activist. She lives in Toronto community housing, so it is a family of limited means. This woman is a single parent and her only child, her son, was walking in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon and was the victim of a drive-by shooting. Fortunately for all concerned, this 15-year-old man survived, but the bullet went through his abdomen. He was severely injured. He remains at home. He has been completely traumatized by this incident. He will have a permanent disability as a result of his injuries. This is through no fault of his own. By all accounts from people in the community, he is a good kid who does well in school and helps out in the neighbourhood, but he was the victim of a random crime in his neighbourhood.
    It is frightening. I am a parent of three sons, and I imagine that could happen to children anywhere in this country. The woman said that because her son has been so traumatized, he has not been able to return to school. They are being forced to move not only out of the Toronto community housing building, but they are looking to move out of Toronto because her son has been so traumatized. He does not want to go out of their apartment. He is afraid to go to the window because he fears for his life.
    This is one example. We get a sense of what some families are dealing with because, through no fault of their own, they have been victims of crime. We support the goal of assisting families in their time of need, whether it is a child who has been a victim of crime or whether it is a child who is critically ill. This means parents have to take time off work. In some cases they have to travel some distance to deal with the crisis they are facing.
    We have difficulty with imposing more costs on the EI system at a time when this fund is already stressed, at a time when more than half of unemployed workers cannot claim the benefits for which they have paid and to which they ought to be entitled.
     I hope that we can have a good debate about the best way to implement this goal of helping Canadian families. I hope the government will take the opportunity to consider constructive proposals to make the bill better so that it serves the needs of families in crisis, but also does not negatively impact the far too many Canadian workers, more than one million, who are unemployed.

  (1015)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her excellent speech, which was very interesting.
    Everyone here today agrees that this bill can help families who have been the victims of various tragic situations. That is why it is important to support this bill at second reading.
    However, as the hon. member also mentioned, several aspects of it are less attractive. Specifically, when the Conservatives promised to introduce this measure, it was supposed to be paid for out of general revenue. But now we see that the money will be taken from the employment insurance fund.
    Does the hon. member believe that this is the right thing to do? Employees and employers pay into the employment insurance fund, although the government stopped paying into it around 1995; the government no longer invests a single cent in that fund. Does the member believe that taking money from the EI fund is the right way to go about this?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I share the member's goal of wanting to help families in need. Right now, fewer than 4 in 10 unemployed Canadians are getting EI benefits. This is an historic low in this country at a time of tremendous economic transition. We see massive deindustrialization of the manufacturing heartland in this country. It is a disgrace that we are losing our manufacturing and economic powerhouse in central Canada. Yet, as working people go through this transition, they are losing one of the anchors of benefits to help them transition to other kinds of employment.
    So, while I share his agreement with the goal of the bill, the measures, as they are proposed, do not coincide with an election promise of the government. We believe they would be problematic, not just for the families for whom these benefits are intended, but for all Canadians who today or in future hope to get employment insurance.

  (1020)  

    Mr. Speaker, I am glad that a bill has been introduced in this House to support families in their time of need.
    I have been hearing about a bigger issue from my constituents over the last number of months. A number of cases have come into my office where the constituents are having difficulty getting their EI cheques on time. This is a bridging time for them. When they lose a job, they need that money in order to bridge to the next job.
    Would the member for Parkdale—High Park talk about the constituents in her riding who have had difficulty getting their EI cheques?
    Mr. Speaker, to dig down a bit deeper into these statistics, there are more than 870,000 unemployed Canadians who are not getting EI. Even those who qualify for EI are having a terrible time trying to get access to benefits, just as he said.
    I had people in my office, in tears, before the holidays last December, because they kept getting this awful voice mail system and no one ever got back to them, They could never get to speak to a real person. There were people whose claims were refused pro forma. If they had had the chance to speak to a real person and to clarify their claim, we know that, in the majority of cases, they would have received their benefits right away. It was a terribly stressful time for people.
     And it still exists today. We have seen cutbacks of the staff who process EI claims. Increasingly, people are forced into an automated system that they are not familiar with, resulting in people who ought to be entitled to benefits not getting those benefits.
    We agree with helping families who are in traumatic circumstances because of their children. However, we also believe in an employment insurance system that works for all Canadians who are unemployed and need that bridging benefit.
    Mr.Speaker, I am very happy today to rise in the House and express my strong support for Bill C-44, the helping families in need act.
    As Canada's Minister of Labour, my focus is on the Canadian workplace. I think and I hope this act would be welcomed by both workers and employers because it brings support to families at a time when they need it most. As members know, supporting working families is a priority for this federal government. There is no more important time to do that than when parents are grieving the loss of their child, dealing with the disappearance of their child, or caring for their critically ill child. That is why this bill intends to amend the Canada Labour Code to create a new unpaid leave to address the needs of parents who are faced with this kind of unthinkable hardship.
    Working parents face a lot of pressures. Parenthood can be a challenging time. Careful planning and organizing can certainly help, but a bit of bad luck can throw all that careful planning and organizing out the window. Some scenarios for parents are predictable and can be handled with ease. If someone has a common cold, that affects the whole family; a school can close because of a snowstorm; or there may be an injury requiring basic medical care. These situations can pretty much be expected by parents. I am sure most of us have dealt with these things and can relate.
    However, there are scenarios that parents cannot foresee or even imagine. Heaven forbid the doctor telling parents that their child has something much more serious than a cold or the flu. Suddenly, they find themselves in the hospital keeping vigil over a little person who has been hooked up to tubes and wires. At a time like that, do they think about the emails they have not answered or the deadlines they have missed at work? They do not. Unfortunately, though, the world does not stop while they are dealing with their child's illness. The bills keep coming in even if they have taken a leave of absence from work. They still need to eat, heat their house, and put gas in their car. Indeed, they may likely have extra expenses to cover because their child is in the hospital.
     Then there is the anguish that parents feel when a child is missing, possibly the victim of crime. What if the unthinkable happens and the parents' worst fears are confirmed and they are told that their child will never be coming home? As a mother, I cannot even imagine the pain that a parent can feel at that time and my heart goes out to those in these terrible situations.
     These are situations that, as parents, we never want to be faced with.
    I am glad that our government can offer these families more than just sympathy. We can also give them financial help. Canadians told our government that existing EI benefits are inadequate for the parents of critically ill children and we listened. They told us that parents of missing or murdered children need more assistance and we saw that they were right. We were also told that people on parental leave sometimes fall ill and they need to be able to access EI sickness benefits so we took action. That is why in Bill C-44 the federal government has launched important new initiatives.
    I will give a brief overview of the initiatives in general and then I will focus on the impact that these changes would have on the Canada Labour Code.
    On April 20, 2012, the Prime Minister announced our government's intent to offer a federal income support for parents of murdered and missing children. Every year, approximately 100 children in Canada die as the result of a Criminal Code offence such as homicide or aggravated assault, and 1,100 children are reported missing as a result of abduction. Parents who lose a child to illness or injury must make many end-of-life decisions, including arranging a funeral. However, parents of murdered or missing children must also deal with uncertainty, sometimes for an extended period of time. They are involved with the police and with the courts. These are not quick processes. Currently, parents of murdered or missing children have access to limited financial assistance. The victims fund reimburses expenses incurred by Canadians who are victims of crime abroad. In addition, the RCMP's travel/reunification program provides free transportation to reunite a parent with a child who was abducted by the other parent.

  (1025)  

    Parents who are sick due to the emotional trauma related to the death or disappearance of their child and are unable to work for this reason may also be entitled to up to 15 weeks of employment insurance sickness benefits.
    However, once implemented, the new federal income support will be a substantial improvement. It will provide payments of $350 per week for up to 35 weeks in a one year period to parents of children under 18 who have gone missing or have died as a result of a suspected Criminal Code offence. This income support program is expected to be operational by January 1, 2013.
    I have a few words to say about the provincial benefits. Parents whose child has died or is missing as a result of a suspected Criminal Code offence have varying levels of support across the country when they take time off work. All provinces, except Newfoundland and Labrador and the territories, provide varying degrees of compensation and financial assistance for victims of crime, which may include parents of murdered or missing children. For example, Nova Scotia provides a maximum of $4,000 for counselling expenses, whereas Manitoba has a more comprehensive program with no maximum amount. This new federal income support will complement these initiatives and will help lessen the burden on parents.
    Parents of critically ill children will also get more help. Under the existing legislation, working parents may be eligible under some circumstances for up to six weeks of EI compassionate care benefits if their child is so sick that he or she is in danger of dying in the following 26 weeks. However, the current criteria for medical eligibility excludes many parents from qualifying for support under this compassionate care benefit, even though their child may be critically ill and in significant need of care. Therefore, on August 7, 2012, the Prime Minister announced our government's intention to bring forward legislative changes to the Employment Insurance Act to address this issue.
    Through this bill, we are making these changes and we are creating a new EI benefit for parents of critically ill children. This new benefit will provide up to 35 weeks of temporary income support to eligible parents who take leave from work to care for a critically ill or injured child. This income supplement is expected to be available to claimants in June 2013.
    In the face of overwhelming difficulties, such as a child who is missing or critically ill, I think employers understand that employees may need to take time off work. Employers recognize that workers who are simply exhausted or are under stress because of these personal challenges are a lot less likely to be attentive and certainly less productive. I am sure most employers would be relieved if they knew that their employees were getting a basic income while they lived through such challenging times and that at least some of the financial stress was lessened.
    Workers who can get the time they need to recover from a crisis are more likely to return to work and to return in a better state of mind. Therefore, parents who take leave from their job to care for a critically ill child or to deal with the murder or disappearance of a child often have two additional worries on top of their pressing crisis: first, they worry that their money will run out; and second, they worry that their job will disappear while they are away from work and focused on their child.
    Our government's position is clear: No employee should have to worry about losing his or her job when dealing with a traumatic experience like the death, disappearance or serious illness of a child. That is why we have proposed through Bill C-44 to amend part III of the Canada Labour Code to give employees in federally-regulated workplaces the right to take unpaid leave if they find themselves in one of those unfortunate situations.
    For parents of a critically ill child, the Canada Labour Code will be amended to provide job protection for up to 37 weeks, for parents of murdered children the amendments will provide job protection for up to 104 weeks, and for parents of a missing child for 52 weeks.
    For employees in other jurisdictions, the Canada Labour Code protection may vary. Therefore, I do hope that other provincial and territorial governments will follow our lead and amend their respective labour laws to protect the jobs of parents of murdered or missing children and critically ill children. That way these parents will also be able to benefit from these new Government of Canada income support measures while knowing that their jobs are protected by their specific jurisdiction.

  (1030)  

    Employees would not be required or expected to take the maximum time allowed but it will be there if they need it. These measures will support federally regulated employees to take time off work in various scenarios. Should they require time to grieve, to address the severe psychological impact of the death of their child, to attend judicial proceedings or just to deal with psychological shock, the provisions will be available in the Canada Labour Code.
    This legislation can only have a positive impact on workers in a great time of need. The measures in the bill will give Canadians a greater sense of security. We need to do everything we can to treat workers facing a personal crisis with compassion. I know employers will support these measures because they will be of crucial importance to the workers who need them.
    I thank hon. members for their support of the bill. I trust that we will do the right thing and we will support the bill.

  (1035)  

    Mr. Speaker, one of my concerns is a little outside this particular bill but it is still relevant in terms of the need to look at employment insurance and how we support individuals who might need some form of compassionate care. I am thinking of parents, siblings or a spouse who need to have a family member at their side, especially in terminal care cases.
    To what degree is the government prepared to expand those types of compassionate benefits to those individuals? It is something that I and many members of the Liberal caucus talked a great deal about in the last campaign. To what degree is the government prepared to entertain those types of progressive moves?
    Mr. Speaker, we are focusing on supporting families and helping them balance their work and their family responsibilities. We are narrowing in on these very difficult circumstances that parents face much to their surprise and much to their sadness.
    These amendments would allow us to offer new support measures to Canadian families at a time when they need them the most, and we have identified these periods of time: when a child is missing because of a Criminal Code offence, when a child has died because of a Criminal Code offence and if a child is critically ill. Those things are there to supplement what we currently have in place. We are very proud of the legislation that we have brought forward.
     However, we always end up listening to our stakeholders and the Canadian public because we do extensive consultations. I am sure many people have indicated to the minister improvements that could be made, but at this point in time this is exactly what we are delivering on and this is what we said we would do for parents and families. That is exactly why we brought the bill to the House.
    Mr. Speaker, the one thing that probably unites everyone in the House is that we have all met the mother who has told us about her child who is suffering from cancer treatments and that her EI will not cover her expenses. We have all had to deal with the bureaucracy. We have all had to deal with the fact that mothers like this have been falling through a black hole. I am glad that all members of the House recognize the need to provide that bridging.
    The original promise had been to take the money out of general revenues. I am not opposing the principle but with the pressure on EI right now, with over 1.3 million unemployed, should we be looking at another way to augment this so that the EI fund that is already in deficit is not put in a worse position?
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's support on the matter because it is the right thing for us to do.
    With respect to the technicalities of the general revenue fund versus the EI fund, the reality is that we are here to support families. We have various tools that enable us to do so. It is appropriate that we look to the workplace because that is exactly what we are dealing with. We are dealing with a workplace issue. We want to ensure we protect an employee's ability to go back to work and that his or her job is secure. We want to ensure we provide employees with a basic level of income so they can continue to do what they should be doing and that is looking after their child or helping with respect to murdered or missing children.
    Mr. Speaker, this is a good bill in a way but it is only a baby step.
    The minister said that the Conservative government was listening to groups and to people. However, I previously introduced a bill in the House that dealt with individuals with cancer and changing the weeks for EI from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. Many times it takes that long for an individual on chemotherapy to be cured.
    If the government had been listening to these groups, whether it is the Canadian Cancer Society, Heart and Stroke Foundation or the Diabetes Association, it would know that these people need more than 15 weeks. We need to give them 50 weeks. Time and time again it has been shown in other countries that if we help people through that bridge, they become more productive citizens and do not fall through the cracks.
    I would like the minister to comment on my bill. If she is listening to these groups of people, is she hearing what I am hearing?

  (1040)  

    Mr. Speaker, being a parent of a critically ill child there are all kinds of different timing issues. There are all kinds of different illnesses that could happen, quite frankly.
     I am very pleased today with respect to Bill C-44 because in this place we have agreed that this is something we should do. I am very happy that as parliamentarians we are moving in the right direction.
    I hear the member when he says that he would like to see more. The EI special benefits for parents of critically ill children is a new 35-week benefit that will be on top of the 6 weeks that are already available under the EI compassionate care benefit. That is approximately 41 weeks available to parents in cases where the child is critically ill. It is certainly better than what they currently have. The reality is that we have listened to what is needed out there and this is the appropriate measure that we are introducing today.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am almost moved by the minister's comments, because I know what she is talking about. I had a child who was lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to tubes. I understand her intention, but I have to wonder if the minister realizes that it is still employment insurance, which has been compromised by cuts, that is supposed to handle these files, which, by definition, are extremely complex.
    People who go through these terrible experiences have no desire to confide in a voice mail system or go online to fill out a bunch of forms. I wonder how people will react when they have to go through 12 steps in an automated menu just to be told to leave a message.
    That is the only aspect about this bill that worries me.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the men and women who work for Service Canada are professionals who do an excellent job of delivering the benefits, answering questions and helping people with the forms. As a result, I have great confidence in their ability to administer and deliver this program in a compassionate way.
    We were all children once. Whether we are all parents is irrelevant. We all certainly want what is best for kids and parents who are struggling at that point in time.
    With respect to EI itself, as I stated in my remarks, this is a measure, I believe, as Minister of Labour, and having great contact with the federal private sector workplace, that employers and workers will embrace and appreciate. Those are the ones who pay into the EI fund. I have great confidence that they know it is the right thing to do and it is the right place to deal with it.
    Mr. Speaker, could the hon. minister clarify something I am still not clear about after the technical briefing last night.
    I understand that, in the amending statute, the Canada Labour Code will reflect the fact that jobs are protected in the case of missing or murdered children. However, I was told last night that the grant itself is not in the amending bill and will not appear in the statute. It will be a grant.
    I am wondering if she happens to know where in the system that grant would come from. Will there be regulations. Is it simply a policy of some sort? I am just wondering about tracing the trail of the money on this.
    Mr. Speaker, as indicated already, the new grant is a taxable income support grant. It would be available January 1, 2013, and provide $350 per week for up to 35 weeks for parents of murdered or missing children.
    We estimate, because of the thousand families who are expected to benefit from this new measure, a yearly cost of approximately $10 million. The grant would be funded through general revenues.
    Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Newton—North Delta.
    New Democrats will be supporting Bill C-44, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and the income tax regulations. In part, what Bill C-44 would do is make a number of amendments to the Canada Labour Code to expand leaves of absence available to parents. The bill would allow for the extension of maternity and parental leave by the number of weeks that a child is hospitalized during a leave. It would allow for the extension of parental leave by the amount of sick leave taken during a parental leave, as well as for participation in the Canadian Reserve Forces. It would grant an unpaid leave of absence of up to 37 weeks for parents of critically ill children, 104 weeks for parents whose children have been murdered as a result of a crime, and 52 weeks for parents of children who have disappeared as a result of a crime. It would extend the period of unpaid absence due to illness or injury up to 17 weeks, without fear of layoff .
    These changes would apply to workers in federally regulated industries only, but it is hoped that the provinces would make similar changes to their own labour code as happened when compassionate care benefits were introduced.
    New Democrats are supporting the bill, but hopefully at committee there will an opportunity for some exchange about how the bill could be enhanced.
    One of the pieces that came up when the member for Hamilton Mountain spoke in the House about the bill was the fact that the Conservatives actually changed their approach to this. I want to quote from her speech. She said:
    While support for these parents is important, and frankly, long overdue, I am concerned that parents are only eligible if they worked a minimum of 600 insurable hours over the past year. More than anything, this raises a question for me of whether the EI program is the best vehicle for delivering this parental support.
    I would point out that at one time the government agreed with me. As recently as 2011 the Conservative Party platform read, “Funding for this measure will come from general revenue, not EI premiums”. The Conservatives were right to adopt that approach.
    Whether one is a waged worker, a senior manager, a professional, or a stay-at-home parent, the devastation of a critically ill child is the same. All Canadians who find themselves caring for their seriously ill child are incurring a myriad of expenses that go beyond lost wages, and they all deserve our support.
    That is a very important point, because we all know that sometimes family members are not in the waged economy. A child may become ill and there is very little support for families who are not in paid employment. Therefore, although this measure is a good step, it does not look at the larger picture.
    I heard the Minister of Labour talk about the fact that there is an expectation, a hope, a wish that provincial governments would line up and make amendments to their labour codes because this only deals with federally regulated workers. I would like to quote from an article in Moneyville, entitled “New EI benefits for parents of sick kids won’t protect jobs”. It highlights the challenges that we have, and I will talk a bit more about jurisdiction issues on another matter. It states:
    Prime Minister Harper’s recent announcement of up to 35 weeks of Employment Insurance benefits for parents of critically ill children beginning in June 2013 is laudable. However, unless parallel changes to provincial labour standards are made, parents who are off work to care for sick children may not have a job to go back to.
    Since 2004, Canadians have had access to up to six weeks of Compassionate Care Benefits from EI after a two-week waiting period if they have to be away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a family member who is gravely ill....
    However, few employees have applied for EI Compassionate Care Benefits and Ontario’s Family Medical Leave because to be eligible for both, claimants need a doctor’s certificate that the patient they are caring for has a specified, serious medical condition with a significant risk of death occurring within six months. This has been a particular problem for parents with seriously ill children.
    On that point, there has actually been very little uptake on that six weeks of compassionate leave because of a very complicated set of reasons. Part of it has been this almost requirement that families give up hope that their loved one will recover. For many people, at one time when a diagnosis was given it may well have been a death sentence. With improvements in medical care that are now available, people do recover.

  (1045)  

    Part of the challenge with the uptake on that compassionate leave piece was the fact that it was acknowledging that the person or the child was going to die. Therefore, there is a need for more latitude and discretion around what serious illness is. Hopefully that will also be clarified.
    The article goes on to say:
    It is also important to recognize that [the government’s] recent announcement does nothing to correct the fatal flaw in the EI Compassionate Care Benefits program as it applies to non-parents who need time to care for ailing loved ones. If the federal government is serious about offering support to family caregivers, the requirement for medical certification of imminent death should also be eliminated so non-parents can more readily claim up to the six weeks of compassionate care benefits currently available.
    Mr. Speaker, I know that you have done a tremendous amount of work around the issue of palliative care and recognize how important it is sometimes for non-parents to provide support for somebody who is seriously ill.
    Many of us in the House have aging parents. I am blessed that my mother is very healthy, but a few years ago my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. There was no way for family members to support him other than to take unpaid time off work.
     It is very important with our aging population and other changes happening in our society that we recognize that non-parents are often caregivers and need to be recognized in this legislation.
    I want to briefly touch on the jurisdictional issue. Again, we have heard that the government is hopeful the provinces will step up and be part of this granting of leave for compassionate reasons and to care for somebody who is seriously ill.
    A number of years ago I was fortunate enough to introduce Jordan's principle in the House, which was a direct result of a critically ill child and jurisdictional issues. I want to quote from this article on Jordan's principle:
    Very often it is the harmless innocents that get caught in these jurisdictional black holes and in this case it was a baby from Norway House, Man., named Jordan. He was born in 1999 with a serious genetic and medical condition. It soon became apparent that he would have to be placed in long-term care. After two years the medical staff determined he could be released from the hospital and sent to a special foster-care home. Unfortunately he got caught between competing bureaucracies. The provincial and federal governments quarrelled over who should pay for his care. The tragic outcome was that Jordan spent two more years in hospital and died before there was any resolution. Following Jordan's tragic life and death there was an outcry from the First Nations community and front-line health workers. The result was the drafting of a statement of principle that put the child first when it comes to funding and jurisdictional disputes. It's called “Jordan's principle” in his honour.
    In the case of critically ill children, I would argue that at times it could be a stretch to hope that the provincial governments will come to the table with what the federal government has offered. In Ontario there has been some movement around the granting of compassionate leave, but just to assume that all provinces will come to the table and grant this leave under their own labour codes so that non-federally regulated workers are included might be a bit of a pipe dream.
    Jordan's principle was passed in the House five or six years ago but we have still not seen the present federal government moving to take leadership and make sure that children and their families actually do come first. I remain to be convinced that this is going to work.
    We have seen the Conservative government tinker with parts of the Employment Insurance Act and disregard some of the very serious deficiencies. I heard a member talk about the lack of resources. This is not about the good front-line workers in employment insurance. They are doing what they can, but they cannot cope with the volume. This is not about the fact that only 40% of workers actually qualify to collect employment insurance. It is not about the fact that there has not been significant changes in the amount of money that people are being paid as our economy has continued to stagger.
     Although we welcome this bill and think that it is an appropriate thing to do, I urge the government to take a look at why it is that Canadians who have paid into this fund simply cannot collect benefits in this day and age.

  (1055)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague's speech, and I would like to congratulate her.
    She spoke about caregivers. In my riding, there is a group of caregivers. They are very concerned by the fact that they have to take time off work, because taking care of a sick family member is really a full-time job. They are often looking after a spouse or parents.
    I know that the NDP has thought long and hard about this issue. Therefore, I would like to ask my colleague to explain to the House how the NDP proposes to help this portion of the population, which still does not have the support needed to take care of a family member.
    I am pleased with this bill because it will actually help the parents of sick children and children who, unfortunately, are the victims of crime. However, we must also consider this other portion of the population, and I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about that.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, part of the reason the NDP is supporting this bill is that we agree there need to be measures in place to work with families who need to take compassionate leave or other leaves of absence.
    What we need is a program that actually deals with not only people who are in the waged economy but also people who are not in the waged economy. We need to take a broader look at whether it is just parents and family members who are caregivers. We need a much broader perspective.
    As I pointed out earlier, we need to deal with some of the underlying problems that do not allow Canadians who have paid into the system to actually collect. Again, there is the whole issue about this only being applicable to federally regulated workers. This is a really big problem because there are a lot of Canadians out there who are not federally regulated. How do we develop a system that is actually going to deal with those families as they go through these kinds of crises?
    Mr. Speaker, it is an interesting door that the member opens, to have people receive some benefits from employment insurance even if they or their employers have not necessarily contributed to it. It would be great to actually have a good, fulsome debate on that particular issue.
    One of the concerns we have in the Liberal caucus is that this particular bill is somewhat limited and that we could, in fact, be doing more. We appreciate and recognize the valuable change it is going to make, and we will support the bill going to committee and ultimately passing.
    I am wondering if the member recognizes, as we have been talking about for the last number of years in Liberal Party, that we should be looking at how we could be expanding services, particularly for those people who have terminal illnesses, to allow family members, spouses, siblings or a child to receive a benefit so that they could stay home with their loved one in their time of need, and that there is a role that employment insurance could play to help facilitate that.
    Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely correct. What we need to do is take a broader view of who can collect employment insurance benefits and who is not eligible.
    The member briefly mentioned resources. It is not just about resources for Canadians who are on employment insurance for sickness, maternity, parental or compassionate leave, it is also about the workers who are there for regular benefits.
    We need to take a comprehensive look at what is happening with the employment insurance fund. I know one of the members opposite talked about how Service Canada employees are doing a great job, and they absolutely are. This is another look at resources.
    What is happening, though, is that cuts to the department have meant that Canadians who have paid into the fund, whether for sickness, maternity, parental or regular benefits, and are trying to collect benefits cannot get answers from the department. This is not because people are not working hard but because they do not have the resources to answer the phone calls and to deal with people.
    I have had people come into my office simply because they have tried for two days to get through to the department and have not been able to talk to a live person. When we are talking about these benefits, it is fine to talk about putting these benefits in place, but we actually need to make sure the department has the resources to ensure that people get paid and get the answers they need.

  (1100)  

    Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise today in support of this bill at second reading. New Democrats support this bill. This is not about partisan politics. This is about doing the right thing. It is about assisting families who are going through some horrendous times, whether it be the loss of a loved one or the serious illness of a young child.
    As I look at this and the most humane way to approach this whole area, the thing that comes to mind is how much we need to change our EI system and the way we look at serious illness or the loss of loved ones. There is no one in this room who does not know of someone whose child or family member has been seriously ill or who has lost someone under tragic circumstances or after a lengthy illness. Each and every one of us knows what that loss means to the families involved.
    When people are struggling with an illness in the family or a loss, we also know the pressures those families are under and the very last thing families need to worry about are finances. It is about paying their bills, putting food on the table and feeling the pressure of having to work because they may not keep their jobs or spending time with their loved one who may not have long to live.
    I have had the privilege of working in a cancer institute, reading stories to patients. It was a very pleasurable activity, in one way, to read to young children, but when dealing with the children and families of very young children as they struggle with a terminal illness, one sees the toll it takes on the families. It is because of those personal experiences, both as a volunteer in my early work experience and then later as a teacher, that I can absolutely say without any reservation that I am pleased to see us moving in this direction.
    Does it go far enough? We have to take baby steps at the beginning and this is the beginning of the baby steps. One thing that hit me when my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan made her eloquent presentation was when she talked about this only applying to federal jurisdictions and that the provinces would have to make similar changes. It reminded me of how haphazard that is going to be and how diverse and disparate the treatment is going to be across Canada.
    I arrived in Canada in 1975. My daughter was born in 1977 and I was shocked at the time that there was no paid maternity leave but women could collect some weeks of EI. I had come here from England where there was full paid maternity leave for a very lengthy time. It took Canada a long time to recognize and implement fully paid maternity leave and that, again, was haphazard. I am hopeful that the provinces will follow suit and I want to acknowledge the very comprehensive support that the Government of Manitoba provides for its citizens.

  (1105)  

     EI is a tool we are going to use to recognize and support the suffering of families who lose loved ones. I am reminded of a commitment of the Conservative government, which promised that funding for this measure will come from general revenues, not EI premiums. That is a critical point we have to take a look at here. This is a measure we need to implement. At the end of the day we have to think it is more important to do this, but this is going to place extra pressure on a fund that is already operating with a $9 billion deficit, a fund that many people cannot seem to access right now. They cannot get the assistance they need because of the closure of offices or because of the way the rules are being changed.
    Right now about half of all unemployed Canadians are receiving EI benefits. That is a very concerning number, less than half of people who are eligible are receiving EI benefits. We need to reform our EI system so that it is fair, accessible and effective for all unemployed Canadians.
    At the same time, I have to say that this benefit is very much needed, so I will focus on that and urge the government to live up to its promise of finding that money out of general revenues instead of placing extra pressure on a fund that is already stretched to the limit.
    A number of people have spoken in support of the bill. The Canadian Cancer Society welcomes the government's announcement, and it talks about approximately 1,310 children who are diagnosed with cancer every year in Canada. It is a very specific number. The word “cancer” has an impact on all of us. We all know either a friend or a family member who have been touched by this very unforgiving disease. In my family we have been touched by this disease on more than one occasion.
    We also know that, before this change that is proposed, the only benefit available to family and caregivers of sick children allows for only eight weeks of leave, six of which are paid at 55% of average insurable earnings if there is a significant risk of death for a family member. However, parents of critically ill children were less likely to submit claims for financial support because they did not wish to acknowledge that their child had a significant risk of dying. That is where the bill is the humane thing to do. It is the right direction for us to go.
    I cannot imagine, if I had a child who was diagnosed with cancer and I knew he or she had a very short time to live, that at that time I would even care or know about the additional financial pressures. But having this kind of security would relieve families of a financial worry that would place extra stress on those families and could lead to further long-term absences and long-term periods of depression, which I also have seen time and time again, and therefore being out of the workforce for a very long time.

  (1110)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for her impassioned speech. This is an issue that touches many broader issues around how we support parents who are looking after sick children and who are going through a variety of traumas, and so that is why we think this bill is going in the right direction.
    However, we do have concerns, one of them being that over half of unemployed Canadians cannot access EI in the first place.
    Many of us have seen the real struggles that families go through. I have seen them when I go through my own riding, meeting parents who are looking after sick children, or when we are in the hospital, as I have been with one of my children.
     Would my hon. colleague speak to some of these larger issues and why we are interested in seeing the bill go in the right direction? There is much more work to be done on this file.
    Mr. Speaker, I am not going to limit my answer to the Conservatives. Even before the Conservatives formed government and got a majority, the Liberals also attacked EI, unemployment insurance. They changed the qualification system from weeks to hours, chopped the duration of benefits, dropped the maximum benefit and lowered the income level for the 30% clawback of benefits to $47,000 a year. The Liberals made such changes that in the 1970s and 1980s between 70% and 90% of the unemployed qualified for UI benefits, but after 1996 between 40% and 50% qualified.
    Under the Conservatives, now, we have seen more changes. Day in and day out in this House, and even yesterday during question period, we have heard the opposition raise stories about single mothers who are working hard to try to make ends meet and are having their benefits clawed back by the current government.
    As much as we applaud this step in the right direction to address the needs of those who have young children and family members who are critically ill, we are just as adamant that the current government needs to address the major issues and problems that both the Liberals and now the Conservatives have compounded in the area of employment insurance.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from Newton—North Delta for her presentation. It is the first chance I have had to speak to the bill and I am looking forward to voting for it. I am looking forward to seeing it go from second reading to committee.
    There are aspects of the bill that I think we need to pay some attention to, in committee, amending it to make sure it applies appropriately to children who are critically ill and children who are missing and to further refine those circumstances.
    However, I take the points of the hon. member for Newton—North Delta on the chiseling away of EI benefit rights. I am particularly concerned about what we did in Bill C-38, with taking seasonal workers and placing them in a circumstance where they are almost treated as if they were recidivists in a criminal justice system instead of workers in Canada who happen to be in industries that require of them that they are not working year round.
    I wonder if my hon. friend has any comments on that.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her very thoughtful comment and question.
    All of us, right across Canada, know the impact of the EI changes. As I said, we are hearing about them here. Particularly hard-struck are seasonal workers.
    Whether it is on the west coast, whether we are talking about agricultural workers in the Niagara Peninsula, whether we are talking about seasonal workers in the north or on the west coast, I will say that those groups of workers are beginning to feel as if they have done something terribly wrong, simply because their particular area of work is seasonal due to climate. It is not something they control. We live in a country that has a huge geography, and the workers are being punished because their employment is seasonal.

  (1115)  

    I am pleased to rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-44, the helping families in need act, and I thank the opposition for its support of this bill.
    As a pediatric surgeon who has taken care of many families of critically ill children, whether it be from trauma or disease, I can personally attest to the need for this legislation to be passed as quickly as possible. This bill is about supporting families who are going through some of the most difficult times in their lives, both emotionally and financially. This legislation introduces new employment insurance benefits for parents of critically ill children, as was announced earlier this summer by the Prime Minister.
    It also contains modifications to the Canada Labour Code to protect the jobs of parents who work for federally regulated companies, who are on leave to take care of their critically ill child or to cope with the death or disappearance of their child as the result of a suspected Criminal Code offence. In the latter case, parents would be eligible to receive a new federal income support for parents of murdered or missing children, announced by the Prime Minister last April.
    Finally, it contains amendments to the Employment Insurance Act to allow parents enhanced access to EI sickness benefits if they fall ill while receiving EI parental benefits.
    I will take a moment to focus on how this bill would help families who have a child under the age of 18 who is critically ill. Each year, approximately 19,000 families end up with a child in an intensive care unit. I encourage all members to think about this situation if they have a child. They get up in the morning and have breakfast with their child and their child goes to school, and they get a terrible telephone call at 2:00 in the afternoon that their child is being taken to the emergency department. The parents arrive at the emergency department to meet someone like me, with whom they have a conversation about their child being in a coma in the intensive care unit and we physicians not knowing when their child will waken.
    The children have special needs in those circumstances but so do their parents. In addition to worrying about their child's health, parents are often faced with having to take unprecedented unpaid absences from work or even quit their jobs to take care of their ill child. Medical, travel and accommodation expenses only add to this burden.
    Our government and, I think, all members of this House recognize the vital role parents play in comforting and caring for their children. As a surgeon, I have seen the impact parents have on the recovery rates of their children. That is why this bill introduces new 35-week EI benefits to support parents who leave work to take care of their critically ill children. As with EI parental and compassionate care benefits, parents would be able to share this benefit. The definition of a critically ill child includes those children who have life-threatening illnesses, as was mentioned by my colleague with respect to cancer-care children, or injury like those I take care of, who may be involved in various phases of their illness and need continued parental support.
    This benefit would fill a gap that existed in the EI system, when parents have children who are so seriously ill they need full-time parental care but, fortunately, when their children are not at immediate risk of dying.
    From my medical practice, I saw first-hand the agony this caused parents as they tried to balance their financial obligations, their work and taking care of their children. In the unfortunate situation that a child's condition deteriorates, parents or family members may also be eligible for an additional six weeks of EI compassionate care benefits, if the children are at significant risk of death within the next six months. Hopefully members would never have to utilize that benefit.
    The Canada Labour Code would also be amended to allow unpaid leave for employees under the federal jurisdiction, to ensure their jobs are protected while they care for their critically ill children.
    Our government has also continually championed the cause of victims of crime. In 2007, we provided $52 million for four years to enhance the federal victim strategy.

  (1120)  

[Translation]

     As announced by the Prime Minister in April of this year, we will provide financial support to parents who are coping with the disappearance or death of a child as a result of a Criminal Code offence. This will come into effect in January of 2013.

[English]

    As announced by the Prime Minister in April, we will provide financial support to parents who are coping with the disappearance or death of a child as a result of a criminal act. It is important to know that the agony parents go through in these most difficult situations is overwhelming. While there is no way to make this situation right, we as parliamentarians can provide support to these parents so they do not need to worry about missing a mortgage payment while figuring out how to cope with this horrible situation.
    To qualify for this $350 grant, parents can apply for up to 35 weeks. Applicants will be required to have earned a minimum level of income and have taken time away from work.
    Workers who take a leave of absence from a federally regulated job for such an event will have their jobs protected, as will parents of critically ill children, thanks to amendments to the Canada Labour Code.
    The third aspect that we are introducing in this legislation is greater access to illness benefits for parents themselves.

[Translation]

    With this bill, parents will be able to access employment insurance sickness benefits if they fall ill while receiving parental benefits.

[English]

    Currently, EI claimants cannot access sickness benefits during a claim for parental benefits because of the requirements that they be otherwise available for work or, in the case of self-employed persons, that they be otherwise working but have stopped because of illness.
    The bill would amend the EI Act to waive those requirements for claimants receiving EI parental benefits.
    The combination of these new measures in Bill C-44 is an example of the common sense measures that our government is taking to help parents balance work and family responsibilities. As the Prime Minister has previously stated, families are the building blocks of our society. Family and its importance is a fundamental value that truly connects all of us as Canadians.

[Translation]

    It is time to work together and provide support for families in this country, when they need it the most.

[English]

    It is time to stand together. Once again, I appreciate and acknowledge the support of the opposition for the bill as we stand together in support of families in this country when they need it the most.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech. I can assure her that I will support this bill at second reading because its goals are laudable. She can count on my assistance and that of my colleagues in thoroughly reviewing this bill and improving it if possible.
    Still, I must say that I am a little annoyed by what I see as inconsistency among the government's employment insurance measures. Having collected employment insurance benefits at various time in my life, including during a time when I was a single father, I have to say that excluding a significant number of employment insurance claimants also has consequences, such as making it difficult for a parent to pay for housing and decent food in order to provide adequately for his or her family.
    How can my colleague tolerate that kind of contradiction? Will she try to improve the entire employment insurance program to bring it in line with this bill?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague opposite for his support for this bill. It is greatly appreciated.
    The bill is focused on making sure that families and parents are supported in their time of greatest need. I encourage all of us to focus on exactly that. That is what this is about. It is about making sure that we help parents who have a critically ill child, such as the child I mentioned, who may have been hit while running onto the street because he or she left the schoolyard, or a missing child. That is what we need to focus on here.
     I agree with the member. We want to make sure that this bill is as good as possible to benefit those families who are in their time of greatest need.

  (1125)  

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments by the member and recognize that there has been a great deal of concern recently about other issues related to employment insurance, and for good reason.
    This morning I asked about the need to look at other areas where we can extend that compassionate hand. There is no doubt that no one in the House of Commons today would vote against this particular bill, because we recognize its value and want to support parents the best way we can.
    To what degree does the member believe the government has a responsibility to look at the entirety of employment insurance and its benefits and at how government decisions are impacting people currently on EI, and to consider additional compassionate grounds and ways of getting money into the hands of people who need the money?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite and his colleagues for supporting this legislation.
    We held significant consultations with people to find out exactly what they needed and desired. It was very evident that families with a critically ill child need help, whether that child be suffering from cancer, as my colleague from the NDP mentioned, or another serious illness. Indeed, the parents I meet in the emergency department are in need. It is a very tough time for them and we want to make sure that they are well supported. This is a specific and targeted bill to make sure that those families are supported in their time of greatest need. This legislation would benefit over 6,000 families with critically ill children and over 1,000 families with murdered or missing children.
    I appreciate that everyone in the House has been supportive of this measure.
    Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely delighted to rise in the House today to speak to the helping families in need act.
    When first elected back in 2004, I began to champion this cause. I introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-542, in the 39th and 40th Parliaments, and once again introduced that same bill in the current parliament, Bill C-371.
     I am absolutely delighted to see the government moving on this. It embodies what I was trying to accomplish in Bill C-371, and therefore at this time I plan on withdrawing that bill. I am delighted to see all of this hard work coming to fruition in this exceptional piece of legislation.
    However, it is not just me. I have to thank a constituent of mine, Sharon Ruth, for her tireless efforts in helping families who are truly in need and have gone through the tragedy of having a critically ill child. I will tell the House a little more about Sharon's story later.
    Not only had we been advocating for this, but it also fulfills our Conservative Party's platform commitment to support the families of murdered, missing and critically ill children. Dan Demers of the Canadian Cancer Society so eloquently sums up the commitment of our government in this quote:
    [I]t's critically important that we acknowledge that in the last election, this government made a commitment to parents and families who are caring for children in the most difficult situations we can imagine and today, we're not only seeing the government take action to fulfill this commitment, but they're moving in this town at lightening speed....
    I am encouraged by what I have heard from the opposition today, because it is very important that we move quickly. This much needed legislation will support the implementation of three initiatives: the new federal income support for parents of murdered or missing children, a new EI benefit for parents of critically ill children, and a measure to enhance flexibility for parents who fall ill while receiving EI parental benefits.
    Since our government was first elected back in 2006, we have been working tirelessly to implement policies that help Canadian families. We Conservatives know that the success of our nation is built upon the foundation of healthy families, which is why we remain committed to supporting policies that benefit hardworking Canadian families.
    The measures in the bill demonstrate our government's commitment to providing families with the flexibility to balance the obligations of work with the duty to family. I am confident that with thoughtful consideration of the text of this legislation, all members will support it. As I said, I am encouraged that everyone who has spoken today supports moving this as quickly as possible. The bill is about providing financial support to families when it is needed most desperately.
    The case I am most familiar with personally is that of Sharon Ruth, her family and her daughter Colleen. I met Sharon during the election campaign in 2004 and she told me what her family had been dealing with.
    Her daughter, Colleen, was just six years old when, without warning, she was suddenly diagnosed with stage one Hodgkins lymphoma. Within hours of that diagnosis she was admitted to hospital and doctors started working tirelessly to treat her.
    The result for Sharon's family was that they spiralled into a financial abyss as they made the choice that every parent would make to help treat their daughter and save her life. It meant that at least one parent left work and gave up a salary.
    She was in the midst of this chaos when she first spoke to me, and since then she has been a tireless advocate for compassionate care leave, spreading her message across Canada and joining others who seek the same assistance that she so desperately required. She chronicled her family's struggles in a book called The Guinea Kid. The good news is that her daughter Colleen, now 16, is in remission.
    I have to commend Sharon's stamina on this issue as she watched bills die on the order paper, election after election, but stuck to her fight for these changes.
    We are now meeting our commitment to introduce a new EI benefit to support parents of critically ill children. Starting next June, eligible parents in this situation would receive up to 35 weeks of temporary income support through the EI system.
    This measure is expected to help an estimated 6,000 families each year who are going through the most trying times in their lives. This support is in addition to the EI compassionate care benefit, and parents of the most seriously ill children may apply for the compassionate care benefit if, after claiming 35 weeks of the new benefit, their child is in danger of dying in the next 26 weeks.
    When their child is critically ill, many parents have to make what seems like impossible choices: continue to work and be away from their child or endure the financial hardship that can result from leaving work to provide ongoing care.

  (1130)  

    Caring for such an ill child is not only emotionally trying, it can also be financially crippling. Between 40% and 63% of families who have children with cancer lose income because they work less while caring for their ill child. The added expense of travel, accommodation, often near the hospital, and medical supplies can consume 25% of their total disposable income.
    To alleviate some of the worry parents have about being away from work, we would also amend the Canada Labour Code. This would allow for unpaid leave for employees under federal jurisdiction to ensure that their jobs are protected while caring for a critically ill child. This means that parents would not have to quit their jobs to care for their critically ill child.
    We have heard from Canadians that this legislation is desperately needed and long overdue. We know that roughly 250,000 children are hospitalized each year. Of these, approximately 19,000 are critically ill and are confined to intensive care units for extended periods of time. It is no surprise that these children need their parents' care and support to recover and in some cases to even survive.
    Since our Conservative government was elected, we have been committed to supporting Canadian families and helping them balance work and family responsibilities. With this legislation, we show Canadian parents that we recognize the vital role they play in the lives of their children and that we value what they do.
    This legislation would now allow us to offer new financial support measures to ensure that parents have support when they need it the most. I cannot help but reiterate how encouraged I am to hear that all parties and all members seem to be supporting this important legislation. This bill is not about politics, it is about helping Canadian families when they need it the most.
    I would like to talk about a situation I learned about in a discussion with another constituent of mine. I just recently became aware of the situation of the family of Nicole and Craig Tobias, and their son Sam. Their son is critically ill. They brought their plight to me. I explained what was happening, and how, if we move this along, families like the Tobias family and the Ruth family will not have to face what so many families have had to face in the past number of years.
    I am going to close with a quote from Sharon at the announcement of this bill by the minister last week. She said:
    I want to thank the minister who has genuine concern for families and their suffering, for receiving myself and Colleen and Edwina Eddie last November, listening to what we had to say. She believed that changes needed to be made and worked toward making this day happen.
    I thank the minister and the Prime Minister for showing us that everyday people like Sharon can make a difference in the lives of Canadians. I thank all members. I look forward to seeing all members agree that these are the very reasons that all of us came to this Parliament and why we became involved in serving the Canadian public.

  (1135)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I have one concern with respect to the part about leave in the case of a death or disappearance, where the bill clearly specifies that this applies only if a crime occurred, defined as “an offence under the Criminal Code, other than one that is excluded by the regulations”. Parents will be eligible for this program only if their child has disappeared as the result of a crime under the Criminal Code.
    I am concerned about parents who lose a child under other circumstances. Their child may have drowned in a river or disappeared in some other way not associated with a crime; in other words, the child may not have been killed. The child may also have committed suicide. Bill C-44 is about children under the age of 18. Such parents will be just as sad, but they will not be eligible for this program if the death or disappearance of their child is not the result of a crime.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's question. I also appreciate the member's support for this bill.
    The member has an excellent point. There are many situations that families have to deal with. In this particular bill, we are focusing on those whose death or disappearance is a result of a suspected Criminal Code offence. That does not in any way lessen what families who are dealing with other situations are going through.
    Mr. Speaker, clearly this bill demonstrates the compassion in the House. I applaud all that I am hearing this morning. There appears to be cross-party agreement that this is a good bill. I also want to applaud my colleague for his vision, work, and persistence in the development of this bill, something I know he has had in his heart for a long time. I applaud him for seeing it through.
    I would like to ask the hon. member a question with regard to the 35 weeks of EI benefits. Would he speak in a little more depth about the help it would provide to parents of critically ill children in balancing their family and employment obligations?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Don Valley West for all of his efforts on this bill. I have received significant encouragement from my colleagues to continue doing what I have been doing to work toward having Bill C-44 here today.
    To answer the member's question, we know that when parents can be with a critically ill child in the hospital, it can actually save the child's life. We hope that through this legislation, parents will not be having to make the choice between being with the child and paying the mortgage or car or even putting food on the table. This would help many families and that is why there is support from all sides of the House today for this very important legislation.

  (1140)  

[Translation]

     Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech.
    I have a concern. As hon. members know, all of our suggestions in the more general area of employment insurance have been systematically rejected despite appeals to the government.
    I would like to check with my colleague to see whether the government will be open enough to seriously examine and potentially accept any suggestions or amendments we might have to improve Bill C-44, a bill that is full of good intentions and that we recognize and support.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am encouraged by the support for this bill and the fact that so many people have had input into it. When we send this to committee, hopefully very soon, I hope we will hear from people and members of the committee to see if improvements can be made. As the bill stands right now, I think it is a very good bill. It is well thought out and there has been input from many groups and people across the country. I look forward to seeing it in committee as soon as possible and then back in the House for another vote.
    Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have had a chance to stand in the House since you were elected and I want to congratulate you. I know the House will benefit from your knowledge and your wisdom. I have benefited, as have many newer members in the House. I look forward to working with you.
    I will be splitting my time with my fellow British Columbian, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
    I rise today to speak to Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act. My colleagues in the NDP support the bill. It is not a question about ideology. It is not a question about partisan politics. It is about assisting families in times when they need the help most. It goes without saying that we support these changes that would help ease the suffering of parents who need the help.
    Parents who have children who are ill and parents of children who are victims of crime deserve our support so that they do not need to worry about financial support when they are struggling to cope with very difficult situations. In situations where children are in a hospital the parents need to do the parenting and not worry about financial decisions that need to be made.
    It is a good bill in that sense. We also support the new right to combine EI benefits so that if people get sick or injured while on parental leave, it does not take time away from their children. The bill is definitely a step in the right direction but I do have some concerns.
    My understanding is that the Conservatives promised in their campaign literature in 2011 to provide enhanced EI benefits to parents of murdered or missing children and parents of gravely ill children. This was their promise. However, the Conservatives also promised that the funding for this measure would come from general revenues, not EI premiums. The grant for parents of murdered and missing children would be paid from general revenues and not through EI. However, it appears that the Conservatives have ignored their promise that benefits for critically ill children would be paid from general revenues.
    I am curious as to why they have made this choice and gone back on their promise that this would not come out of EI. We have an accumulated deficit of $9 billion in the EI fund and that deficit has occurred under the current government.
    A few years ago we had a surplus of $50 billion in the EI fund that was paid by the workers and employers so that when the fund was needed it was there. However, we have seen the government take that money out of the EI fund and put it in general revenues. The money that was there for people to use EI has been taken away by the government and now we have a deficit of $9 billion in the fund.
    On top of that, we have seen the government increase EI premiums both for the employer and for working people. That happened this year and that is not fair.
    We in the NDP have been very clear. We want comprehensive EI reforms. We want to make EI accessible and effective for all Canadians when they need this insurance policy. These measures also do not address the greatest challenge with EI, the lack of access for unemployed Canadians. I am concerned that the government is avoiding the biggest problems with EI. For example, fewer than half of all unemployed Canadians are receiving EI benefits.

  (1145)  

    As of July 2012, about 500,000 Canadians receive regular EI benefits. We have 1.3 million unemployed Canadians looking for work. This means that we have over 870,000 or 40% of unemployed Canadians who are without EI benefits. I would remind the House that is an all-time historic low. That is why the NDP will continue to fight for an EI system that is fair, accessible and effective for unemployed Canadians.
    Over the last number of months, we have seen changes to the EI program itself as well as service cuts brought through the omnibus Bill C-38. The effects of those changes are trickling into every corner of this country. I have seen this firsthand in my constituency. People who have come into my office are struggling to access their benefits because of the maze that has been created. They are having difficulty resolving issues, getting through on phone lines and even talking to a live person over the phone because of the service cuts.
    On top of that, we have seen the changes brought in by the Conservatives through Bill C-38 strip away the benefits from workers who have contributed into this fund. They are not able to receive the benefits that they should be receiving. I have had many cases where people have waited months to receive their first cheque. People pay into the EI program to collect the benefit when they are laid-off. It is a bridging for them until they find another job.
    We know that Canadians are burdened with high consumer debt and living from cheque to cheque. When people lose their job and apply for EI, one would think they would get their cheque as soon as possible. However, under the Conservative government, people are waiting for months. One gentleman who came into my office waited two and a half months for his cheque. He had paid into the EI system for decades and had never collected EI benefits before but, unfortunately, he lost his job. He was literally on his last box of macaroni and cheese. In fact, he had to go to the food bank to get food for his family. After two and half months, one would expect his cheque to be there. When he phoned EI, there was nobody live to talk to. In fact, there was a small administrative issue that could have been dealt with many weeks earlier. However, this fellow was getting nowhere. We were able to help him, but, again, a person who paid into the system should not have to wait that long to receive EI benefits.
    I could go on because I have seen first-hand how these types of changes are affecting everyday families in my constituency and right across this country.
    This is a small change but a good initiative that will help Canadian families throughout the country, and we welcome that. As we have said, we would like to discuss the changes made in Bill C-38 in committee so that we can get to the bottom of the bigger issues, which is the broken EI system that has been put in place by the Conservatives.

  (1150)  

    Mr. Speaker, concerning the 35 stackable weeks of special benefits, my concern is that it is not 35 extra weeks. It is a maximum of 35 extra weeks up to 55 weeks. A parent of a critically ill child has 40 regular weeks so the extra weeks for caring for that child could not be more than 12 weeks.
    I wonder if my colleague could comment on the fact that this technical aspect has not been clearly presented in the bill, that it is not 35 extra weeks but is in fact up to 35 extra weeks.
    Mr. Speaker, as I have said before, the overall direction is the right direction to help families in need when their child is sick or their child has been a victim of a crime. The bill would provide critical benefits to families in their time of need.
    There are a number of technical aspects to the bill that need to be clarified and we hope to do that at the committee stage when we look into the details of the bill.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to come back to what I asked a government member earlier.
    I have some concerns about the provision of this bill that deals with leave related to death or disappearance. The provision clearly specifies that the death or disappearance must result from a crime, which is defined as “an offence under the Criminal Code”.
    Thus, parents who lose a child in some way other than as a result of a crime, for example by drowning or suicide, will not have access to this program. The bill talks about leave but only if the death or disappearance of the child is the result of a crime under the Criminal Code.
    In his response, the hon. member said that he wanted to focus only on cases resulting from crime. Does he not think that this provision could be expanded to include all parents who have lost a child?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I think Canadians are compassionate enough to provide support to families who have a sick child or who have lost a child, whether as a result of a criminal act or a natural act such as drowning. In times of need, be it financial or otherwise, parents need to spend time with their child or time with family members who are in difficult situations. It is critical that we look at these issues and that we in the House provide support to Canadian families who are dealing with tragedies.

  (1155)  

    Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-44, a bill that has some very good ideas to help families who are in very critical situations. All Canadians have compassion for parents of critically ill children and, of course, for families who have lost a child.
    The bill looks at provisions in both the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act to try to help out those families in crisis. These include extending 35 weeks of EI benefits for parents caring for a critically ill child, plus a number of amendments that would allow for the stacking of benefits. Stacking sounds like a negative thing but in this case it is a very positive thing because it would mean allowing for the extension of benefits, like parental and sickness benefits, if they happen to coincide with care for a critically ill child. Obviously, on this side of the House, that is a concept that we believe is worthy of support.
    There are also amendments to the Canada Labour Code that would remove some of the worry about job losses when one is caring for a critically ill child. It does so by extending parental leave and allowing extensions of unpaid leaves of absence so parents, if they are forced to take time off to care for their child, do not need to worry that their job will be gone when they return.
     I am not only looking forward to the debate in committee on these positive ideas but I am also looking forward to considering a couple of other points in committee. Those will be the limitation on these new benefits to those in paid employment. There are lots of other families in similar situations to those who would be receiving these benefits but who are not presently in paid employment. I would like to hear ideas from the government, as we will be looking for ideas ourselves, as to how those kinds of families could also be assisted.
    A second point, and an important one always, is how we will pay for this benefit. In their campaign, the Conservatives said that these new benefits would be paid for out of general revenues. Instead, we find in the bill that the benefits for parents of critically ill children would actually be paid for out of employment insurance premiums. I am looking forward to some discussion with the government about its previous promises on that.
    I will now turn to the title of the bill for just a minute. The Conservatives like to give catchy titles to their bills and, in this case, it is called “helping families in need act”. While it does help families in very critical situations, in my riding there are many other families who struggle quietly every day to make ends meet. I am concerned that, while these are good measures, the policies of the government, in general, are putting further stress on those other families who may not have a critically ill child but who may have trouble putting food on the table or a roof over their heads to take care of their children. How do we ensure that the government keeps its responsibility to do something about the economy that would help those kinds of families, as well as those with these more tragic circumstances?
    Last weekend, when I was at home, I was at a community event where I met a family of two parents, one of whom is self-employed and the other was in waged employment. They have one small child who, I think, just had his second birthday. The mother, who is self-employed, is expecting her second child within the month. Her partner was just laid off. They were renting a house, which they could no longer afford, so, being responsible and trying to take care of themselves, they moved to a basement suite. However, there is very real fear in that family about where they go next if they cannot find more employment for the one partner who has been in waged employment. As he is working only one day a week, they can barely afford the rent on their basement suite. It is very easy for those of us in more fortunate circumstances to forget that some people fear every day that they will end up out of work, with kids and eventually be among those who are homeless.
    At a time when unemployment is rising, Parliament needs to pay attention and the government needs to pay attention to all those families who are struggling every day to make ends meet.
    In my community, since 2008, food bank use has increased by 15.5%. It means that during the last year over 19,000 people in greater Victoria accessed the food bank and, among those, according to the food bank's annual report, were 5,500 children. When we are talking about families in need, there are many more families in need every day in my community.

  (1200)  

    Forty-nine per cent of those people who visit the food bank are families with children. Many of those people have jobs, but they are working in minimum wage jobs and it is becoming impossible to make ends meet. I just saw statistics that in greater Victoria, one in six workers has two or more jobs to try to support his or her family.
    Since 2010, we have the very unfortunate circumstance in my community that by March the food bank begins to run out of food. Looking at statistics across B.C., 38% of the food banks have been forced at some time to reduce the size of their hampers. The majority of food banks limit visits to one per month and provide hampers which will provide food for five days or less.
    Yes, the bill goes in the right direction for a very limited number of families, but I want to see some action from the government in trying to find measures to help all those families in need across the country.
    In particular, my concern about funding these measures goes back to the EI fund. I want to ensure that with what we are doing here we are not taking away with one hand what we have given with the other. We are taking money out of that EI fund to fund these new benefits, but at the same time, we see the government restricting the income of part-time workers by clawing back their income. When they finally find a job to supplement their EI benefits to try to keep a roof over their heads, the government is reaching into their pockets and taking money back.
    We have to ensure there is not a contradiction in the way we finance this new benefit and in the needs of all those other families in times of rising unemployment. We are still awaiting action from the government as the recession deepens. We are still waiting for the government to provide some relief to those families who are facing unemployment.
    In my community, unemployment rates this year have been steadily rising. We have seen a rise of more than .1% a month, starting last spring through the month of August. If this trend continues through the winter, we are going to have a lot more families in need in my community in particular, because in greater Victoria costs are very high.
     I want to cite a report that was just published by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. It is called the “Quiet Crisis: Homelessness and At Risk in Greater Victoria”.
    On any given night in my community, over 1,000 people are in temporary accommodation. During the last year in my community, shelters ran at 111% capacity, meaning people were actually sleeping on a mat on the floor. They did not have a bed in the shelter. During the year, 1,617 unique individuals use the shelters in my community.
    What does that have to do with this bill? This is about helping families in need. Unfortunately, a lot of people who use the shelters in my community are families with kids. Why is that? On average, rents have increased more than 20% in my community in the last five years, yet the benefits that are available to people have not kept pace. People must earn significantly above the minimum wage in greater Victoria to be able to afford to keep a roof over their heads.
    The Community Social Planning Council estimates it takes $18.07 an hour working 35 hours a week for a single parent with a child to keep a roof over their heads. That is almost double the minimum wage in Victoria, and that is if one is lucky enough to have a job.
    Some 12.8% of households in my community have been evaluated as being in poor housing, meaning they are living in overcrowded housing or housing that is in disrepair, or they are spending more than 30% of their income on housing.
     Again, I think the benefits in Bill C-44 are worthy of support by all members of Parliament. I think all Canadians have compassion for parents who are having to care for a critically ill child or who have lost a child through violence. There is no doubt about our willingness to support those things.
    However, when we are having this kind of debate and taking these measures, I am asking that we keep in mind those many more families who struggle quietly every day to make ends meet, to take up their responsibilities by finding a job and ensuring that job will actually pay enough so that they can support their families in the long term.

  (1205)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the opposition parties for their support of this very important piece of legislation.
    One thing we all have to keep in mind is that a substantive portion of the bill is about critically ill children. It is about ensuring that those families are well supported when they absolutely need it the most.
    I do not know if any members in the House have experienced receiving a telephone call, asking them to come to the hospital to see their child or grandchild, but it is a horrible circumstance, I am sure.
    I would like to ask the member opposite why he wants to mix all the messages here. I think we are all in common agreement. We all believe this is something that should be moved forward expeditiously. Why is there all the mixed messages when we should be focused on ensuring that this happens as expeditiously as possible?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the hon. member that I am not trying to give a mixed message on the benefits. As I have said, all Canadians have the compassion to want to assist families that are in the most dire crisis.
    I am trying to point out that in my community there are many parents who worry every day about their ability to put food on the table and provide shelter for their kids. For them that is a crisis. They want to make sure they can actually make that happen. I do not think any of us here would diminish the angst they feel at the end of every month when the food starts to run out and they have to go to food banks, or when they wonder whether they are going to have enough money to pay the rent or end up in a shelter.
    When we talk about families in need, I agree with providing benefits to this narrow range of families in severe crisis, but let us not forget the other families in need in all of our communities.
    Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. This is not a partisan issue. All parliamentarians have been pushing for many years to provide benefits for families who have critically ill children. In terms of jurisdiction, there are very few areas where the federal government does anything directly for children, except first nations.
    Yesterday the United Nations issued a scathing report on the government's attitude toward children in crisis and children in care. A lot of what was contained in that report came from first nations children themselves. Before Shannen Koostachin died, she told the government she was going to go to the United Nations and challenge it on its failure to read the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. After Shannen's death, first nations youth rose up and went to Geneva last February and explained to the world the abusive, negligent conditions in which first nation children live day after day in terms of substandard education and the failure in child welfare. Yet we see the government continue to spy on the people who are speaking out, like Cindy Blackstock, and continue to try to deny court cases.
    I would like to ask my hon. colleague why it is that in 2012 we are still having to fight for basic fair rights for first nation children so they are not treated as second or third class citizens in this country.
    Mr. Speaker, the member's dedication to making progress on aboriginal issues in this country is well known. I certainly thank him for his hard work.
    I do not have the answer to his general question of why we failed so badly as a Parliament to address the needs of aboriginal people. When I look at those in my own community who use the food banks, only about 5% of the population of greater Victoria is aboriginal, but 15% of those who use the food banks are aboriginal. When we look at families that are in danger of becoming homeless, 12% of them are in danger, but aboriginal households make up a far higher percentage of those who are in substandard housing and are in danger of becoming homeless.
    I come back to my point. Yes, let us help the families in critical need, but let us also go on to help the broad range of families, including aboriginal families, who through no fault of their own have trouble making ends meet and taking care of their children every day.

  (1210)  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support Bill C-44, which amends the Canada Labour Code to provide an employee with the right to take leave when a child of the employee is critically ill, passes away or disappears as the result of a crime. While this bill is a step in the right direction, it does not go nearly far enough to help thousands of Canadian families, many, for example, that must face chronic conditions or diseases day in and day out for life.
    Perhaps the bill does not go far enough because key questions need to be asked about our nation's children. What is the state of childhood in Canada, and does anyone care? How much do federal and provincial governments spend on children in Canada, and does anyone know? How does Canada compare to other countries, and do we have the data? Who speaks for children and ensures that every child matters? Are children asked and listened to? Do we have the right government structure and policy agenda to ensure effective advocacy for children? Has there been enough serious public and political debate in Canada on the results of two key reports: UNICEF's “Child Poverty in Perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries” and the OECD's “Doing Better for Children”? Do decision makers really know what it is like to be young today? Is all well with services to support children's needs? Are children's rights taken seriously? Are children valued sufficiently?
    Our children are the most precious resource of any nation. Ensuring every child is able to develop her or his full potential should be everyone's concern. We need change for children. We must put children at the centre of our policy. Nurture demands political advocacy for children's best interests starting with the basics of love and care and seeing through the eyes of children. That is why we so desperately need a children's commissioner in Canada, as the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie is advocating, who is independent and can speak for the most vulnerable in society.
    The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty, and governments give promises to children for protection, provision and participation through its 42 articles. Moreover, every government that signs the convention is held to account in a five-year periodic review process conducted by the UN. Canada is being reviewed right now. United Nations officials say they are concerned that vulnerable Canadian children may be falling through the cracks of a fractious federal system that lacks accountability and a clear strategy. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said that Canada needs to raise the bar on how it protects the rights of children, especially when it comes to aboriginal, disabled and immigrant children.
    I will provide two concrete examples of conditions that affect children for life, namely autism spectrum disorder, ASD, and fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, FASD, and what might be done to help these children and their families.
    ASDs are pervasive disorders which affect one person in 110. They are characterized by social and communication challenges and a pattern of repetitive behaviours and interests. ASD is lifelong, profoundly affects development and life experience and exerts immense emotional and financial pressures on families. I have worked with children with ASD my whole life. I love my children but their families often struggle to get needed therapy, struggle for schools to understand and often fight tooth and nail for the help they need. In my riding, ASD is so prevalent among the Somali community that we have two Somali autism organizations. When I attend their summer picnic, there are over 100 teenagers. Most of them are non-verbal because their families who are newcomers to Canada cannot afford the tens of thousands of dollars for therapy each year. We have single moms with two and three children with ASD.

  (1215)  

     A bill such as this one would not help these families. It would do nothing to help one of our families whose son has broken his mother's nose three times because the family could not afford treatment. It does nothing to help a young woman who has finished high school and who has waited three years at home for a spot in college. It does nothing for a young teenager who has been shuttled from one school to the next or for the single mom who must stay at home to care for him.
    Why the failure to act for these families? More importantly, what would help them? First and foremost, the Minister of Health should establish, in collaboration with the provinces and territories and relevant stakeholders, a comprehensive pan-Canadian ASD strategy based on the best available evidence, including awareness and education campaigns; child, adolescent and adult intervention; and innovative funding arrangements for the purpose of financing therapy, surveillance, respite care, community initiatives and research.
    I have worked with practitioners and researchers across this country to develop ASD motions 375 to 380. Bill C-219 also calls for the establishment of a national strategy for ASD.
    A second concrete example of a condition that affects children for life is fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, FASD. To the child who was exposed to alcohol in utero, the mother's drinking during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or, worse yet, a range of lifelong disorders known as FASD. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her unborn baby. Children with FASD might have the following behavioural problems: poor coordination, hyperactive behaviour, difficulty paying attention, poor memory, learning disabilities, poor reasoning and judgment skills.
    The government should recognize that FASD is a complex biomedical and social problem and that adequate support is required for families, communities and within caregiver and education systems. Most important, it should recognize that children born with FASD should be afforded supports that will give them the best chance at a life equal to those of other Canadian citizens.
    Should the government be interested in learning more about what could be done to help these children, who suffer through no fault of their own, I have worked with practitioners and researchers across this country to develop motions 343 to 350 and would ask that the government study them.
    Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states:
    Children have the right to say what they think should happen, when adults are making decisions that affect them, and to have their opinions taken into account.
    This means participation and not consultation. Participation means that children and young people are seriously engaged in making decisions that affect their lives. Consultation implies that adults merely ask questions and adults decide.
    How many bills have children and young people participated in? Perhaps I should ask, for how many have they even been consulted? Merely asking children and young people, and ticking a box is simply not good enough. What, if any, feedback has been provided to them on how their views have been considered, let alone the impact they have had in changing policy or practice?
    In closing, I wonder if children and young people are being meaningfully consulted by the government and what they would be asking for. Perhaps it is time we put the right structure in place so we can meaningfully consult.
    We need federal and provincial concerted advocacy, effective advocacy, for children: a cabinet-level minister for children and young people, a cross-government policy agenda, a commissioner with clout and power, a clinical director in government responsible for children's health, and appropriate financial underpinning.
    Is it not time we listened to the voice of the child in Canada?

  (1220)  

    Mr. Speaker, I was very interested in my hon. colleagues call for action for children. The only question I would have for her is this.
    We already have the standards. Canada is a signatory to the rights of the child convention, just as every other country in the world is. Yet Canada has systematically ignored the rights of the child convention, systematically ignored the basic needs of children on isolated first nation communities and has left children in negligent systemic abuse decade after decade. This is not just the present government. This is going back over the course of the last century.
    We see a court case before us now where the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society is challenging the government on the systemic apartheid that exists when it comes to child welfare, where first nations children are given much lower funding than children in provincial systems. It is the same in education. Yet instead of working with the children, we see the government opposing them and undermining them using spin doctors.
    Yesterday the United Nations hammered Canada for its failure to live up to the rights of the child convention, as a direct result of the voices of first nation children who had to go all the way to Geneva to plead their case.
    Therefore, I ask my hon. colleague this. Why does she think it is that our children are having to go to Europe to ask that Canada represent the rights of children, while the government continues to stand in their way and refuses to act?
    Mr. Speaker, we must respect that convention. It is unconscionable that in a country like Canada our first nations children and hundreds of thousands of Canadians go to school hungry. It is unconscionable that in a country like Canada we have tuberculosis rates on first nation reserves that are equal to that of sub-Saharan Africa. Canada must do better.
    I will just talk a bit about FASD, which is also a huge issue. It is estimated that one in a hundred children are born with FASD. This is likely a conservative estimate as most people are never diagnosed. When a child is born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder the bills pile up: extra visits to the doctor, psychiatric care, special education fees, foster care, prisons and policing, damaged property, lost wages.
    According to one study, Canadian taxpayers and families shoulder a burden of $5.3 billion each year just for the health care, education and social service needs of people living with FASD. It is the leading cause of developmental and cognitive disabilities in Canada.
    It is entirely preventable. If children are assessed and diagnosed early in life, it is also potentially treatable.
    Mr. Speaker, as usual, I appreciate the caring attitude the member has toward the children of our country.
    As for whether the Liberal Party will be supporting the legislation, I would ask her if she could provide further comment on the lost opportunities of not being more aggressive in looking for other ways to enhance employment insurance so it takes into consideration, for example, people who are terminally ill in a home environment, and how that should have been incorporated into the legislation.
    Mr. Speaker, this bill is important. It is about changes to the Labour Code, the Employment Insurance Act and the Income Tax Act, which is an important step. However, we need to be addressing wider issues.
    The UN has been clear that children with disabilities are falling through the cracks, so I would like to provide a third example, that being cerebral palsy, which is a group of disorders affecting body movement and muscle coordination due to an insult to the developing brain.
    At its most severe, CP results in virtually no muscle control and profoundly affects movement and speech. These effects may cause associated problems such as difficulties in feeding, poor bladder and bowel control, breathing problems and pressure sores. People with CP have a normal life expectancy and their families need real help.

  (1225)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Scarborough—Rouge River.
    I am pleased to speak today to debate Bill C-44, which proposes changes to the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act. I am even more pleased that this government has finally proposed some real solutions that will help improve the living conditions of many families and will ease the burden on other families.
    These new measures will finally give a bit of respite to families and will enable workers to take a break and receive employment insurance benefits if their children are seriously ill, disappear or are killed as a result of a crime. In this specific case, support for this bill goes far beyond differing ideologies and partisan politics. It is a matter of helping the families who need help, which should always be at the heart of the concerns and actions of every politician.
    When it comes to supporting Canadian families in an economically responsible way, especially when these families are struggling, the NDP is always there to support these measures. However, after having examined the bill we are currently debating, I believe that certain proposals could be slightly amended or improved. I will use my time today to share my thoughts with the government.
    First, let us look at what has been proposed. More specifically, Bill C-44 proposes a series of amendments to the Canada Labour Code to increase leave for parents. For example, it would allow parents to extend maternity and parental leave for the weeks during which a child is hospitalized. It would allow parents to extend parental leave by the number of weeks of sick leave taken during the parental leave, as well as during participation in the Canadian Forces Reserves. It would allow for unpaid leave of up to 37 weeks for parents of children with serious illnesses. It would allow unpaid leave for parents of children who are killed as a result of a crime—104 weeks—or who disappear as a result of a crime—52 weeks. Lastly, it would allow parents to extend, by 17 weeks, the unpaid leave period that may be taken as a result of illness and injury, without worrying about losing their job.
    The NDP will always be the party that sides with Canadian families. Therefore, we are in favour of what has been proposed by the Conservatives today. It is also important to note that some of these measures, or similar measures, were already presented during previous parliaments in private members' bills from NDP members, who saw some flagrant injustices in the current system.
    Before I address the concerns I have regarding this bill, I would also like to commend this initiative for the support it provides to the families of missing and murdered children.The Canadian Police Information Centre reported that, in 2011, 25 kidnappings were committed by strangers and 145 were committed by parents. This is completely unacceptable and I hope this measure will be able to provide some relief.
    Another aspect of this bill needs to be discussed at length. Bill C-44 also makes changes to the Employment Insurance Act, which will allow claimants to combine only special benefits. We know that maternity, parental and sick benefits together form a special category of employment insurance benefits, and that the benefits paid out when someone loses their job are considered regular benefits.
    In the past, EI claimants were not allowed to combine both kinds of benefits. Bill C-44 creates a new benefit that can be combined with other special benefits in the system, but only in the case of the parents of gravely ill children.
    This initiative is, in itself, good news, but I think we need to ask ourselves why the government did not go further in its proposal by offering protection to women who lose their jobs after returning from parental leave.
    There is a real legislative black hole in that regard, which is negatively affecting many Canadian families. I was made aware of this problem in recent months after hearing some very sad stories about women who returned to work only to be told that they were being laid off because their position had been eliminated or because the company underwent restructuring.
    This terrible situation has happened to many women, including some residents of my riding of Charlesbourg, who feel they have been treated unfairly by a system they have paid into their entire working lives, before taking a break in order to start a family.

  (1230)  

    Why do the Conservatives not extend coverage to new mothers? It is obvious that the government is missing out on a good opportunity to support mothers who are working hard for fair access to employment insurance.
    Why does Bill C-44 only apply to special benefits? Why does it not allow women returning from parental or maternity leave to receive regular benefits if they return to work and discover that they have been laid off or that their job has been eliminated?
    The government should answer all these questions. This measure will not cost a lot. This does not happen often, but it has serious consequences for those families affected.
    In short, the NDP believes that this bill does not go far enough and does not permit special and regular benefits to be combined.
    The NDP will continue to fight for a woman's right to access employment insurance benefits if she loses her job immediately after her parental leave has ended.
    Another thing we should discuss is the fact that, in their 2011 platform, the Conservatives promised that funding for this measure would come from general revenues and not employment insurance premiums. From what I understand, the benefits for murdered and missing children will be funded by general revenues and not employment insurance. However, it seems that the Conservatives have ignored their promise to pay benefits to parents of seriously ill children out of general revenues.
    This measure would be covered by the employment insurance fund to which employees and employers contribute. This is completely different from what the Conservative's proposed in their platform.
    In my opinion, this broken promise raises concerns. It is by far the most costly measure in the bill, and the Conservatives' proposal comes at a time when the employment insurance fund has a cumulative deficit of $9 billion.
    We will have to give some thought to how to fund the excellent initiative that this bill proposes. I think that the money should come from the general revenue fund, which is what the Conservatives promised in their election platform.
    I think it is also worth mentioning what a shame it is that, despite having introduced this bill, the government has so far avoided giving any thought to the greater problems facing the employment insurance system as a whole.
    Currently, less than half of all unemployed Canadians receive employment insurance benefits, even though everyone contributes to the fund. In July 2012, 508,000 Canadians received regular employment insurance benefits. There were 1,377,000 unemployed Canadians during that same month. That means that 870,000 unemployed Canadians did not have access to employment insurance benefits even though they contributed to the fund.
    A comprehensive reform of our shared employment insurance plan is therefore long overdue. EI is a social safety net that all workers and employers contribute to, and they have the right to expect support when they are in need at some point in their lives. The NDP will continue to fight for a fair, accessible and effective employment insurance system for unemployed Canadians.
    In closing, I would like to reiterate my support for this bill, but I hope that the Conservatives will be open to true dialogue and the constructive exchange of ideas in the interest of refining the proposals made here today so that Canadians can have the best possible system.
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague highlighted the fact that the Conservatives promised, in their 2011 platform, not to take part of the money already in the employment insurance fund and transfer it to another benefit, but to take the money from the general fund. They must not dip into the employment insurance fund yet again.
    The Conservatives estimate this new benefit, which we support, at $30 million a year. I would like to hear my colleague's comments on that.
    Does she think the government intended to keep its promises by using the money of the employees and employers who contributed to this fund?

  (1235)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his excellent question. During the last election campaign, the Conservatives promised that the employment insurance fund would be financed out of the general fund and not by the contributions. As the member said, the fund is financed by employers and employees. It must not be used to finance all of the programs that are implemented. There are programs that must be financed by the general fund, and that is the case here.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is important to know that we on this side of the House support these changes to the Employment Insurance Act. They will help Canadian families at a time when they need the benefits the most.
    Many people have come to my riding office who have told me they are not getting their benefit in time and cannot get access by phone. There are many cases of people waiting months to receive their first EI benefit cheque, and this from a fund they have paid into and unfortunately have to access after losing their job.
    I wonder if my colleague could tell me about her experience in her riding. How are people being affected by these drastic changes to EI and the service cuts that were part of omnibus Bill C-38?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his excellent question. This is unprecedented. Canada is currently experiencing a disastrous situation. No one is answering the phones at Service Canada anymore. There have been so many cuts to staff that sometimes there is only one employee left for an entire region, and that person is wondering how he or she is going to meet the demand. One employee can see nine people over the course of a day. This includes all those who have difficulty filling out their applications, those who have a disability and those who cannot read. We are seeing this more and more in our ridings. Employees will be under the same pressure to respond to the needs of Canadians across the country. It is false to say that everyone is able to use the Internet effectively.
    Since I have time, I am going to talk about a woman in my riding. She has a doctorate and is thus extremely intelligent. She has a young daughter under the age of two who has scoliosis. This woman constantly has to leave the labour force and then try to find another job. She does what she can, but this is a black hole for her. She completed a doctorate so that she can teach one day. She wants to work, but she is in the difficult position of having a child that is sick.
    I hope that this bill, for which I must congratulate the Conservatives, will be able to meet some of this woman's needs. However, it does not go far enough because every eight months she has to return to the hospital with her child, who has setbacks.

[English]

    New Democrats have long been calling for changes to the current EI system, as well as support for families who find themselves in the situations that are identified in the bill. The NDP is the only party that calls for extending EI stimulus measures until unemployment falls to pre-recession levels. We called for eliminating the two-week waiting period for people to qualify for EI benefits, returning the qualifying period to a minimum of 360 hours of work regardless of the regional rate of unemployment, raising the rate of benefits to 60% rather than what it is today and improving the quality and monitoring of training and retraining across the country, so that individuals have the ability to improve their skills while they are on EI benefits.
    Though I am going to be speaking in support of the bill today, what I do find somewhat troubling is that the government is still choosing to ignore the largest problem with our current EI system. As of July 2012, four in ten unemployed Canadians are actually eligible for EI, which means 60% of the people who are unemployed are not receiving EI benefits because they do not qualify. They are part-time and temporary workers, people who are forced into many precarious forms of employment.
    Further to this, the funding used to provide the support promised in this legislation to these families is actually going to be coming from EI premiums rather than the general revenue fund, which is exactly what the Conservatives promised in their 2011 election platform. They said it would come from the general revenue fund rather than the EI fund. Not only is this an example of the government breaking yet another election promise, but this is by far the most expensive option and comes at a time when the EI account has a cumulative deficit of $9 billion.
    With that in mind, I must also add that the EI program is not one that the government has been paying into. It is one that only employees and employers pay into, and yet the government has decided to have these special benefits come from the EI fund rather than the general revenue fund, as it promised.
    Keeping in mind what I just mentioned, I do not think it is appropriate that the funding for this comes from the EI program or that EI is the appropriate vehicle to deliver these special funds. It leaves out a large portion of Canadians who will not have worked the 600 hours that are required to make them eligible for the program. Once again, EI is not a fund that the government pays into. Only employers and employees pay into it.
    While this bill addresses some of the issues with the current EI system, it leaves out a large proportion that could be easily changed and would further help parents and families. This bill does not address layoffs during parental or maternity leave. If a woman is laid off by her employer during the time she is on maternity leave, it does not address that situation. Largely it does affect women. Only women are eligible for maternity leave. Women generally take parental leave after the initial maternity leave is complete, so it also does not address the issue of being able to stack any EI regular and special benefits. If I, as a young woman, am on maternity leave and my child becomes critically ill, the bill allows for the stacking of special benefits but does not allow for the stacking of special benefits on top of regular benefits.
    New Democrats will continue to fight for an EI system that is fair, accessible and effective for all Canadians. That being said, the changes to this legislation, it goes without saying, will help ease the burden on some of the suffering parents and families who need help.

  (1240)  

    Across the country, we hear far too many stories of families struggling to make ends meet. With the suffering and emotional burden of a critically ill child or a child killed or missing through an act of violence, finances are the furthest thing from the minds of family members. This is when they need the support of family, friends and the community to come together. These families also need the support of the government to help them through this trying time.
     While Bill C-44 does take a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough to support these families. I already mentioned that a large number of families would be left out, as they may not reach the required minimum 600 hours to qualify for EI, and the bill does not include any other support for these families. Also, EI benefits still amount to only 55% of a claimant's income up to a maximum of a certain amount. Furthermore, the bill will not help with the cost of drugs or child care services for other children who may not be ill.
    These families also need a pharmacare plan and a catastrophic drug plan to help them through this difficult time, especially with a child who is going through multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Some catastrophic drugs are not covered under provincial drug plans.
    Also somewhat problematic is that the bill does not address the concerns about the very black and white definition of critically ill or injured. As it stands, to qualify for these benefits a critically ill or injured child is one who faces significant risk of death within 26 weeks. While this keeps the number of parents eligible to use the program down, it also leaves out many families who are suffering through chemotherapy treatments or organ transplant programs. It also forces parents to make the very difficult admission that their child is likely to die within the next 26 weeks.
     It is very unlikely that a parent would reach the stage where they would be able to make such an admission. We know that doctors are hesitant to make such a categorical statement. Families always want to remain hopeful that their child will turn the tide and do better. With the advancements in our medical system, it is completely reasonable that they would hold onto hope.
    We have seen many illnesses that a decade ago were considered terminal become more and more treatable, and maybe even curable today. To force families into a position where they must make this categorical statement is quite unfair.
    The bill includes a change to the Income Tax Act that would allow for a direct grant to the parents of a child missing on account of a suspected breach of the Criminal Code. While I am supportive of the creation of this much needed support for these families, I am left wondering why it would only be available to parents of children who go missing on account of a suspected breach of the Criminal Code. Why not all parents of missing children?
    Regardless of why or how one's child went missing, the child is still missing. Do not all parents deserve and need government support during this trying time when they are frantically searching for their missing child?
    I was happy to see the inclusion of changes to the Income Tax Act to allow for a direct grant to the parents of a murdered child. Members may know that this summer we saw alarming incidents of violence in communities in Scarborough, where I am from, and in the greater Toronto area.
    One example was the Danzig mass shooting, which saw 23 people injured and two young people lose their lives, 14-year-old Shyanne Charles and 23-year-old Josh Yasay. This shooting and other acts of violence committed in our community are tragic. They have left the entire community and the city mourning the senseless loss of two bright young lives.
     The families of these children need support that, unfortunately, was not available to them until now. I am happy that families in the future would have the ability to receive it.
    I spent my summer talking to people in the area and the community. I heard time and time again that they wanted to see federal leadership to address violence in our communities and the root causes of crime.

  (1245)  

    While we know this is a great initiative by the government in taking steps to help the parents of murdered children, parents never want to have to bury their child in the first place. They want preventive measures so their child is not murdered through crime.
    Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and all members of the House of Commons have seen the value of this legislation's specifics and ultimately want to see it pass. Having said that, there is some disappointment because there is good reason to do a lot more in looking at ways we can provide assistance on compassionate grounds.
    For a good while the Liberal Party has advocated looking at seniors and people who are ill and who need family support and, ultimately, allowing people in the workforce the opportunity to provide care, maybe including some form of palliative care, by giving them access to employment benefits.
    Could the member comment on that issue? Would she support providing employment benefits for a longer time to those who want to care for a sibling or parent who is terminally ill?

  (1250)  

    Mr. Speaker, we have seen some improvements in Bill C-44, and as my hon. colleague pointed out, we would like to see further changes that would help families in very difficult situations provide support for an elder in the family. As boomers age, we will see many more people in the sandwich generation taking care of their children as well as their elderly parents.
    It would be a very welcome addition to see these type of changes to the EI system that would allow people who are taking care of their children as well as their elders to have these kinds of support.
    Mr. Speaker, these are good changes that will help families in time of need and we fully support them. However, I want to highlight the bigger problem with the EI program. We have seen the gutting of the EI program by the Conservative government. Bill C-38 not only gutted the benefits paid to Canadians but also cut services for people who want to access these benefits.
    I have seen this in Surrey North, where hundreds of people have come to my office. They struggle with the maze that is in place when phoning and getting either no answer or no live person answering. Not only that, but people are also having difficulty accessing the EI benefits they paid for. After two and a half months they have not received their first cheque. Under the Conservative government we have seen the highest personal consumer debt rate among all Canadians, so people who lose their jobs need the money to bridge that gap.
    Has my colleague heard these sorts of complaints in her constituency?
    Mr. Speaker, I have heard very similar stories in my constituency of Scarborough—Rouge River, but I must go one step further. We have extremely high levels of unemployment among adults and youth. My constituency has the highest youth to population ratio in all of the GTA and we know that youth unemployment is skyrocketing. It is the highest in our history and continues to skyrocket.
    We know that 4 out of every 10 unemployed workers have not qualified for EI benefits as a result of the continued cuts and clawbacks and changes to the EI legislation from the omnibus Bill C-38, along with other changes that the Conservative government continues to make. These will continue to erode the benefits that employers and employees have paid for.
    Finally, we have to remember that the EI benefits fund is one that only employers and employees have paid into, and if the government is not paying into it--
    Resuming debate, the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.

  (1255)  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in support of the bill, although I would say it is critical support. I say this because in many respects the bill is inconsistent, as some of my colleagues have already indicated, in terms of what benefits are covered for what people. I will speak to that concern a little bit.
    I first want to acknowledge some of the very important aspects of the bill that we should celebrate and thank the government for moving on. Currently it is the case that employment insurance claimants can access sickness benefits and subsequently access parental benefits. However, at the moment, those same claimants cannot access sickness benefits during or right after they claim parental benefits, because of a technical problem with how the law works. Bill C-44 would amend this. It is extremely welcome and I thank the minister for moving on that.
    The Canada Labour Code code changes that will protect the jobs of people who have taken time off work because a child has gone missing or, worse, been murdered as a result of a Criminal Code offence, or a suspected Criminal Code offence, are also welcome. We can all understand the deep trauma and debilitating effects on parents when a child is lost in that way. Therefore, making sure that they are not penalized in the workplace is very humane. The fact that it is 2012 and this is coming into effect only now suggests that many elements of good sense do, unfortunately, take a bit too long to make their way into our legal system. Nonetheless, I thank the minister for her earlier speech outlining this change in the law.
    I would like to talk a bit about some of the problems. I mentioned inconsistencies in how this is being approached. Some of the inconsistencies stem from a general problem with our employment insurance and federal benefit system of approaching things in far too ad hoc, piecemeal a fashion, not looking at the overall picture and structural dimensions of unemployment and other related or similar causes for people needing assistance. Instead, we are ending up more and more with an employment insurance system that looks a bit like the tax code, which we are all so keen to attack for it being unprincipled and full of all kinds of piecemeal provisions, without any overarching coherence. Our employment insurance system is approaching that point, and although the benefits in Bill C-44 are very welcome, they add to this piecemeal, ad hoc approach.
    Let me give a couple of examples of why we are concerned that something is being moved on but in an inconsistent way that speaks to the rather limited ad hoc approach the bill feeds into.
    It is great that once the bill is passed, the labour code will protect the jobs of those who are employed. Obviously I am talking about parents who lose their children, where a child goes missing or is killed through a criminal offence. The labour code in these cases will protect the parents' jobs, and that is great. That should be the case. However, there is no good reason to tie the benefit itself, the grant to the parents, to the fact of someone being employed, especially when the funding is coming from general revenue and is not considered an employment insurance benefit. We do have a problem with the fact that not all the funding for the bill will come from general revenue, but at least this benefit, the benefit to parents who have a missing or murdered child, will come from general revenue. Therefore, there is no technical reason not to be consistent in who receives the benefit. Yet it is being treated as if it is somehow an employment insurance benefit, because it is being linked and limited to those who received $6,500 a year of earned income in the previous year before the benefit.

  (1300)  

    There is no logical reason why parents who lose children in the way this bill is contemplating merit the benefit if they have been employed in the past to a certain threshold level, while parents with lower incomes, who are unemployed or otherwise, would not qualify by this standard if they also lose a child in the exact same way. The trauma is no different. The debilitating effects are no different. The undermining of their responsibilities, even if they are not responsibilities in the workplace, is no different. Others have responsibilities in their lives, whether they are employed or not, that would be undermined, indeed made impossible to fulfill, if a child is abducted or worse, murdered.
    Here are two examples that anybody could recognize as valid. There are stay-at-home parents who are not earning a formal income in the workplace. They are working and in this day and age we all recognize the fact that this is work. Many of us would hope that the system would eventually evolve to the point that this work would be recognized as a form of employment but at the moment that is not the case. There are stay-at-home parents who have other children they are taking care of or an elderly parent or they are trying to hold things together in the house, and they lose a child in the same circumstances as somebody who is employed or had been employed to the $6,500 rate.
    The second example is of an unemployed parent who, according to our system and our cultural values, has to spend a lot of time looking for work. That is what we expect somebody to be doing. That person would be undermined by the same event in their life as somebody who is employed. Somebody who is employed would be affected by losing a child and the ability to get back into the job market would also be affected. That inconsistency is something I would love to see looked at in committee, especially because this would be funded from general revenue.
    I forgot to mention at the beginning that, if possible, I would like to split my time with the member for Pontiac.
    Here is another example of this inconsistency. Precisely why is the benefit to parents who lose a child limited to parents whose children are missing or killed only as a result of a suspected breach of the Criminal Code? Is there something quite arbitrary in drawing the line there? We all have no problem understanding the debilitating effects of crime. There is indeed something hard-wired in all human beings to perhaps react a bit worse when a crime has befallen our family; it is not just the loss of the child but how the child has been lost and I accept that distinction. Yet we can have as much trauma and debilitating effect when children go missing or are killed in other ways.
    I draw on the very good speech of my colleague, the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain. In her reply speech to the minister's introduction of the bill she put it so well when she said:
    If I am understanding this right, if a family were to go wilderness camping, say, and their toddler wandered away from the campsite and ended up missing, the parents would not be eligible for any support during their time of frantically searching for their child. Why is that?
    She went on to say:
    Did the government's need to feed the rhetoric of its law and order agenda take precedence over good public policy here? I am simply not understanding why the Criminal Code caveat was deemed necessary to add in this bill.
    I echo this concern. As the minister said in the House yesterday, it is not adequate to say that it was judged to be a good public policy because of response to consultations with Canadians. Surely Canadians, upon reflection, would not begrudge extending the benefit to analogous circumstances. Are Canadians so fixated on a crime agenda that they would not see the inconsistency? I very much doubt it.
    I end here because I want to hear what my colleague from Pontiac has to say after I take a few questions.

  (1305)  

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the NDP members for their support for this important piece of legislation. However, I do want to point out perhaps some of the falsehoods that I keep hearing in some of their speeches. They keep claiming that only 40% of workers are eligible for EI. This is clearly wrong; 84% of Canadians are eligible for EI and those who are receive EI benefits. I just want to state that for the record.
    Could the member opposite comment on how important these benefits are for families who truly need them?
    Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but agree and echo the fact that for the families receiving these benefits, they are absolutely important.
    My only point, made with some considerable emphasis in my speech, was that other families in directly analogous circumstances would equally benefit from and welcome the same benefits. That was my only point.
    Mr. Speaker, this is a small step in the right direction. However, the Conservatives have taken giant steps backwards when it comes to Canadians getting benefits and how they qualify. During the time Canadians are getting benefits, if they want to work part-time or earn extra income, the Conservatives are cutting back on the take-home pay people are able to make.
    I have watched Conservatives in this House as they constantly play with the numbers. We are seeing that right now. In fact, 40% of unemployed Canadians receive benefits. The other 60% are not receiving any EI benefits at all.
    Bill C-38 and the cuts Conservatives brought in to services and benefits are a big issue.
    Would my colleague agree that this is a small step in the right direction to help families, yet the Conservatives have taken large steps backwards in providing benefits to the unemployed?
    Mr. Speaker, I would have to agree that that is generally the case.
     On behalf of my party, I would ask that, as we continue with question period, we get some straight answers from the minister on what the latest changes in the EI system actually mean. We have heard some backing away from her earlier statements to make it look like the new system is 100% good with respect to receiving income while on employment insurance, only to have some fudging in the last question period.
    This is an example of why Canadians are losing trust in our political system. We are getting answers that appear to be inaccurate, and then we are not hearing a straightforward acknowledgement when a mistake has been made. If the minister continues to mislead Canadians, I think we are going to have a problem.
    Mr. Speaker, the member has to update his information. He alluded to the fact that there was some discrepancy between what he said and what the minister said this morning. I quote, “People on parental leave from their employer are not considered to be available for work, so they do not qualify for sickness benefits.”
    That is old information. Under this bill, the government is waiving, and taking out, in other words, this requirement for parents receiving EI parental benefits so that they can qualify for sickness benefits if they fall ill subject to remaining qualification criteria. The new data is here. It is noteworthy and should be on the record.
    Mr. Speaker, there is no need to correct the record. I was actually complimenting the government for that exact change. What I was speaking about at the beginning of my speech was the current law. Until this bill is passed, it is not the current law. I was saying the current law is as the member described but that the law will change, and I was thanking the minister.
    There is no need to correct the record, because I was completely accurate.

  (1310)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to contribute to a very important debate and to express my support at second reading for Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations. This bill is important because it can help all parents who are in a very difficult situation through no fault of their own.
    Members may know that I am the proud father of two young girls, Sophia and Gabriella, and even though they are in very good health, thank God, as a father, I am very concerned about this issue. It is not always easy to be a parent nowadays, and it must be much harder when one's children are critically ill.
    I believe that this bill can alleviate the suffering of parents who are in need because their child is critically ill or has disappeared or, worse still, died as the result of a crime. It is important to implement measures that can alleviate parents' suffering at such times. That is our duty as compassionate human beings. It simply makes no sense for parents and families not to have access to reasonable government support so that they can take care of their children during very difficult times.
    More and more, the sad reality is that informal caregivers are being abandoned and yet are becoming the backbone, albeit invisible, of our health care system. They must take on various crucial roles, including the care of children, aging parents or other family members who need support as a result of injuries, chronic illness or serious disability. They are even more important in the current context, since investments in health care are clearly insufficient and are being increasingly challenged by this government.
    For instance, the Canadian Caregiver Coalition estimates that over 5 million Canadians are currently providing unpaid care to loved ones, many of whom are children and family members.
    As an elected official, I am here to say that we absolutely must do more for these people. They deserve to have an accessible employment insurance system that addresses the various problems I just mentioned.
    The facts are astonishing. Serious unintentional injuries are not only a significant cause of death for Canadian children, but also the leading causes of morbidity and disability for children and youth in Canada. Many people do not know this. They account for 15% of the hospitalizations of children under the age of 12.
    Furthermore, many of the issues of ill health and disease that children live with, although not fatal, are of serious concern. Some are of concern specifically in the childhood years, while others can have serious repercussions for these children when they reach adulthood. Consider, for instance, asthma, diabetes and cancer, which are all becoming more common among children. Every year, an average of 800 children under 15 are diagnosed with cancer, and 150 of them will die from the disease. Cancer is the second leading cause of death among Canadian children.
    Fortunately, however, there is hope. Over the past 30 years, the survival rate for young cancer patients has improved significantly, increasing from 71% in the late 1980s to 82% in the early 2000s. Fortunately, the five-year survival rate has increased for many types of childhood cancers.

  (1315)  

    However, even if I support this bill at second reading, I do not believe that it goes far enough in addressing all the problems we have with our employment insurance system, which must be reformed no matter what it takes.
    For example, women who lose their jobs immediately after their parental leave ends should have the right to obtain employment insurance benefits. This bill does not go far enough in this regard. Why do we not allow women to receive regular employment insurance benefits and why do we not allow the stacking of special and regular benefits? That would make sense.
    It seems to me that the government also missed a good opportunity to help hard-working mothers obtain more justice with regard to eligibility for employment insurance.
    I am also disappointed that Bill C-44 is limited to special benefits. It seems that the government is avoiding addressing recurrent problems with the employment insurance system.
    The sad reality is that, of the 1,370,000 unemployed workers in Canada in July 2012, only 508,000 received regular employment insurance benefits. That means that 870,000 unemployed Canadians did not receive employment insurance benefits. In fact, fewer than four in 10 unemployed workers are receiving employment insurance benefits, a historically low level in this country. That is completely unacceptable. Basically, it means that there is hidden poverty and that this type of poverty is on the rise in our society.
    Clearly, we must continue to fight for an employment insurance system that is fairer and more accessible and effective for all unemployed Canadians.
    However, this bill does go ahead with significant reforms that I support, for example, the reforms related to families of murdered or missing children. I support this bill so that families do not have to worry about money when confronted with such difficult situations that are almost impossible for us to imagine.
    For parents of young children who are not lucky enough to be in good health as mine are, I support the initiative to extend parental leave and provide financial benefits to parents whose children are sick and whose priority must be parenting. They should not have to worry about money at a time like that, but should be able to focus on being a parent.
    I also support the measure to combine special employment insurance benefits if a parent becomes ill or is injured while on parental leave. This would mean that parents would not have less time to spend with their children at the very moment when parents and children need to spend more time together.

[English]

    Although the bill would not do everything that perhaps myself or my party would like, it would do some key things on a fundamental humanitarian basis.
    As a father of two young girls, I cannot imagine being in a situation where one of them falls terminally ill or is victimized by a violent crime. I cannot imagine being in that situation but I know a number of my own constituents who are. They expect their elected officials to be compassionate and to make changes in laws and regulations so that they could be supported financially by the state at such a difficult time. That is the fundamental motivator behind the bill and that is the reason I am proud to stand up for my constituents to support it at second reading.
    Mr. Speaker, would my hon. colleague from Pontiac comment a bit on the structural situation we find ourselves in financially with employment insurance?
    We have talked a lot about inconsistencies and about the need to have a broader federal approach that is humane, but it is the case that we lost a huge amount of money from the employment insurance fund under previous governments, Liberal and Conservative. It was only in 2010 that the employment insurance fund went back to a separate operating fund. A surplus of $57 billion was drawn down and not put back in before the Conservative government created a new, slightly better system than the Liberals had left.
    I wonder if the hon. member could comment on our ability to make employment insurance work in terms of--
    Ms. Judy Foote: It was done under the advice of the Auditor General. You should get the facts straight.
    Mr. Craig Scott: I will end my question because I was trying to catch what the peanut gallery behind me was saying.

  (1320)  

    Mr. Speaker, the principle here is simple: Who pays into employment insurance? Who owns that money? The reality is that the workers of this country own that money. To have governments pull workers' investment in employment insurance is tantamount to theft. The reality is that this began a long time ago with the Liberals. The two traditional parties are not blameless in this situation.
     We in the NDP start with the principle that the EI fund is Canadians' money, that it is up to Canadians to draw on it when they need it and that they do draw on it most of the time when they need it, which is absolutely normal.
    I would like to answer my colleague's question a bit more. The other change with regard to employment insurance that frustrates me is how it attacks the possibility for seasonal workers to make their living. Seasonal workers in my riding are essential, whether they be in the forestry industry, the food industry or the agricultural industry. Those seasonal workers need to be able to work within their expertise.
    Mr. Speaker, at times, the holier-than-thou attitude that the New Democrats have on social programs is, unfortunately, not well grounded. While the member chooses to criticize the Liberal Party, he should also be aware that it was the Liberal Party that created the program. If he wants to talk about criticizing the worker and the average individual, he should take a look at workers' compensation, for which the provinces are responsible, and he will see the abuse that the New Democratic government of Manitoba has inflicted on the workers in Manitoba by cutting them off from those funds.
     I would suggest that the member not throw stones in glass houses because he will find that the windows will break and cave in on the New Democratic Party.
    This bill deserves the support of all political parties inside this chamber because it expresses compassion to those who need it. The real issue is whether we should be looking at ways to extend that compassion. We in the Liberal Party believe the answer to that is yes.
    Mr. Speaker, the assumption by the hon. member in his question is that we in the NDP live in a glass house, but we do not. Our house is solid. We have always supported social programs that are robust and help reduce income inequality in this country. We are not the party that took $57 billion out of the EI fund. The only party that did that is the Liberal Party. That is why we are $9 billion in debt.
    The thing about the Liberals is, as the old saying goes, they put signal left but they turn right. There is a complete inconsistency fundamentally in their ideology because they have none. It would be nice for a Liberal on that side of the House to stand up for something for once.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying that I will be sharing my time with the member for Timmins—James Bay.
    I will begin by stating that I will be supporting Bill C-44. Perhaps some of my colleagues have children, and they know as well as I do that the most difficult thing in the world is to watch their child suffer or to learn that their child has suffered. I do not even want to imagine what a parent goes through when their child disappears or dies as a result of a crime. It is far too painful. A mother or father never recovers from such a blow, and it must take a long time for the pain to subside even a little. I still think of my grandparents, who died 25 or 30 years ago, and that is nothing compared to the loss of a child.
    Bill C-44 will allow parents who go through such turmoil and grief to take the time to heal a little before returning to work. It will also prevent them from suffering serious financial difficulties in the meantime. Parents of a seriously ill child will be able to take the time to be with their child during that difficult period. When my children were young, one of them played baseball with a young boy whose younger brother had a serious illness. The little brother was about five years old. He was being treated and often stayed in hospital. You do not leave a five-year-old child alone in the hospital. Both parents had used up their holidays and other leave, but the illness obviously did not go away by the time they had exhausted their leave. They had to ask for unpaid leave. Their finances suffered and they were afraid of losing their jobs. That is exactly the kind of family that could have benefited from leave with benefits.
    Helping parents in such a way is an excellent initiative. However, I find it somewhat maddening that the Conservative government is prepared to amend the Canada Labour Code to help one group of parents but not another. When the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie wanted to bring changes to the same code to protect pregnant or nursing women, the Conservatives slammed the door in his face. This really smacks of partisanship and cynicism. The purpose of his bill was to prevent miscarriages and health problems in newborns by ensuring that pregnant and nursing women whose jobs fall under Canada Labour Code jurisdiction were not subject to dangerous situations at work.
    Why show kindness and common sense to one group of parents, but not to another, when in both cases, we are talking about the life of a child or unborn child? The trauma is similar. It makes absolutely no sense. The only plausible answer to my question is that Bill C-44, which we are discussing today, was introduced by a Conservative minister, while Bill C-307, which sought to compensate and protect pregnant women and their unborn children, came from an NDP member. Is that what the Conservatives call democracy now that they have a majority? The public will remember that come 2015.
    There is another problem. Just a year ago, when the Conservatives promised the public that it would help parents of murdered, missing or seriously ill children, they also promised to do so out of general revenues. That is what Bill C-44 proposes in the first two cases, but not in the third. Benefits for parents of sick children will be taken from the employment insurance fund. Why do I see a problem with that? There are many reasons.
    First, the employment insurance fund has a deficit of $9 billion. Second, employment insurance money is supposed to be a safety net for unemployed workers. Third, once again, the Conservatives did not do what they said they would do.
    Let us talk about my first point: the employment insurance fund has a deficit of $9 billion. The anthropologist in me would like to give a quick history lesson. In the 1990s, under a Liberal government, the state stopped funding employment insurance. Instead of having three contributors to the fund—the worker, the employer and the state—there were only two contributors, the worker and the employer. So the pot was already shrinking.
    In the late 1990s, the Liberals took money that had been set aside for workers and rolled it into the general revenue fund to balance the budget. That money did not belong to the government because, as I just said, it had been contributed to the fund by workers and employers.

  (1325)  

    When the Conservatives came to power, they continued to chip away at the employment insurance fund. What a surprise it was when recently, there was no more money in the fund to pay claimants. The government had to increase workers' and employers' premiums. That is not fair. People paid for that insurance for years, and then they were told there was no more money and they would have to pay more if they wanted the benefits to which they were entitled.
    If a private investor takes off with our savings, we call foul, but is it any different when the government does the same thing?
    Second, I mentioned that the employment insurance fund is supposed to be a safety net for workers who lose their jobs. That is why it is called “insurance”. Maybe we should stop calling it “employment insurance” and start calling it “unemployment insurance” like in the old days because it is insurance against unemployment, not for or against employment.
    The money in the fund comes from workers and employers and should be used when a person loses his job and has a hard time finding another one, or when the nature of his work does not make it possible for him to work all year long. Everyone knows what I am referring to because we have been talking about seasonal workers a lot lately.
    This fund could be used to address a number of other problems directly related to employment. For example, over the years, my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, who was the NDP employment insurance critic, made dozens of proposals to expand the scope of the program. Less than four out of 10 unemployed people receive employment insurance benefits. This shows that there is a fundamental problem with the system. The money in the fund should be used to address these problems.
    Benefits for parents of sick children should come from general revenues—as per the Conservatives' election promise—and not the employment insurance fund.
    All the money pillaged from the employment insurance fund—$54 billion—could and should be used today to help workers affected by the latest economic crisis, those workers who recently lost their jobs as a result of all the Conservative government cuts. There are 300,000 more unemployed people today than before the 2008 crash.
    To conclude, I support Bill C-44 because it supports parents going through painful times, and who should not have to add financial problems to their stress. However, I would like to ask the minister to keep the promises made by her party to use general revenues and not the employment insurance fund to cover these measures. I would also like to ask her to consult Canadians in order to learn about the real problems faced by thousands of unemployed people, in order to make reforms to the system that will make it fair for everyone. I can assure her that she will have the complete co-operation of the NDP for such a project.
    Finally, I would also like to ask the government to show as much compassion for the parents of children who have disappeared in circumstances that are not related to a crime and also to caregivers who find it difficult to survive on the meagre resources currently provided by governments, as requested by the Canadian Palliative Care Association.

  (1330)  

    Mr. Speaker, I actually noticed more or less the same thing. Earlier, I spoke about a problem with the bill on missing or deceased children where no crime has been committed. I feel as though there is a vacuum here. The answer that I got earlier from the Conservatives was that the today’s bill focuses on missing or deceased children where a crime has been committed. However, it is just as dramatic for a family when a child commits suicide, for example. No crime has been committed, but a child has died nevertheless. This program would not apply in such a case, because we are only talking about cases involving the Criminal Code, cases where a crime has been committed.
    Does the member agree with me that the bill could be more inclusive and provide relief to grieving families?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question.
    Yes, I obviously agree with him when he says that there are gaps in the legislation. I support the bill, but I have already indicated that it has problems. In fact, that is precisely why I cannot understand why there are so few Conservatives rising to speak about the bill and support it. Is it because they are in the majority and they think that the bill will be adopted regardless, or is it because they think the bill is so perfect that there is no need to discuss it?
    In my opinion, their way of thinking smacks curiously of 16th century colonialism where certain nations believed that their way of thinking was the only right way to think. I feel that history has proven that this was not a particularly enlightened way of thinking. One only need ask the first nations, for example.

  (1335)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her very excellent speech, including the experiences of her constituents and her anthropological expertise.
    My question to her is about some of the gaps I have identified as well. New Democrats will be supporting this bill because it is a welcome change from the constant cuts we see the government make. It is implementing some changes that some members on this side of the House have been proposing for many years. The specific question I have is about the inability to stack benefits. Even though we see the proposition in this bill of the ability to stack special benefits, such as maternity leave with the new grant or, if a child becomes ill, being able to stack those up to a maximum of 104 weeks, what will happen if somebody who is on regular EI benefits has a child who becomes ill?
    The government seems to be very unclear and, in this bill, does not articulate whether a person who is already on regular EI benefits would be able to take time off to support his or her child. Would she like to see that type of broader change brought in to ensure that all families with children are included in this change in legislation?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her excellent question.
    As I mentioned earlier, this bill favours certain groups, but unfortunately other groups have been forgotten. There is a distinction made between various groups of people. However, it would be really unfortunate if one particular group of people, a group of parents, for example, were forgotten when it would be so easy to make amendments to this bill.
    The NDP is in favour of referring this bill to committee. I hope that the committee will consider all the issues raised by the NDP, including this one, and others raised by the Liberals. The committee will be able to make key amendments to ensure that all parents faced with difficult situations such as these might benefit from this legislation.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in the House representing the people of the region of Timmins—James Bay. This debate is on Bill C-44, which would amend the Canada Labour Code, the Employment Insurance Act, the Income Tax Act and income tax regulations, to allow workers to take leave and draw EI at times of serious illness of their children or of a child who has disappeared or been killed as a result of a horrific crime.
    This is the kind of debate that is instructive for Canadians, because they look more and more on this Parliament as an increasingly dysfunctional place, where people are trained like seals to speak through a little message box, to bark when they are told to bark and to stand when they are told to stand. Yet in this debate we see that this is where our expertise as members of Parliament really comes together, because there is not a member in the House who has not dealt with one of these instances or who has not sat down with a family member or a young mother whose child is going to CHEO in Ottawa or SickKids in Toronto, whose need for EI benefits is so obvious. They come to us. All of us across party lines have experienced a situation where we see the system and we see that people are falling through the cracks.
    Therefore, I am glad that within this Parliament, which sometimes seems so fractious, we can show Canadians that this is the kind of work that gets done outside of the House within our offices and that we can come together and try to find some good solutions.
    I think of the young people whom I have dealt with in my office. As the years go by I seem to have a little shrine for the little ones we have lost along the way, like Sylvain Noël, a wonderful young boy. I have a picture of him with us and the Timmins firefighters as they made him an honorary member just before he passed.
    I think of young Trianna Martin, age four, who died in a house fire in Kashechewan when there was not a single firefighting unit in the community to save her. I have her picture.
    I keep a picture of Charlie Hunter who died in a residential school and nobody even bothered to tell his parents. For 40 years his family worked to get that little boy's body home. I was so proud to be there when Charlie Hunter did come home.
    I think if Courtney Koostachin from Attawapiskat, one of the many young people from the James Bay coast whom we see suffering with cancer. I have her picture.
    Of course I have a picture of young Shannen Koostachin, who was the great youth leader from Attawapiskat.
    I know each of their families and each of their stories. I think of the other young people who fortunately did get treatment and lived, but I also know the struggles the families went through, so this bill touches all of us.
    The bill also speaks to a need to look at how the economy is structured in this country, because I have heard it said by some of my Conservative friends that technically there is no unemployment, rather there is just a gap between the market and services, as though people are just widgets and digits that we can move around: if we have a high level of unemployment in the Maritimes, just ship them to Fort McMurray and everything will be fine. However, we know that this blind belief in the market, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, is really about being blinded by the horrible mysticism of money, that it is not just widgets and digits, that there are people and communities.
    Employment insurance was part of the fundamental driver to build a sustainable economy in Canada. It is not a honey pot to be raided, as it was raided during the Paul Martin years to the tune of $50-something billion to be used elsewhere. It is not something to be seen by some, such as the present Conservative minister, as a disincentive wherein easy access to EI benefits allows people to stay on their couches. That is a misunderstanding of what insurance is. People have a right to free public health insurance. People have house insurance because they need insurance in times of need. Therefore, employment insurance, just like car insurance or house insurance, provides people access to it in time of need
    Why is that important for the economy? At the present time, we are suffering through a long-drawn-out economic downturn. We have 1,377,000 Canadians out of work at this time. We must think of the effects of that on those families.

  (1340)  

    Up until the 1990s, if they paid into EI, or unemployment insurance as it was called then, which most of them would have done, 70% to 80% of those people would have been eligible for benefits. As the crash hit them, their families would have been cushioned until they managed to get a bit of breathing room and they moved, found other employment, or were retrained. However, of the 1.37 million unemployed Canadians right now, there are 870,000 who are not eligible at all.
    When these people are not eligible, what happens is their savings are eaten up right away, and if they are still not working, they lose their other assets. That has a long-term impact on the economy because people are going from being contributing members to society to watching whatever security they have being eaten away. That is why EI is so important. It is to get people through that period so they can get back on their feet.
    Bill C-44 plays a small but very crucial role for the families who at the time when they are receiving benefits, and again, only 40% of the people who are eligible are getting them right now, their child gets sick. We have seen this, where their benefits suddenly are not able to help.
    With this bill we are seeing the recognition by all parties that within the statistics there are times when the role of government is to ensure that we are there for individuals. It is a basic principle of what good government is about. Good government is about setting policy that ensures we see the value of the individual citizens of the country. The government cannot do everything. That is understandable. It cannot serve all needs. In every one of our offices we meet people who would like government to do this, that or the other thing. It is simply not possible. However, we can set the terms to ensure that at specific times of crisis and need, the program will be there.
    I cannot think of a situation harder for any family than the death or sickness of a child and the stress that it puts on the larger family. Not just looking at it from a social point of view, or from a moral point of view, but it has an impact as an economic driver. When a family is in crisis like that and more and more relatives are having to be drawn out of the workforce to help a young single mother or the family, it has an impact. The overall effect of the bill would not be large, but for the families affected, it could have a huge impact.
    We have a number of questions about taking this bill to committee. We need to do due diligence with the bill. One concern the New Democrats have is the promise that the funding was going to come out of general revenues. Why is that important? The problem is that since the EI fund has been raided over the years and since we are in a major economic downturn, we are seeing a deficit in the employment insurance account. We want to make sure that it is sustainable. It has to be sustainable. Programs need to sustain themselves. We are concerned that if we are adding more draw on EI we are going to find ourselves with a greater deficit, and we are going to see the government turn around, tighten the screws and make eligibility requirements even more difficult. When only 40% of the people right now in a time of great economic distress are receiving EI benefits, we do not want a situation where the government comes back to us and says that the deficit is getting worse and we now have to deal with a new EI problem.
    Within the House there should be the goodwill to ask how we ensure that employment insurance remains sustainable, how we keep it from being raided in the future and how we ensure that we have the programs in place to help the parents of sick children, or children who have been victimized, missing or murdered, that allows the family the space to grieve and to deal with that. How do we do that and sustain the program? That is our job as parliamentarians.
    I look forward to the bill going to committee, hearing the witnesses and coming back with a final version of the bill that we can all look at.

  (1345)  

    Mr. Speaker, I think members of the House all agree that this is a small step in the right direction to help parents of young children who may be sick or victims of crime.
    We are seeing the effects of Bill C-38, the omnibus crime bill, in our communities right now. In my constituency of Surrey North, I have seen people who are struggling to get their cheques on time. People are trying to speak to a live person on the other end of the phone line. People are struggling to qualify for these benefits that they have paid into. I heard from one of my constituents who has paid into the EI program for decades.
    Is my colleague hearing that people are having trouble getting someone live on the phone? Is he hearing these sorts of complaints from his constituents?
    Mr. Speaker, it is fascinating to hear of that experience in a densely urban riding. My riding is larger than Great Britain. For the folks back home, it is cheaper for someone in Toronto to fly to Paris for the weekend than for a resident in Kashechewan to fly down to see me at my office. That shows the extent we are dealing with in our regions and we have no government services. The Conservatives pulled government services out. The MP's office is often becoming the point of contact in a vast region. We do our outreach clinics and we do what we can, but we are finding it is like one of those carnival huckster games. They say to people that all they need to do is call them, but good luck getting through, or go to the website and good luck getting an answer. We have seen people in desperate situations who actually are losing their houses because they are waiting to hear back and no one is calling them.
    That is not part of the social contract that should exist between citizens and their government. If people have a right to a service, they should be able to receive it. Unfortunately, it has become a dead letter office for many people who need to access the services.

  (1350)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have introduced several bills which, in their opinion, will help victims. On this side of the House, we have trouble believing that these bills will help victims, especially Bill C-10. Of course, the bill contained a number of measures, but it did not seem to directly help victims. Finally, we have a bill that is going to do exactly that.
    What distinction does my colleague see in the way that the Conservatives have tried to make people believe that they are really helping victims and what is actually going to help victims? Can the member do a better job of explaining this contrast?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. We see a very politicized and dumbed down approach to crime. I have never seen people who want to hug thugs as much as that group does. The Conservatives hold them up and cannot get enough of them and yet their solutions seem to be so poorly thought out.
     What is nice about this is for a change we see the meek and mild-mannered Conservatives are not even standing to speak to one of their few good pieces of legislation in the last six years. It is as though they are confused. They have come forward with a really good bill and something very reasonable, but they cannot froth at the mouth about it so they are all sitting there. They do not know what to do because they want to jump up and down.
    I would invite them to work with us, get a more progressive and positive attitude, get some better bills and get away from the crazy claptrap of the Conservative backbenches.
    Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I stand to speak to this bill and perhaps bring a different perspective to it.
    First and foremost, we recognize a good thing when we see it. What we see here is the government bringing in legislation which, for compassionate reasons, would allow individuals to receive employment insurance benefits in certain situations, such as if they have a very sick child, or a crime has been committed and the child has disappeared. There is a valid argument to be made, and I think no one inside the House of Commons needs to be convinced that we need to provide that sort of compassion when reforming our employment insurance system. To that degree, the government deserves some credit.
     However, the bill does fall short. Ultimately, the bill will go to committee, will get third reading and will pass. We do not know whether or not there will be amendments brought forward. However, it is important to note that it does fall short in a number of ways.
    What is somewhat ironic is that for the last while, members of our caucus from the Atlantic have been talking about their frustration in the minister responsible for employment insurance not recognizing the negative impact her decisions would have on individuals who are receiving employment insurance. Virtually every day we have been trying to explain that to the minister with the hope she will understand the profound impact it would have on those individuals.
    The government of the day is offering a very attractive carrot and yes, we will take it. We will pass the bill. However, we want the government to do more. We want the government to revisit some of the decisions that are negatively affecting tens of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast.
    I applaud the efforts in particular of my Atlantic colleagues who have been holding the minister's feet to the coals on this particular issue. They are asking her to try, in her very best way, to get a better understanding of that issue.
    I have had the opportunity to ask questions during this debate. I have been asking why we are not looking at this in a more comprehensive way. There are many different ways in which we can ultimately argue on compassionate grounds that employment insurance benefits could be given to others.
    Throughout time ideas are generated and talked about, but at some point in time we need to act on them.
    If we look at the history of employment insurance, we would find that it evolved to what it is today after a lot of healthy debate and discussion both inside and outside this chamber. People might not realize that at one point it was actually under provincial jurisdiction, until Mackenzie King said that we needed a national program. He was prepared to open up a constitutional dialogue so that we could get that authority from the provinces. It went through the 1930s, but it did not work in terms of ultimately acquiring that power. It required that constitutional change and through the efforts of Mackenzie King, we were able to have an employment insurance program.
    During the Trudeau years the employment insurance program was expanded. Not only was it meant to provide x number of dollars for an individual who is unemployed, but back in the 1970s, we in the Liberal Party recognized that we needed to play a role in training and retraining to ensure that individuals who lost their jobs were also being provided some assistance in acquiring skills to enable them to get a better job, or at least some form of employment so that they could provide for themselves and their family.

  (1355)  

    These are the types of things that have been evolving over the years and, yes, there have been some changes that maybe have not worked in everyone's favour. However, for the most part it has evolved into the relatively healthy program that it is today. It is one of those fundamental social programs that Canadians expect the government to maintain and move forward on.
    Even the Auditor General of Canada has recognized what the Chrétien and the Paul Martin governments did in the 1990s in ensuring that it is all-in-one in terms of the general revenues. Many of the surpluses that the NDP members refer to actually went toward the funding of health care transfers, equalization payments and other programs that assisted real people, but the Auditor General of Canada recognized that this is something that should be all together.
     We have seen governments, at least in the past, show that while we want the employers and the employees to be able to contribute, at times there is a need for the government to also go into the general revenues and provide the funds needed for future programs and potential further employment insurance benefits.
    That is why we have had leaders of the Liberal Party, particularly Mr. Ignatieff, talk about extending on compassionate grounds the opportunity for a sibling or a spouse to provide firsthand care and to be with loved ones in their dying days. It was costed out at somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1 billion but it would be money well spent because Canadians expect their government to be there. It is one of the things that distinguish us from most, if not all, other countries around the world. We have demonstrated through our social programming that we can make a difference and we can make a difference through employment insurance programs.
     Liberals have consistently articulated it, whether Mackenzie King as a Liberal prime minister during the 1940s or the Trudeau era of the 1970s that expanded the program to incorporate retraining or the idea of pooling resources to ensure the longevity of the program during the Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien years. We have done so because we believe that employment insurance is an obligation that we have to citizens, to all workers and to those who have the misfortune of being laid off or are unable to be employed for whatever reasons. People need to know that the government is going to ensure that their money, as my colleague points out, is being well distributed in a compassionate, caring way—

  (1400)  

    Order, please.
    I must interrupt the hon. member for Winnipeg North at this point. He will have 12 minutes when the House returns to this matter, possibly later today.
    Statements by members, the hon. member for Don Valley East.

STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS

[Statements by Members]

[English]

Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada has been a leading provider of after school and critical hours programs since its inception in 1900. This organization is recognized for significantly contributing to the healthy development of young people, an effort I fully support.
    In 2008, the Boys and Girls Club introduced a new program promoting physical activity and healthy eating, an initiative supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada. This initiative known as “get busy” has grown from 10 participating club communities to a current 22 communities across Canada.
    Today the Public Health Agency is partnering with the private sector to provide even more funding opportunities for the get busy program. Sun Life Financial is one such company and will be matching the Public Health Agency of Canada's funding.
    As the member of Parliament for Don Valley East, home to the Boys and Girls Clubs headquarters, I congratulate the Boys and Girls Clubs for the great work they have been doing and the funding opportunity being presented to them today.

[Translation]

Boscoville 2000

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to salute Boscoville 2000, an organization dedicated to supporting youth development and social participation in innovative and challenging ways.
    Yesterday the organization launched its Web radio project. This initiative arose from consultations with various members of the community, including students at Jean Grou high school, business people and community leaders in the borough of Rivière-des-Prairies. This project will create a stimulating environment within which young people can grow, express themselves and work together.
    I wish them every success in their mission to support our youth and promote participation and freedom of expression. Young people are essential to our society. We need them, and we need their dreams. Thank you, and may Boscoville 2000 continue to flourish.

[English]

Pensions

    Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party has been calling for a bill to reform MP pensions. This seems odd, considering it was the Liberals who brought in the existing MP pension plan.
    In economic action plan 2012, our government proposed changes to MP and civil servant pensions to better reflect fairness for taxpayers. The proposal will bring MP and civil servant pension contributions to a 50% level, equal to the contributions by taxpayers. Other aspects of the pensions are being reviewed in light of sustainability and fairness to the taxpayer.
    Our government listens to those we serve and we will take action on pension reform.
    In 2006, there was a transition in this place from a government of “we are entitled to our entitlements” to one of “fairness to Canadians we serve”. I am proud to be a member of the latter.

Kitsilano Coast Guard Station

    Mr. Speaker, I make a plea to the NDP and Conservative members of the House to put aside political partisanship and join me and other Vancouverites at a non-partisan rally this Saturday, September 29 at Kits Point.
    For the sake of our constituents' safety, we must ask the government to rescind its decision to close the Kitsilano Coast Guard base.
    I echo the B.C. provincial government, Vancouver City Council, police and firefighter first responders, experts in marine safety, port traffic controllers and the people of Vancouver who all say the decision was made without consultation and that the closure will cost lives. Vancouver City Council says that it will create a “significant gap” that they have neither the authority nor the resources to fill.
    Thousands of Vancouverites signed petitions to the government to rescind the closure. I ask the House to put aside politics and go to bat for their safety.

London Paralympic Games

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honour an incredible person, entrepreneur and athlete, Mr. Robert Hudson.
    Robert was involved in a tragic snowmobile accident that left him a paraplegic. He decided to utilize his passion for archery and began training competitively three hours a day to compete in the Paralympics. He is now a medal winning champion and ranked fifteenth in the world.
    Robert has competed in multiple world championships, including: Italy in 2005 and 2011, Korea in 2007, the Czech Republic in 2009, the Pan American Games in 2011 and most recently the Paralympics in London in 2012.
    Outside of competing, he owns a mechanical shop, is involved in the local archery club, and enjoys hunting and especially spending time with his son.
     Robert demonstrates dedication and perseverance in his pursuits. I am personally humbled by the dedication that Robert displays and the passion he has in representing his country.
    On behalf of Canada and Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, I wish him the greatest success in his future endeavours.

  (1405)  

Children's Rights

    Mr. Speaker, according to yesterday's Canadian Press story, the Canadian government was “hauled on the carpet” by the United Nations for its poor record on child rights.
    It is a shame that things have come to this as Canada once was considered a leader on child rights, but not anymore, not with the Conservatives.
    According to the OECD, Canada ranks very low in terms of access, quality and funding of early childhood development and care. On average developed countries spend twice what Canada does in these same areas. In Canada, 50% of children with disabilities lack access to the aids they need simply because they cannot afford them. Finally, out of 30 countries, Canada has been ranked 20th in terms of child poverty.
    How can the government stand up in the House, as it often does, declaring to the Canadian people that it adequately cares for our most vulnerable children when the actual record so clearly demonstrates otherwise?

Peel Regional Police

    Mr. Speaker, I am thrilled to announce that this past Tuesday, the Peel Police Services Board announced the appointment of Chief Designate Jennifer Evans as the new chief of the Peel police.
    The Peel police force is the second largest in Ontario and the third largest in Canada, consisting of 1,900 officers and 800 civilians.
    On October 12, she will be sworn in as the first female police chief in the history of the Peel police. Chief Designate Evans has served our community for the past 29 years, and her appointment to this post is the crowning achievement in an already decorated career dedicated to the service and protection of the region.
    I would also like to applaud the Peel Police Services Board for this historic appointment. I offer my sincerest congratulations to Chief Designate Evans on this astounding appointment, and I look forward to working with her for many years to come.

Franco-Ontarian Celebration

    Mr. Speaker, French language and culture play a significant and irreplaceable role in Canada's identity. They are part of our heritage.
    In Ontario we have, for the last 40 years, recognized and celebrated our vibrant Francophone communities and the value French continues to add to our society.
    This week the citizens of my home town of North Bay celebrated by banding together for a parade through the streets before raising the Franco-Ontarian flag at city hall. The two flowers depicted on the flag are significant. The white lily represents the French-speaking community worldwide, while the green trillium represents the floral emblem of Ontario.
    It was our first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, who said:
    Let us be English or let us be French...and above all let us be Canadians.
    I know that sometimes differences can create conflict but in Canada we strive to have our differences provide us with the diversity to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.
    I am Canadian. Je suis Canadien.

Ontario Northland Railway

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to the men and women of the Ontario Northland Railway.
    The train opened up the north and for over 100 years it has been the backbone of economic development, spreading into bus service, train service, telecommunications and ferries.
    Tomorrow, the McGuinty Liberals will kill public transit in the north, and in doing so break faith with the people of northern Ontario. The move comes just before Thanksgiving, the busiest weekend of the year when families and students are coming home.
    The response from one Liberal cabinet minister said it all. She said they should tell their kids to buy cars.
    That is a world view that says there are two Ontarios, one that counts and one that does not. They see this other Ontario as a colony to take out the wealth, the hydro, the ring of fire.
    The New Democrats disagree. We believe in the people of the north. We believe in sustainable communities. We believe that public transit and the train is worth fighting for.

  (1410)  

Prostate Cancer Awareness Week

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this moment to recognize national Prostate Cancer Awareness Week. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in Canada.
     Our government's goal is to reduce the burden of cancer across this country. That is why we support cancer and prevention efforts through our joint work with provincial and territorial governments, as well as stakeholders from across this great country.
    Funding has been renewed over the next five years for the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer so it can continue its work. We have also invested over $1 billion for cancer research since we formed government in 2006.
    Early detection and leading a healthy, active lifestyle can decrease the risk of developing prostate cancer. We urge men over the age of 50 to talk to their doctors about their risk of prostate cancer, as well as the signs and symptoms of prostate disease.
    Through the combined efforts of both the government and Canadians, we can make a difference and save lives. Please join me in recognizing national Prostate Cancer Awareness Week.

[Translation]

Sustainable Development

    Mr. Speaker, it is time for the Conservative government to show some leadership on the issue of reducing greenhouse gases and to explore the technologies of the future.
    I am extremely proud of some of the truly innovative companies in my riding of Brossard—La Prairie that are finding ways to strike a balance between economic and environmental interests.
    Phostech Lithium, which specializes in batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles, invested $78 million in the construction of a new plant in Candiac.
    Distech Controls, a global leader in energy efficiency in buildings, invested over $6 million in the construction of a new head office in Brossard.
    Our future and the Canadian economy are, for the most part, in our own hands. The government can and should play a role in this sustainable development. There is no shortage of skills or willingness among Canadian companies. The bigger problem is the Conservative government's lack of vision.

[English]

Children's Rights

     Mr. Speaker, Canadians can be proud of the efforts our government makes to promote the rights of children and the concrete steps we have taken to protect our youngest citizens, our most precious resource. Our children are safer, thanks to increased penalties for child predators and the end to house arrest for serious crimes like sex assault and kidnapping. Those who prey on their vulnerability are held responsible.
    In economic action plan 2012, our government made additional investments to help first nations students improve education outcomes and participate more fully in Canada's economy, measures the opposition voted against. Our government defends the best interests of children at home and abroad. Under the leadership of the Prime Minister, Canada launched the initiative for maternal, newborn, and child health, which is saving lives around the world.
    Our government is standing up for Canada's children and youth. The opposition should join us in our efforts.

World Tourism Day

    Mr. Speaker, today is World Tourism Day and an excellent opportunity to celebrate tourism and its importance to our economy, jobs, and communities. The international tourism industry is now worth over $1 trillion spent by a billion tourists each year.

[Translation]

    Last year, tourism contributed $78 billion to the Canadian economy. It created 600,000 jobs and supported 1.6 million more.

[English]

    It is the bread and butter for small businesses, resorts, restaurants, coffee shops, retailers, and tourism operators from coast to coast to coast, but Canada's share of the global market is shrinking. We used to be the seventh most popular destination in the world and now we are the 18th. The number of visitors is dropping. We have a climbing tourism deficit of billions of dollars.
    Today, I call on the government to ensure that Canada gets a bigger piece of this important $1 trillion pie, to strengthen our international tourism marketing, and to support this vital sector of Canada's economy and all of the people in the communities across the country who depend on it.

  (1415)  

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, back in 2008 the NDP member for Edmonton—Strathcona said that the most important thing is to put the right price on carbon. Then in February 2012, the NDP's House leader stated, “I'm more of a cap-and-trade kind of guy...the point of the exercise is putting a price on carbon”. In March, the NDP leader even stated that he would have a cap-and-trade program that would produce billions.
    The promise of a job-killing carbon tax can also be found on page 4 of the NDP's platform. It wants to raise $21 billion in revenue from this new tax scheme. This would hurt Canadian families and raise the price of everything. Why does the NDP want to impose a job-killing carbon tax on Canadian families during this fragile economic time?

[Translation]

The Conservative Party of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Conservatives had what we could call a bad day: 86 of their members, including 10 ministers, voted to strip women of some of their rights.
    We would have expected the Minister for Status of Women to support women's rights. Instead, she voted for the motion, as did four Liberal members. It is disgraceful and absurd.
    But that is not all: yesterday, the Conservatives invited representatives of Canadian Immigration Report, an organization associated with far-right racists and hate groups, to appear before a parliamentary committee.
    On its website, this organization questions hatred for national socialism and writes that there is nothing inherently wrong with it.

[English]

    The NDP stands against these sorts of racist groups. We do not invite them to parliamentary committees. We stand unanimously in favour of a woman's right to choose, not like the other parties in the House. That is why we are ready to replace that tired government.

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the House was reminded of comments from the NDP's natural resources critic, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, who supports the NDP leader's job-killing carbon tax.
    The NDP member and the party opposite may know that this week is National Forest Week. What is clear is that the only thing the NDP believes about the forest is that money grows on trees, and when it does not that party harvests a carbon tax.
    The truth is the NDP cannot see the forest for the trees. With the NDP leader's job-killing carbon tax, there would be no forestry sector left in Canada, there would be no natural resource sector left in Canada. The only good news? Eventually Canadians would ensure that there was no New Democratic Party left in Canada.

Oral Questions

[Oral Questions]

[Translation]

Foreign Investment

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday, Canadian oil company executives expressed concerns about the takeover of Nexen by a state-run Chinese company.
    Members of the U.S. Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, are also expressing their concerns about the takeover of their resources by China. American elected officials understand what is at stake. Canadians understand what is at stake. The people who do not seem to understand are the Conservatives.
    Why have they not yet made public the evaluation criteria that will be used to approve or reject the takeover of Nexen?
    Mr. Speaker, unlike the NDP and its principles, our government understands what is important: encouraging the entire world to do business responsibly. We have not yet made a decision on this issue, but we will always make decisions in the best interests of Canada. We are committed to that. We have the Investment Canada Act, which we use to ensure that the best interests of Canadians are always the primary concern of the Government of Canada.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, last week the Minister of Natural Resources promised Canadians that new rules for evaluating foreign takeovers were on the way, but he also said the new rules would not be made public until after the decision was made on the Nexen takeover.
    Why are the guidelines for evaluating one of the most important foreign takeovers in Canadian history being kept secret from the Canadian public?
    Mr. Speaker, what is untrue about the NDP's rhetoric on this subject is the suggestion that our government indeed has not moved on the Investment Canada Act. As a matter of fact, we have.
    In 2007, we ensured that state-owned enterprises adhere to Canadian standards of corporate governance and ensured that they operate according to commercial principles. We have made other reforms as well. All the reforms that we put in place are always with the principle that the laws have to serve the best interests of all Canadians, and that is our approach with this.
    With regard to this specific file, a decision has not been made, but like other decisions, we will always make decisions that are in the best interests of Canadians.

  (1420)  

    Mr. Speaker, even Conservative MPs have expressed concerns about this deal. The Conservatives are considering allowing a foreign state-owned company to buy a huge slice of Canada's natural resources. Yet the guidelines for evaluating this takeover are being kept secret from the Canadian public. The minister says there are new guidelines, but will not tell us what they are until after the deal is done.
    Why does this Conservative government persist? Why does it have to hide these new rules from the Canadian public?
    Mr. Speaker, no such thing is happening. What is equally true is that it does not, frankly, matter, because the NDP is against any trade deal, any approach to foreign investment that Canada has ever considered. It would not make any difference. It does not matter.
    The Leader of the Opposition likes to pretend that he has some sort of nuanced socialist position when it comes to foreign investments. The reality is that the NDP is against every trade deal and every foreign investment or any consideration of any of those things.
    Our approach is a Canadian approach that takes into consideration the best interests of Canada's domestic industries and our security, and we will continue to do so.

Food Safety

    Mr. Speaker, on September 26, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food said, when referring to the XL beef recall, “None of it made it to store shelves. The recall is ongoing”. The reality is, the Alberta health authority has confirmed four cases of E. coli from meat that originated from the same processing plants involved in the nationwide recall.
    Will the minister continue to deny and contradict officials from CFIA, or will he stand in his place and admit contaminated meat has reached store shelves across this country?
    Mr. Speaker, the member for Welland is mixing two issues. The one I was referring to was the September 4 recall, where we captured all of that product. Then we moved on and I said, and he said too, “...and the recall continues”. He is absolutely right.
    There are two different issues here, but I want to assure Canadians that their food supply is safe. We are continuing to work with CFIA, holding its feet to the fire to make sure these recalls are done in a timely way.
    Mr. Speaker, I doubt whether the minister knows September 4 from September 16. What we do know is that American inspectors caught that contaminated meat, not Canadian inspectors. That is a failure on the government's part.
    The lack of details on this particular recall is disturbing. It is absolutely alarming Canadians, and Canadians are worried.
    When will Canadians start getting straight answers, and when will the Conservative government admit its failure in food safety policy because of its draconian cuts to CFIA?
    Mr. Speaker, of course there are no cuts to CFIA. If Canadians want the straight goods they should not listen to the member for Welland. Last night, on a panel program, he said that there was absolutely no CFIA presence in that facility. He is absolutely wrong. There are 46 inspection staff in that facility, 20% more than there were three years ago. That is some cut.
    Mr. Speaker, perhaps I could ask the government to explain why the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was informed by the American border services on September 4 that there had been an E. coli contamination with respect to products from XL.
    I have a simple question for the minister. Why did it take 12 days before a recall notice was put out by the Canadian government?
    Mr. Speaker, the government inspectors did indeed do their job and they are continuing to do so because the minister is ensuring that they do what is in the best interests of all Canadians. We will continue to keep up that pressure. The minister is indeed doing his job.
    However, it is very important that the opposition members do understand and stop misleading Canadians with regard to both food safety and the government's commitment to food safety. We have increased our investment and have ensured that we have more inspectors. In fact, 700 more inspectors are on the job now than when we formed government. We have done that. We continue to go in the right direction--
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. The hon. Minister of Canadian Heritage has the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, we have built up the inspection regime that the Liberals neglected and tore down for 10 years and we will continue to do so.

  (1425)  

    Mr. Speaker, the gang that brought the Canadian public Walkerton is in no position to lecture the people on this side of the House. I did not hear from the minister an answer to a very simple--
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. The hon. member for Toronto Centre has the floor. We are barely into question period and we are already encountering trouble.
    The hon. member for Toronto Centre has the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, I did not hear an answer to the question. The question is quite simple. On September 3, the American inspection services discovered a problem. On September 4, they informed the Canadian government that there was a problem. On September 16, a recall notice was put out.
    My question is for the officials of the Canadian government represented by the cabinet. Why did it take nearly two weeks before there was a recall?
    Mr. Speaker, the member is right in pointing out that the Americans notified us on September 4, the day we also discovered another interference in a plant in Calgary at the same time. We were able to contain all of that shipment. It was from the same shipment that went to the border and to Calgary. We were predicated on getting that out of the marketplace. What is called “bracketing” is the lot on either side. We also sought to do that. We were able to contain that group, put it right back into storage and get it out from any close call to the store shelves. We then started to work with the plant as to what would be needed ongoing. This was all based on science, not on speculation.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the minister's comments bring no comfort to the four victims of E. coli bacteria, who were discovered well after the Government of Canada was informed of the fact that a problem had affected Canadians.
    I will ask the question again: why did it take nearly two weeks before the Canadian government took the necessary action to protect Canadians? That is my question.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the leader of the Liberals has the same problem the member for Welland had. There are two different streams of product here to be worked on. The first was the product identified in the September 4--
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. The hon. Minister of Agriculture has the floor and he should be the only one who I can hear up here but, unfortunately, I hear quite a lot of noise. I would ask for a little bit of order.
    The hon. Minister of Agriculture.
    They really do not want an answer, Mr. Speaker. They would rather scare Canadians. I am here to tell Canadians that our food is safe. CFIA is on the job. Members at the plant are on the job and getting the job done.
    As I said, there were two streams, the September 4 bracketed by either side, and then, following on where we thought there might be other possibilities, that is when we finally, after scientifically testing all the way through and going back to the records, we followed the proper stream. We do not go willy-nilly after this like the Liberals would have us do. We work with science.

[Translation]

Employment Insurance

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are making cuts to employment insurance even though the money does not belong to them. This reform is a cause for concern throughout Quebec. In the Lower St. Lawrence area, some family drop-in centres, which encourage the creation of parental support networks, are open only 10 months of the year. Now they risk losing long-time, skilled employees who will no longer be eligible for employment insurance benefits.
    Is harming family relationships on the Conservative agenda?
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should stop fearmongering. It is not at all fair. Our challenge is to connect workers, particularly unemployed workers, with available jobs. There are many jobs available right now. We are increasing the number of job alerts that we send to unemployed workers, and we are giving them guidance to help them look for, find and keep employment. We are there for unemployed workers.
    Mr. Speaker, we support improved management of the employment insurance program, and we do not invite far-right supporters to committee meetings.
    The minister cannot ignore this problem indefinitely. A horticulture technician in Lanoraie often receives employment insurance benefits in the winter. The minister's reform is punishing her for having a seasonal job. She is going to be forced to accept a lower-paying McJob in Trois-Rivières, which is far from her home.
    Why does the minister refuse to recognize that seasonal jobs are an economic driver?

  (1430)  

    Mr. Speaker, our government has supported the forestry industry and other seasonal industries many times, and it will continue to do so.
    We recognize that there will always be seasonal workers and that there are employers who need these people's talents and skills during the peak season. We are trying to make these people aware of other jobs available in their field in the region.
    Mr. Speaker, the NDP supports the employment insurance program, but not the Conservatives' bad management. If the minister had taken the time to visit Jonquière—Alma before planning these changes, she would have witnessed the direct consequences of her decisions. Had she met with seasonal workers who are supposed to make ends meet on just 10 hours of minimum wage work a week in the winter, she would have realized that taking $40 or $50 away from them means that they cannot provide the essentials for their families.
    The minister is taking food from the mouths of these people, so why does she always refuse to meet them personally?
    Mr. Speaker, as I just said, we have a new system to let unemployed workers know about jobs available in their geographic area and their range of skills. Many employers are looking for people to fill vacancies. We want to help them connect, but if people cannot find a job in their range of skills and in their geographic area, employment insurance will be there for them as it has always been.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the minister responsible for EI is telling us that her new system lets people on a claim keep more money if they find some part-time work. She has been using an example of someone making $450 a week working part-time.
    I would like to tell the House about a woman who called my office. She is getting paid $150 a week for part-time work. Before the Conservative changes, she kept almost $110 and now she only gets to keep $75.
     Canadians who have been hard hit by the economy are losing more under the Conservative government. Could the minister tell that woman how she is better?
    Mr. Speaker, we know that right across our great country, even in areas of high unemployment, employers are looking for Canadians to fill jobs in their range of skills and in their geographic area. It does not make sense to have people on EI when there are employers looking for those very same skills in the same town. We are working, through increases to our job alerts and enhancements to the job bank, to connect those people who are out of work with the jobs available to them. That makes sense. That is what we are trying to do for Canadians. It is better for them and for their families.
    Mr. Speaker, 300,000 more Canadians are unemployed now than at the start of the recession, so one would think that the working while on claim budget would be going up. Instead, the Conservatives slashed it from $130 million for one year to $74 million over two years. However, the parliamentary secretary claimed categorically, “those who work more will be able to keep more”.
    Does the minister really not understand the changes to her own program or did she give her parliamentary secretary the wrong talking points?
    Mr. Speaker, I do have to correct the hon. member. Since the depths of the recession we have created as a country over 770,000 net new jobs. That is good news.
    Let us a look at Tracie who collects $264 a week on EI. She works three days at $12 an hour. Under the old system she would have been able to keep $106. Under the new system she will be able to keep $144. That is an improvement for her.
    Mr. Speaker, the facts do not lie. There are 300,000 more unemployed Canadians today and it is plainly false to claim that under the new scheme all EI claimants who find part-time work will get to keep more. Many recipients who found work while receiving EI are taking home less. That, too, is a fact.
    This situation is being repeated all across the country and it is the poorest claimants who are being hit the hardest. The minister must know this is true.
    Will the minister fix the program and ditch her ridiculous talking points?

  (1435)  

    Mr. Speaker, our goal is to ensure that when Canadians work they are better off than when they do not. That seems reasonable.
    Under the old system, people's EI was clawed back dollar for dollar once they had earned a small portion of their claim. That discouraged people from working. It discouraged people who had the skills and the talents that employers in their areas were looking for. We want to ensure that we are connecting those Canadians with those skills with the jobs that are there for them.

[Translation]

Citizenship and Immigration

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Conservatives invited representatives of Canadian Immigration Report to appear before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. The NDP opposed the idea of them speaking in committee, considering the hate speech and racist comments that appear on the group's website. After seeing some of it, even the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration was offended and said someone's name was being dragged through the mud.
    Why were the Conservatives not aware of the kind of group they had invited to a parliamentary committee? Was it because the group had flattered the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism between two racist remarks?
    Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism is an immigrant to Canada from Taiwan. One of his constituents made a suggestion for a witness who could appear in committee. As soon as he learned of these potential witnesses' completely unacceptable opinions, he demanded that the witnesses be withdrawn and he condemned the comments made on their website.
    However, I must add that we are proud to have the most ethnically diverse caucus in Canadian history and to have maintained the highest levels of immigration in our history.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, voting to take away women's rights an hour after inviting racists to a parliamentary committee is a new low even for the Conservatives. The group's website even features a prominent picture and positive statement about the Minister of Immigration. It also defends white supremacism and includes a section called “Chinafication”.
    The Conservatives defended calling this group to committee. Even a cursory look shows that the group should not have been invited.
    How could the Conservatives fail to do even basic due diligence?
    Mr. Speaker, what a fine example of McCarthyite demagoguery from the member opposite.
    The member for Willowdale is an immigrant to Canada from Taiwan. He put forward a witness at the suggestion of a constituent. The moment he found out that the witness had expressed totally inappropriate views on the Internet, he condemned those views unequivocally, demanded that the witness be withdrawn and said that if the witness came before the committee he would give the witness a serious condemnation of the witness' outrageous views.
    We need to face the fact that this is coming from the NDP whose members hang out with the anarchist group No One Is Illegal that says that Canada is illegal. That is--
    Order, please The hon. member for Newton--North Delta.
    Mr. Speaker, we did not invite racists to committee. We did not vote to take away a woman's right to choose. That was the Conservatives, including the Minister for Status of Women.
     To quote from the writings of the CIR:
    This hate on National Socialism is completely misguided.... [T]here is nothing inherently wrong with it at all....
    The Conservatives even tried to defend these witnesses. Why are they bringing racists to a parliamentary committee?
    Mr. Speaker, those comments are below the member who just said them. She knows perfectly well that the member who put forward the suggested witness is an immigrant to Canada from Taiwan. Is she really making this kind of ad hominem remark against that member?
    The moment that Conservative members learned about these outrageous views associated with this witness, they insisted that the person not be brought before committee and condemned unequivocally these outrageous remarks.
    However, will the member deny that her predecessor, the immigration critic of the NDP, went to rallies for the anarchist organization called No One Is Illegal that says Canada is illegal? That is outrageous.

  (1440)  

Employment Insurance

    Mr. Speaker, the minister has done a remarkably poor job in answering questions on the EI file, so I am going to make it really easy today. I am going to go with a true or false question.
    Under the old system, people could earn and keep 40% of their EI benefit. So, if they were receiving maximum benefits, they could keep $193, with zero clawback. True or false?
    The minister has a 50% chance of being right on this one. Good luck.
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member can focus on the past, but our government is focused on the future of Canadians.
    We are working with them so they can get the skills they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow. We are working with them to make sure that they know what opportunities are available within their skill range, within their regions. We are connecting them with the jobs available, with employers, because we believe it is a good thing for Canadians to be working, and we are here to help them do just that.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, let us try this again. A woman in my riding who works in a seafood plant receives employment insurance benefits when the plant is closed. She managed to find a minimum wage job in Bouctouche, where an employer is looking for someone to work just one night a week. Let us be clear: there are no other jobs in Bouctouche and, no matter what the minister believes, this woman is not lazy.
    Why does the minister want to take away half of this woman's earnings?
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should know that, under the system that the Liberals themselves created, once claimants earned $75, they would lose every dollar they earned after that. Our system is going to allow claimants to keep 50¢ of every dollar they earn. So, 50% is much better than nothing at all.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, now that the government has changed its mind on fleet separation owner-operator policies, fishers are worried that the next thing the government is going to go after is the fishers' employment insurance program.
    This program keeps our fishers independent and self-employed and gets them through the winter months when there is no other work in our rural coastal areas. Will the government commit to keeping the fishers' employment insurance program in place, as it has been for the last number of years?
    Mr. Speaker, we do recognize the value of our fisheries right across this country. That is why our Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has been working with the fishing sector to ensure that they are viable and strong.
    We have been very clear, but perhaps the hon. member did not hear because of his own hecklers, that the fishers' benefits program under EI is there, as it always has been.

Health

    Mr. Speaker, today's PBO report clearly shows that the federal government is balancing its books on the backs of the provinces. The Conservatives did this by shortchanging the Canada health transfer by $36 billion.
    A majority of Canadians believe that health care should be the government's top priority, yet the Conservatives keep backing away from their responsibilities.
    Today, New Democrats launched our national campaign to provide real leadership on health care. Will the Conservatives join us to finally provide the leadership that Canadians are asking for?
    Mr. Speaker, I am not sure where the NDP and the Parliamentary Budget Officer learned their math, but in reality, when funding is increased to $40 billion, that is an increase. That is our government's record and that is what we have been doing.
    Unlike previous governments that balanced their books on the backs of the provinces and territories, we are increasing our transfers to them. We have committed to a long-term stable funding arrangement that will see health transfers reach historic levels by the end of this decade.
    Our investments will help preserve Canada's health care system so that it can be there when Canadians need it.

  (1445)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, we support a strong universal health care system and, unlike the Conservatives, we do not invite far-right supporters to committee meetings.
    Canadians think that health should be a priority, but the Conservatives prefer to make budget cuts. Today, the NDP launched its campaign to improve our health care system.
    Will the Conservatives join us in finding ways to modernize our health care system?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the NDP plan is to talk about health care for three years, and of course to raise taxes.
    Our plan has long-term stable funding arrangement that will see health transfers increase to historic levels of $40 billion by the end of this decade.
    Our plan is to make investments, like the one the Minister of Health is announcing today in Nova Scotia for healthy living and children. We are taking action now because that is what Canadians want and that is what Canadians need.

Aboriginal Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, all summer long Inuit across the north and here in Ottawa have protested the high food prices. Those prices are about to get worse.
    On October 1, non-perishable foods will no longer be considered for subsidy under the nutrition north program. This is going to push the prices of already expensive food even higher.
    Will the minister admit that this program is not working for people in the north and commit to keeping the current list of foods on the subsidy list?
    Mr. Speaker, I can quote a recent letter from an Inuit-owned food retailer, the Stanton Group, which says:
    In the first year of the NNC [nutrition north Canada] program, we have seen savings of up to 35 per cent on perishable foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, meat and eggs: savings that have been passed on to northern residents.
    What northern Canadians do not have an appetite for is an NDP carbon tax on everything from soup to nuts, meat and milk, as well as everything else.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I have visited these communities, and I can attest to the fact that the Nutrition North Canada program is not working properly.
    Local food acquired through hunting is the best option for many families that live in isolated communities. However, the Nutrition North Canada program will only provide funding for meat that comes from a processing plant and has been inspected by a government inspector. There is still no federal inspector nearby to inspect food.
    In the last quarter, only $218 was devoted to the funding of traditional food.
    Will the minister make the changes necessary to promote the sharing of local, traditional food among communities?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we have put in place arrangements whereby the nutrition north program will deal with traditional foods. Yes, there is a break-in period, but there are some good things happening.
     We now have a local market that has been set up in Iqaluit through local initiatives. We have some of the retailers now very interested in trying to make some arrangements for traditional foods.
     This is going to take a while, but it is something that we have very much promoted.

Sport

    Mr. Speaker, in 2015 Canada will again play host as Toronto welcomes the Americas to the Pan American and Parapan American Games.
    Can the Minister of Natural Resources please tell the House how our government plans to ensure that our world-class athletes have access to state-of-the-art facilities both during and after these games in Toronto?
    Mr. Speaker, our government is making a significant investment in the 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games, with facilities that will benefit Canadians for years to come.
    Today I am pleased to announce that our government will also provide $115 million for the construction of the aquatic centre and field house at the University of Toronto campus in Scarborough.
    This significant investment will create a lasting legacy and generate economic activity throughout the GTA.

  (1450)  

[Translation]

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians can no longer follow the Conservative rhetoric on environmental assessments. Even the minister is confused. Yesterday he said that “until the legislation was tabled it would have been inappropriate for us to consult”. Except that he did consult industry last January, to find out how to give priority to the development of pipelines.
    Why did the Conservatives consult the oil and gas industry before consulting Canadians?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, to recap my colleague's talking points fresh off her party leader's mini-lectern, the NDP has disdain for our natural resources sector and love for ineffective government.
    What we have been doing over the last year is reviewing our environmental assessment process to ensure that we have a balance between rigour and process efficiencies. We feel we have achieved that balance.
    We had a very strong working group on that in our sub-committee, which my colleague rarely attended. We feel that we have this balance right and are doing great things for this country.
    Mr. Speaker, I suggest that we get some notes because yesterday the minister told the House one thing and a few months ago told industry something entirely different.
    The Conservative budget bill gutted environmental protection and scrapped environmental assessments for 200 pipeline projects. Is that a coincidence?
    Canadians were not consulted, our committee was kept in the dark, and yet the minister went out of his way to reassure industry that he had its interests at heart before the legislation was even tabled. Why did he tell the House otherwise yesterday?
    Mr. Speaker, during the hours and hours of committee study last year, where both the finance and environment committees looked at our environmental assessment laws, we heard over and over again the need to streamline and make the process more efficient.
    The commissioner for the environment himself said that 99% of the environmental assessments conducted in this country have little to no environmental impact and that the resources dedicated to those screenings could be more effectively used for larger screenings.
    This is getting things done for Canadians.

Science and Technology

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' disregard for environmental science is hurting Canada's global standing and reputation in science and technology. A new study commissioned by the Conservatives themselves shows that under their watch Canada has moved from leader to laggard in environmental and natural resource sciences.
    I know that the government dislikes it when evidence gets in the way of its political agenda, but is the minister really satisfied to play catch-up with the rest of the world on scientific research?
    Mr. Speaker, the member really needs to read the report. I do not understand why the NDP members are always bashing Canada. The report said that environmental and natural sciences “maintain considerable strength, with Canadian research in Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry ranked second in the world...and Earth and Environmental Sciences ranked fourth”.
    I do not know why the NDP members are constantly bashing Canada and scientists. We are doing very well.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary can say what he likes, but the numbers do not lie.
    While other countries are giving priority to environmental science, the Canadian government is closing laboratories, eliminating jobs and taking essential tools away from researchers. For Canada, this means fewer jobs, fewer patents and lower profits. One thing is clear: we are lagging behind other OECD countries.
    Will the Conservatives stop using science only when it suits them?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the members should read the report before they make comments on it.
    The fact is that in the last five years this report was done, Canada increased its publications 60%, and it was the only country in the G7 to do that.
    We made a decision to support science, which included about $135 million for environmental research, water research, and climate change research. The NDP members voted against it. They need to get their facts right and get on board with supporting scientists because we are moving in on number one in the world.

  (1455)  

    Mr. Speaker, the Experimental Lakes Area, Canada's world-renowned facility for freshwater research and education, is in danger of extinction by the Conservative government.
    The research conducted at the ELA must continue. It must be public and it must be owned by the public.
    Can the government honestly answer the following question for Canadians? Does it plan to mothball or decommission the ELA, or will it ensure its independence?
    Mr. Speaker, we did in fact make a decision, and that was to end the Experimental Lakes Area as a federal facility. We made another decision, and that is to fund science and technology in this country like never before in the history of the country, including $8 billion, in new dollars, since 2006.
    What did the Liberals do when they were in power? They cut science and technology. What will the NDP do? It will bring in a carbon tax that will hurt scientists, hurt universities and make it harder on students.

Aboriginal Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, nutrition north was supposed to make feeding families in the north cheaper, but it has failed miserably. On Monday, the government will stubbornly persist with the devastating cuts to the list of essentials that will be subsidized.
    Will the government listen to the desperate northerners, who never protested before, to the poignant Feeding My Family movement, and go back to the drawing board and work with northerners to fix this international disgrace?
    Mr. Speaker, the changes that are being made on October 1 are for products that are stable, non-perishable products that can go by sealift instead of by air. That is the reason we are making these changes. That allows for the subsidy to go to perishable products. Those are products like milk, for example. We have a drop of as much as 37% in the price of milk, based on the nutrition north program. The program is working.

[Translation]

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, apparently the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command has lost some top secret equipment valued at somewhere between $8 million and $10 million.
    This equipment is so secret that the department has not even disclosed what kind of equipment it is. We know that the special forces are experts in the art of disappearing, but when the government lets equipment disappear, that is another matter.
    How could the Conservatives fail to do something about the disappearance of such important and costly equipment?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the reality is that three years ago, on their own initiative, the commander of the special forces brought in DND's internal auditor to review their financial management practices and to look to identify areas of improvement. Guess what that audit found? The audit found that appropriate financial controls were in place but that additional work had to be done, particularly when it came to tracing and keeping track of all equipment within the special forces systems, and that other financial statements had to be put in place.
    We have taken that audit very seriously. I have assurances from the commander that those steps will be taken.
    I want to take the opportunity to acknowledge and thank our special forces for their remarkable work.
    Mr. Speaker, it is not just the rising costs of the F-35 that the government cannot keep track of. It is also the equipment to be used by the special forces. The chief of review services has said that in one unit alone, between $8 million and $10 million in equipment has gone missing. The government has known about this for years, but no action was taken.
    Could the minister tell us if this equipment has been found and how many millions of dollars in other equipment has also gone missing?
    Mr. Speaker, ignoring the prattle, the irresponsible remarks from the member's preamble, I will repeat again that in fact the special forces commander brought in the auditor. That was done at their request. The auditor looked at their practices, found in fact that there was a good system but further work had to be done in tracing and tracking all equipment. Those practices are improving, I am assured by the commander.
    What we do know is that, given the record and the comments by members opposite from the NDP, if it were up to them they would have no new equipment in the special forces, or the Canadian Forces.

  (1500)  

Science and Technology

    Mr. Speaker, our government has made historic investments in science and technology to create jobs, strengthen our economy and improve the quality of life for all Canadians. This commitment has created very positive results in Kitchener—Waterloo and has made Canada a world leader in science and innovation and a destination of choice for the brightest international researchers.
    Could the minister of state please update us, once again, on Canada's progress in these important areas?
    Mr. Speaker, you will find it the correct interpretation of scientific results. I thank the Council of Canadian Academies, an expert panel that did indeed determine that Canada's S and T sector is healthy, growing and the fourth-best in the world.
    The study is a resounding endorsement of our government's strong commitment for science and technology, and frankly a stinging indictment of the parties opposite who voted against our record support, which has clearly made our country a global science leader.
    By the way, fisheries research is number one.

Citizenship and Immigration

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday at the citizenship and immigration committee, we saw an appalling display of Conservative ignorance and insensitivity when all six of its members voted down my motion to study the devastating effects of the cuts to refugee health care.
    Front-line doctors who treat refugees wrote to the committee members, asking for the opportunity to come to the committee to detail proof of the adverse outcomes of the reckless policy decision.
    My question to the minister is: What is the government afraid to hear?
    Mr. Speaker, apparently the member opposite is afraid to hear common sense.
    In fact there are no cuts to refugee health care. Resettled refugees will continue to receive what they have in the past. Bona fide asylum claimants will be landed as permanent residents and receive health care, like all Canadians.
    These changes affect asylum claimants about two-thirds of whom turn out not to be well founded, particularly asylum claimants coming from countries in which virtually all claims are rejected.
     Of course, the greatest savings are derived from no longer providing taxpayer-funded health insurance to rejected asylum claimants who are no longer welcome to stay in Canada. What does the member not understand about that?

Children's Rights

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Canadian government was hauled on the carpet by a UN committee for its poor record on child rights.
    The committee found too many children in Canada were falling through the cracks. Poverty amongst aboriginal, immigrant and disabled children is not just significant but is growing.
    The UN is challenging Canada, as one of the top economies in the world, to rise to the occasion. When will the government step up to that challenge? What will it take for the Canadian government to make Canadian children a true priority?
    Mr. Speaker, Canadians can be proud of the efforts our government has taken to protect the rights of children.
    We are also committed to the promotion of children's rights around the world, and are proud to have been an active co-sponsor and supporter of resolutions before the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.
    The sad reality is that Syria is a member of this committee. Syria, a country whose rulers are stealing the innocence of an entire generation of its children, is criticizing Canada. Imagine that. This is no doubt to distract from the atrocities that Syrian children are currently facing every day.

[Translation]

Forestry Industry

    Mr. Speaker, the forestry industry is the primary economic driver for hundreds of rural Canadian communities. These single-industry towns depend on pulp mills and forestry to survive.
    Can the Minister of Natural Resources tell us what the NDP's proposed carbon tax would mean for the forestry industry?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for a good question.
    Our forestry sector depends on making our products available at competitive prices. I saw that first-hand during my recent trip to Japan and Korea. A carbon tax would increase the cost of our products and make our industry less competitive.
    Unfortunately, the NDP obsession with taxes and spending would kill jobs and hurt communities in Quebec and across Canada. What a tragedy.

  (1505)  

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, while climate change wreaks havoc on the planet, starting with the Canadian North, the Conservatives are working at cross purposes. Their new target is Montreal's Biosphere, the only institution in North America that is conducting research on water and ecosystem protection while offering public awareness activities. Unfortunately, the Conservatives want to abolish the educational component of the Biosphere.
    Is the Conservatives' goal to censor scientists and keep Canadians in the dark?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, with over two-thirds of the workforce at Environment Canada involved in science and research, our government is investing heavily in research and education when it comes to environmental research.
    To echo some of my colleague's comments earlier, our government is supporting science and technology investment across this country at record levels. We see that at universities and institutions across the country. We are starting to see the results, and we are very proud of this record.

[Translation]

Status of Women

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday we were astonished to watch the Minister for Status of Women vote in favour of the motion to reopen the abortion debate.
    The Minister for Status of Women, who is responsible for ensuring respect for and the promotion of women's rights, voted to restrict a woman's right to control her own body. It is no surprise that the Fédération des femmes du Québec is today calling on the minister to resign. The minister has betrayed the trust of women and broken her own party's election promise.
    Will the Prime Minister fire her or does he support her? Will she rise and tender her resignation today? We are ready to listen.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that this is the first question I have received on the status of women file this year. In fact, I think this is the first question I have received since last year as well. Do you know why that is, Mr. Speaker? It is because this government has an incredible track record of standing up for Canadian women and girls. We have increased the funding to status of women to its highest point in Canadian history. So far, in just a couple of years, we have funded more than 550 projects from coast to coast to coast to tackle violence against women and empower women and girls, and we will continue to do just that.

Points of Order

Oral Questions  

[Points of Order]
    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order and it is fairly straightforward.
    First, to set the record straight, I went to that committee—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    I will hear the hon. member for Newton—North Delta. I will remind her that setting the record straight is usually considered a matter of debate, but if she has a legitimate point of order, I will certainly hear it now, and I will ask for a little order.
    Mr. Speaker, while I was asking my questions, the Minister of State for Science and Technology was yelling “freedom of speech”. At the same time I heard very clearly from the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism that he does not condone racist white supremacists making presentations before the immigration committee. I want to know what the Conservative position is.
    If the hon. member has another question, she can raise that during another question period, but it is not a point of order.
    The hon. House leader for the official opposition for the Thursday question.

Business of the House

[Business of the House]
    Mr. Speaker, last week on the Thursday question we asked the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to respond to a sincere offer by the opposition to make Parliament work for Canadians by listing a number of bills on which the opposition was willing to work with the government. In response to that question, the government House leader spent a great deal of his time fabricating New Democratic Party policy rather than doing the job of House leaders, which is to formulate a strategy to make this place function for Canadians.
     If the government spent at least 50% of its energy working with the opposition on such bills, it might acknowledge the progress on such bills as Bill C-42, Bill C-21, Bill C-44, Bill C-37, and Bill C-32. They are proof of the opposition's willingness to make this place function for Canadians. They also disprove the myth that the government had to use closure out of necessity rather than its own ideology and perspective of how a democracy ought to run.
    The clear question in front of the government is twofold. When will we see the opposition days in the coming calendar for the official opposition? Also, a question which is on the minds of many Canadians with respect to a second budget implementation bill is, will we see a repeat of the one we saw in the spring? Many people called it a Trojan horse bill because it contained many measures that had absolutely nothing to do with the budget.

  (1510)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the House leader of the official opposition for his kind comments about co-operation. It is true that we have been working together in a co-operative fashion on the bills he mentioned. In fact, without utilizing time allocation, after nine days of co-operative debate on things that everybody agrees on, we have been able to have one vote on one bill at one stage. If members wonder why it is difficult to get things done, that indicates why: we all agree on something and it still takes nine days to get one bill to one vote at one stage.

[Translation]

    Anyway, this afternoon, we will continue with our helping families in need week with second reading debate on Bill C-44, which will undertake several steps to help hard-working Canadian parents in times of need.
    Based on discussions, I expect that we will finish debating Bill C-44 today. If so, I will then call Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to political loans), tomorrow.
    I understand that there is interest in all corners of the House to see this legislation referred to committee quickly. I hope so, because I believe that all parties want it passed. We may be able to make that happen.

[English]

    Next week we are going to focus on making our streets and communities even safer. From Wednesday through Friday we will consider second reading of Bill C-43, the faster removal of foreign criminals act, which will firmly show that Parliament does not tolerate criminals and fraudsters abusing Canadian generosity.
    On Monday and Tuesday, we shall have the third and fourth allotted days. Both days will go to the official opposition. I am eagerly waiting to see what we debate those days. Perhaps the New Democrats will use the opportunity to lay out their details for a $21 billion carbon tax which would raise the price of gas, groceries and electricity. Perhaps I should correct the record; it would be a $21.5 billion carbon tax. I know there are some in the press gallery who want us to be precise about that.
    If we have a hard-working, productive and orderly week in the House which sees debates on Bill C-44, Bill C-21 and Bill C-43 finish early, the House will also consider second reading of Bill C-37, the increasing offenders' accountability for victims act, which the official opposition supports, despite debating it for four days last week; Bill C-15, the strengthening military justice in the defence of Canada act; Bill S-2, the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act; and Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act.

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

[Government Orders]

[English]

Helping Families In Need Act

    The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
    The hon. member for Winnipeg North has 12 minutes left to conclude his remarks.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to continue to speak to the important role employment insurance plays in today's society. Before I do that, it is important to emphasize that we see the value in passing this legislation. I anticipate it could be passed today because there does seem to be widespread support among all political parties in the House. We anticipate it will likely pass today and for good reason. At the end of the day we all want to improve the system. This legislation takes into consideration the whole issue of compassion toward critically ill children. It does that by allowing for 35 weeks of benefits, and beyond 35 weeks in certain situations.
    I also appreciate that it provides some protection in terms of unpaid leave. This is very positive. I appreciate that we are referring to jobs within the civil service with respect to that particular requirement.
    It also deals with the important and sensitive issue of murdered or missing children.
    I am sure that most, if not all, members of Parliament could cite specific examples of constituents or individuals they know who have been in such situations that this legislation would cover. Two occasions come to mind where this particular benefit would have been of great help to individuals I have known. Both of them involved a death.
    Based on compassionate grounds, we see the value of extending the benefits through employment insurance. We see that as a positive move.
    I want to reinforce something that was raised in the debate prior to question period, which is the whole idea of why, in the opinion of many, including the Liberal caucus, the government has still not recognized the value of extending that same sort of compassion in other situations. I am referring most specifically to individuals who are terminally ill. After explaining the situation to EI, it would be of great assistance to have a spouse, a child, or possibly a sibling afforded the opportunity to be at the bedside of a terminally ill family member.
    The Liberal caucus has talked about this for a long time. We are very passionate about that idea, and the time has come for the government to act on it. I would encourage the government to act now. It does not have to wait.
    Earlier I talked about how employment insurance has evolved over time. I would like to think that this is yet another example of the direction in which we should be heading in providing employment insurance benefits to Canadians as a whole.

  (1515)  

    When EI was first introduced, in terms of recipients, the number was well under 50%. It was not until the 1970s when the number of people who had access to employment insurance was over 90%. It is at a much more acceptable rate now, but we need to look at how we can expand the program so that more people are able to benefit from it. One of the greatest ways of doing that is to recognize the value of compassion in any sort of discussions on this issue. I think the vast majority of Canadians would be very sympathetic and would want the House of Commons to enhance the program so that others could receive benefits on compassionate grounds.
    Employment insurance is one of those foundation programs that assists thousands of Canadians every year. If the program were not around, the alternative would be very bleak. There have been some changes that have caused a great deal of concern. I would like to draw attention to that issue. It has been debated significantly here in the House in the last 10 days or so.
    The minister responsible for employment insurance has made some significant changes. Members from the opposition, in particular my caucus colleagues, have raised the issue that individuals are not able to receive a maximum benefit from the employment insurance program because of the working environment they have to fit into. As a direct result, they will be receiving less money. It is important to recognize the difficulty people are having in paying their bills and honouring their commitments. Employment insurance benefits do not offer the type of disposable income the average Canadian has because of the very nature of the program. It is at a reduced rate. It is there to ensure that people can afford the necessities of life and maybe even a little more than that.
    The government has made some changes that have created a very awkward position. It has made it economically challenging for many people across Canada. Some very specific examples have been brought forward by my Atlantic colleagues to illustrate how Canadians will be losing money. That is why the minister needs to try to get a better understanding of the changes that she has put in place. That is one of the reasons members of our caucus are bringing forward individual cases. The minister could meet with opposition members and get some of the details. If she feels we are misrepresenting the facts, she can state that in the House. However, that is not happening. I believe the reason is the minister knows the changes she has made are causing a great hardship for a good number of Canadians not only in Atlantic Canada but in all regions of Canada.
     When we look at this legislation, we have to look at the bigger picture of employment insurance. There is no doubt that the very specifics of this legislation have support. However, in commenting on the bill, it behooves us to send a message to the minister that what she is doing on the other fronts in dealing with employment insurance is not good. She needs to revisit things and make the necessary changes so that individuals are able to receive the money so that they can purchase necessities and be engaged in the economy, so that they can buy food, pay their rent and maybe even buy some luxury items. At the end of the day, the value is there.

  (1520)  

     We are calling on the government to look beyond this particular piece of legislation and reflect on some of the other changes that it has made. The government should reflect on how it could have brought in additional legislation or changed this legislation to incorporate more of what I believe Canadians want us to recognize in a compassionate society and demonstrate in certain situations.
     I believe this program needs to be enhanced, particularly for those individuals who are depended upon economically and socially by terminally ill parents, spouses, or siblings.
    During the 1970s, we recognized that and we were able to make modifications. Not only would people receive a cheque, but employment insurance had the additional responsibility to look at different types of programs to assist individuals adjust to new working environments.
    At the end of the day, I would like to see this debate broadened. Ultimately, the legislation will pass, but we need to continue to have a debate on employment insurance because it affects hundreds of thousands of Canadians across the country. It is of great value and it is a program in which Canadians truly believe.

  (1525)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Winnipeg North for his question. As he is aware, the NDP will support Bill C-44 at second reading.
    Nevertheless, we have a number of reservations regarding the bill. I would like to hear the point of view of the member for Winnipeg North regarding a particular issue. There is discussion regarding the creation of a new special employment insurance benefit for the parents of children who were killed or reported missing as a result of a crime.
    Does the member not think that limiting these special benefits to parents whose children were the victims of crime—but not providing these benefits to the parents of missing children, for example, who run away or who are involved in something of a non-criminal nature— reflects to some extent the Conservatives' shortsightedness and tendency to see everything through the lens of law and order?
    Does my colleague not consider this bill, just like this particular provision, to be a little shortsighted? Should it not be potentially extended to include other parents whose children may have disappeared or even died, albeit not as a result of a crime?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the member brings up an excellent point. I think a good number of people are very suspicious of why the government is being so selective in extending the compassionate argument on the file of murdered and missing children. It is not to take away from the need for compassion in that situation, but there are other cases where that same sort of compassion, understanding, and proactive approach by government should be encouraged. However, as the member points out, that is where the legislation has fallen short.
    There are many types of missing children cases and every year there are hundreds of children who just disappear. How does that affect employment insurance benefits? This has a profound impact on the parents of those children, but what happens in that sort of situation is a bit vague.
    That is why we want to take a broader look at how we can make the employment insurance program more relevant to today, with the wealth that Canada currently has and the expectations that Canadians have of that social safety net.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague to explain why the New Democrats want to amend the legislation so that beneficiaries who fall ill while receiving employment insurance parental benefits can receive sickness benefits?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is an issue of what sorts of benefits parents should receive. We do not want to limit it to the parents of critically ill children, as referred to in this legislation. Members will find that there is an argument to be made, and we have made this argument for the last couple of years, that based on compassionate grounds we need to look at those in that family unit where there is a serious ailment or someone who is terminally ill and how this program of employment insurance might assist our social community and, more specifically, the individual family. There is enormous benefit, not only from a social, moral aspect. It needs to be looked at in terms of the economic benefit.

  (1530)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I have another question for the member for Winnipeg North concerning the promise that the Conservatives made during the 2011 election campaign with regards to the funding of this program through the general revenue fund and not the employment insurance fund.
    This time, they are turning back the clock. This is an argument that was often made in the previous Parliament. In fact, the employment insurance fund was in deficit and it was not necessarily possible to withdraw additional benefits from the fund. The general revenue fund had to be sourced. However, what we have noticed with this bill, regarding special benefits, is that the employment insurance fund is being sourced rather than the general revenue fund.
    I would like to hear the point of view of the member for Winnipeg North regarding this Conservative party promise, and whether or not this bill is an example of the Conservatives walking the talk.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we need to recognize the valuable role of Canada's Auditor General in this debate in regard to how employment insurance should be financed, especially looking at opportunities of expanding benefits and adding other things, such as the whole compassion argument we have been talking about for the last little while. Is it fair to expect that employers and employees should finance this type of social program well into the future? I am not 100% convinced of that. There could be an argument that the money needs to be there and government should ensure that it is there.
    In the past, there have been many occasions where general revenues have supported the fund. Equally there have been occasions where the fund has supported general revenues. I believe the Auditor General of Canada is on position now in regard to the specific issue of how it should be financed. I suggest that we look to what the Auditor General is suggesting and follow that advice. Canadians would do well if we did just that.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, fewer than 50% of unemployed persons receive benefits. We support this bill, but we believe that a number of provisions could be amended.
    Are the Conservatives attempting to cover up what they are really trying to do when it comes to employment insurance, and that is cut benefits for the unemployed left, right and centre? I would like my Liberal colleague to speak to this issue.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we should have minimum requirements or certain criteria such as number of hours worked in order to be able to qualify for employment insurance. At times, we need to be able to be somewhat flexible. We need to recognize that there is a difference between economic activities in, for example, the province of Alberta and some other provinces.
    Sometimes one province might be in more of an economic boom while another province might be more stagnant. We need to recognize those differences across Canada and support all of our workers no matter where they live. The best way to do that is by recognizing those regional differences which means maybe having different criteria for different regions. The purpose of doing that is to ensure that we are providing a program that is viable for all regions of Canada.
    We need to have that sort of flexibility. At times when the economy is doing even worse, in a recession for example, we might want to relax the criteria for the entire country. In 2009, that is what the Liberal leader espoused, to reduce the criteria because of the economic times. There needs to be some flexibility and for the most part Canadians would recognize that and appreciate it.

  (1535)  

[Translation]

    I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques.
    For several years, the NDP has been calling for measures to make the employment insurance program more flexible and thus more accessible for Canadians.
    In its present form, Bill C-44 seems to respond to certain concerns we have expressed in the past. It also seems to meet the expectations of organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Caregiver Coalition.
    Bill C-44 takes into consideration the special situation parents are in when a child is hospitalized, is critically ill, is murdered, or has disappeared. As a society, it is crucial that we help ensure that these parents are not doubly penalized: by having to deal with an especially difficult personal situation and by having to worry about their deteriorating financial situation.
     This bill introduces flexibility into the administration of the employment insurance program and targets families in need. It also makes useful amendments to the Canada Labour Code. Those amendments allow for leave to be granted or extended for parents of a child who is hospitalized, is critically ill, is murdered or has disappeared. That is why the NDP will be supporting Bill C-44 at second reading. I think we will all benefit by examining it further in committee. That way, we will be able to work together to make it a better bill.
     This bill is certainly a step in the right direction, but we must not lose sight of the forest for the trees. Since the Conservatives came to power, they have attacked unemployed people on several fronts. The effect of the most recent employment insurance reform they put through will be to further limit access to this scheme—one to which, we must remember, the government does not contribute. The employment insurance plan is entirely funded by employees and employers.
     In the NDP, we will continue to criticize a government that limits access to an insurance program paid for by working people and employers. We will continue to fight for a fair, accessible and effective employment insurance scheme for people who are unemployed. At present, less than 40% of jobless people have access to employment insurance in Canada.
     As I said earlier, the NDP will support Bill C-44 at second reading. We believe that the measures in the bill will help to relieve the suffering of some Canadian families in need. Canadians know that when it comes to helping families, the NDP will be there. On this side of the House, we find it very hard to understand why the Conservative government is avoiding tackling the bigger problems connected with employment insurance.
     Bill C-44 will allow about 6,000 people to benefit from new support measures, and that in itself is very positive. Those 6,000 people will have less to worry about in terms of their financial situation at a time when their priorities are elsewhere. What are the Conservatives going to do about the other 800,000 unemployed people who are being denied access to a program they have paid into?
     For the moment, the government’s response amounts to limiting access to the scheme, rather than facilitating it. On that point, the Liberals did no better: during the 1970s and 1980s, between 70% and 90% of unemployed people were eligible for the scheme, but no more than between 40% and 50% were in 1996. Canadians would gain by seeing their employment insurance scheme reformed in a way that would allow more people who are unemployed to benefit from it.

  (1540)  

    On reading the bill, I was struck by elements that do not seem important and by the absence of solutions to certain problems that we identified in the past. For example, I believe that Bill C-44, in its current form, ignores measures that could have helped mothers who return from maternity leave and learn that they have been let go or that their position has been eliminated and who, quite often, must reimburse the employment insurance program.
    At present these women cannot access regular benefits after their special benefits run out. Bill C-44 could and should have included a measure allowing these women to combine the two types of benefits.
    Similarly, I wonder why the Conservative government decided to make a distinction between parents of a child who has disappeared in circumstances considered to be connected with a crime and other parents of missing children.
    I find it more difficult to understand why parents of children who have disappeared in circumstances that are not connected with a crime, for example, are excluded. I could give many examples of parents of missing children who have spent all their time and money to try to find their children. In my opinion, Bill C-44 should include these parents. Do they not suffer just as much as parents in the first category?
    I would like the government to explain the logic behind this decision.
    I also noticed that the government has decided to not fund part of the benefits proposed in the bill out of general revenue.
    In their 2011 election platform, the Conservatives promised:
...we will provide enhanced EI benefits to parents of murdered or missing children...Funding for this measure will come from general revenue, not EI premiums.
    Once again, I am curious about the reasons why this government changed its position on this point.
    In summary, I would say that Bill C-44 is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. I only hope that the government will be open to the changes we will propose in committee. Partisanship must not prevent us from ensuring that our work results in properly constructed bills that serve an ideal of justice.
    Mr. Speaker, I really enjoyed the speech by my colleague from Hull—Aylmer. She spoke at length about what the Conservatives have done to the employment insurance program.
    While we are in agreement with regard to the bill, what is proposed here is in fact the tree that hides the forest in terms of what the Conservatives have done to the employment insurance program.
    A number of questions that I heard from the Conservatives this morning made me cringe, especially when they denied the fact that fewer than four out of 10 people who contributed to employment insurance receive benefits from it. I have figures on this. Out of nearly 1.4 million unemployed people in July 2012, only 508,000 unemployed Canadians were able to receive employment insurance benefits.
    I would like to hear some additional comments from my colleague about the Conservatives’ employment insurance policies and the reasons why they can deny the figures that come from Statistics Canada.

  (1545)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question about the employment insurance program.
    As I mentioned in my presentation, the Conservatives, and the Liberals before them, made drastic changes to the employment insurance program. Among other things, in 1995, the Liberals took the surpluses out of employment insurance rather than investing in the program and helping people. Moreover, they reduced the benefits. The Conservatives did the same thing. They made cuts to the EI program and made changes to a program that helped everyone.
    Just think about remote areas and seasonal workers. I lived long enough in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean to know about the difficulties faced by families and workers who should receive employment insurance because the plant where they were employed no longer had enough work for them. These people were hit hard by the reforms to employment insurance.
    Right now, the Conservatives are denying the figures and are refusing to acknowledge that the unemployment rate is quite a bit higher than we think. There are some people who do not even apply for employment insurance and who look for help from other quarters because they know they will not be able to receive benefits from the EI program.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for ably outlining not only why we are supporting Bill C-44 but also outlining some of the concerns with it.
    This morning we heard the Minister of Labour say that the changes under the Canada Labour Code would only apply to federally-regulated employees. I think many Canadians, when they first hear about this bill, will think that it will apply to everybody.
    I wonder if she would comment on the fact that this would also require changes to the provincial labour codes in order to have non-federally-regulated employees covered as well.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, it is always unfortunate when amendments are made to the Code that that do not apply to everyone, even though that would be worthwhile. Through experience, the members in the House know that these changes will hit seasonal workers and women particularly hard. I am thinking about maternity leave for women, and parental leave. Not everyone will be able to benefit, and I find this regrettable. I should not even talk about benefits, but about the right of workers to lead a decent life and to benefit from leave to help their families and their relatives.
    I would like to come back to a particular point in the bill. People whose children have disappeared will not be able to benefit from this amendment. I hope that the committee studying the bill will take this item into consideration and make a positive recommendation in this regard.
    Mr. Speaker, as was mentioned earlier, the NDP will support Bill C-44 for a number of reasons. Basically, it responds to a number of the demands that the NDP has traditionally made in order to help parents who are in drastic and often unusual circumstances. With this in mind, one can hardly be opposed to virtue, and this is why we will support the bill. However, there are a number of shortcomings in the bill that I will come back to in my speech.
    First and foremost, I would like to go on in the same vein and a little bit further with the question that I just asked, to speak a little bit about what the Conservatives have done to employment insurance since they came to power, particularly with the passage of Bill C-38.
    I come from the Lower St. Lawrence area, a region that depends on employment insurance a great deal. It is not that we want to depend on it, but the reality in the Lower St. Lawrence, as in the Gaspé and in a number of other regions in Quebec, is that seasonal work is of major importance to the economy. It is true that there has been greater diversification over the past few years, but there are still many workers in the region who depend on either agriculture or tourism or forestry or the fisheries. These are strictly seasonal types of jobs, and employment insurance helped seasonal workers cover the periods during which they were unable to work.
     In light of the provisions put forward in Bill C-38, and that are now in effect, someone who works in a specific field such as tourism can now be forced to work in a store or in a boutique for up to 70% of their salary or they will lose their benefits. They can even be forced to travel to a job location that is at least an hour by car from their home, which in the Lower St. Lawrence means from about 70 to 100 km.
     The amendments that were proposed by the Conservatives and that were adopted by this House, which unfortunately had a Conservative majority, are detrimental to a number of regions that, once again, depend on employment insurance, even though of course they might well prefer not to.
     There is another element, as my colleague mentioned earlier. It was caused by the Conservatives and also by the Liberals before them. I am referring to the low proportion of people contributing to employment insurance who can actually collect benefits. The Conservatives deny in their answers that this is the case, but this is a fact. Of all of the people who were unemployed and actively looking for work in July 2012, only 508,000 Canadians were able to receive employment insurance benefits. This means that 870,000 unemployed Canadians were unable to receive benefits. In other words, only four out of 10 unemployed people were able to collect benefits, and this is because of the conditions reducing entitlement to benefits that were brought in by the Liberals and by the Conservatives.
     However, Bill C-44 has remedied some specific situations, and that is why we are going to support it at second reading, even though some changes are likely going to be put forward in committee later on.
     This bill will make amendments to the Canada Labour Code to enable parents of seriously ill children, or of missing or deceased children as the result of a crime, to obtain leave without pay without fear of losing their jobs. It will enable employment insurance claimants, who fall ill during their parental leave, to also get sickness benefits—in other words, additional benefits. The bill will create another category of special employment insurance benefits for the parents of children who are seriously ill, which will be extended to a maximum of 35 weeks, and be shared by parents over a 52-week period. It will create a new special employment insurance benefit for the parents of children who are murdered or missing as the probable result of a crime. The benefits total $350 a week for a maximum of 35 weeks, and two weeks will be added in the case of a child located during the benefit period.
    Even though these measures are positive and should be supported in order to assist parents who face a particularly difficult and traumatic period in their life, one still has to wonder why the Conservative government has specifically targeted these families, to the exclusion of other families.
    For example, children may be reported missing due to circumstances that are not believed to be criminal in nature, for example, when a child runs away. A runaway child may be absent for a long time, in fact, many children run away for several days, or weeks. There is not necessarily a criminal element to what has occurred. However, I can tell you, that the vast majority of parents, if not all parents, find it to be an extremely difficult experience. First and foremost, these parents are concerned about the welfare of the child. They want to be free and able to participate in efforts to actively locate their missing child.

  (1550)  

    I do not think that it is appropriate to exclude these parents from categories of employment insurance. Yet, the Conservatives have chosen to do so. Why? I would like answers.
    Another thing that bothers me is the non-explicit exclusion in the text of special benefits for parents whose child is injured while committing a crime. A crime may be any number of things. It may be a serious offence, but it might also be an act where parents have a key role to play in getting their child back on track.
    I am the father of two children. I have a boy who will soon be four and a little girl who is not even one. I know what my role as a parent will be later on. My child might be nine or 10 and do something stupid, like shoplift, and my role as a parent will be to get my child back on track. It is important to not criminalize such children because it is clear that they do not have the capacity to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad. It is the parent's role to guide them.
     Let us take the same child and say they are shoplifting and are struck by a car in the course of the theft. The child is expressly excluded from these special benefits, in plain words. There is no room for interpretation. Here I can see the difference between the Conservative approach and the more progressive approach to parents’ role in rearing their children. This Conservative approach is even going to have repercussions on the proposed bills.
     This aspect was raised by the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin in committee during previous parliaments, where a very similar private member’s bill introduced by an opposition member was discussed. At the time, he introduced the bill as a measure to provide support for victims. It is hard to argue that this measure supports victims if the parent or family of a child who is injured falling down stairs, or is struck by a car, or injured some other way while committing a crime, is entitled to claim benefits in this case. It is not the victim who is benefiting. For that reason, I cannot support this bill.
     In plain words, that is what the Conservative member who is still here today said in a previous parliament at a committee meeting. That really highlights the difference between the Conservative approach and the progressive approach to education. It is truly unfortunate that we have this in a bill like this one. We have to understand that the parents of children who are run down or seriously injured in whatever circumstances are also affected. This bill has nothing to say about those parents.
     We believe it is a real problem to target one particular category, even though, like all members present here, and you, Mr. Speaker, I agree that these parents need help. We are prepared to offer them our support. We consider it unfortunate that Bill C-44 excludes or omits certain categories of parents whose children are touched or seriously affected in non-criminal ways. This is because of the law and order lens that virtually all Conservative initiatives are seen through, not just for issues relating to the justice system, but also for issues relating to human resources and employment insurance, as in this case.
     The House as a whole is going to want to debate this bill. I hope the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities is going to do good work. This bill is a step in the right direction, as several of my colleagues have said. We hope to hear the government’s justification for the omissions from the categories of people who will be able to claim the special benefits. We are certainly going to propose amendments to try to remedy those omissions. For the moment, we can only express our support, in particular, for parents of children who are victims of crime, and especially who are injured or die, for their terrible tragedy. This bill will give them a way to overcome their situation. This will be a contribution by the members in this House to help them deal with this situation.

  (1555)  

    Mr. Speaker, I really appreciated my colleague's speech.
    He started his speech talking about employment insurance. The Conservatives broke their promise. They said that they would finance this fund with money that did not come from the employment insurance fund, but that is what they will be doing.
    In light of all the cuts being made by the Conservatives, what does my colleague think about their attitude?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
    This is a problem for us because it has to do with a Conservative philosophy I have a hard time understanding.
    Among the bills that have been previously introduced, there is a very similar bill that the government opposed. A criticism was made in the House on December 10, 2009:
    Right now, because of the global economic situation of the past year and because previous governments used EI premiums for non-EI spending...the EI account is under strain. It is estimated that adopting the bill would increase program costs significantly and could result in significant upward pressure on premium rates, something that most people do not want.
    That was the Conservatives' story in 2009. Now, in 2012, they have a whole other story, in which they are saying that they will use the employment insurance fund instead of general revenues. That raises some questions. I would like some answers from the Conservatives. I sincerely hope that the question will be seriously asked in committee.

  (1600)  

    Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciated my colleague's speech. I have a question regarding the notion of crime that my colleague spoke about. I would like to hear more on the subject.
    In his own view of the proposed bill, at what point are suspicions justified and who will ultimately be called upon to address the issue?
    Mr. Speaker, when I raised the issue, I pointed out that the Conservative government was specifically excluding such cases from the bill. I can quote verbatim what other members, including the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, said in committee. They used dramatic examples to justify the exclusion and to view victims solely from a law and order perspective.
    As a parent, in many of the situations that could put my child in a difficult position—for much less serious crimes, I hope—I have the opportunity to get involved as a guide, as the person responsible for helping my child make good choices. This philosophy is in contrast to the Conservatives', which is to punish not only the child who could be hurt during the incident or under some other circumstance, but also the parent, and to prevent the parents and the people in the situation from fulfilling their role as guides.
    That is why I have some serious questions that, once again, the Conservatives seem unwilling to answer. I hope that this issue—why this exception is written into the bill—will be raised in committee, because I think it is very important.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to preface my remarks on this bill to help families in need by reiterating that I rely on my legal background every day in carrying out my duties as a member of Parliament.
    Early in my career, the time I spent working for legal aid right after passing the bar was a true education. I learned so much working there. My regards to all of my colleagues at the Sept-Îles legal aid office.
    Returning to the matter at hand, in 2007, six months after I joined legal aid, one of my first cases involved a young man who had been taken hostage in 1997. Given the relatively small population of Sept-Îles, the incident, which took place in a local high school, received significant media attention. Other young people, including me—I was not very old at the time—were aware of the problem because we knew the young man involved. He was taken hostage in a classroom.
    Another young person, not much older than high school age, but who was in CEGEP, went off the deep end—pardon the expression—and decided to go into a high school classroom with two jerry cans of gas, a Rambo-style hunting knife and a pellet gun. He decided to take the entire class hostage and tied the students up with tape. My client decided to intervene and was stabbed and suffered a punctured lung. So it was rather serious.
    I remember this event, because I was in CEGEP at the time. When word got out around Sept-Îles, I went to the hospital to see how the young man was doing. That is when I saw how distraught his parents were. They were completely shaken and without any means.
    This event came back to me when I began litigating in 2007. The same young man, whom I knew, came to see me in my office. The case still had not been settled 10 years later. The case had gone to an organization in Quebec known as IVAC, which stands for indemnisation aux victimes d'actes criminels—basically an organization that processes applications for compensation for victims of crime. The case was being challenged and had gone before Quebec's administrative tribunal. It was a question of anatomicophysiological deficit, or APD. There were differences of opinion.
    My first instinct was to send my client for further psychological examination, because he was suffering serious repercussions. Thus, another psychiatrist met with him in the Quebec City area. This increased his APD diagnosis by a few percentage points, so we were able to reach a settlement in the end.
    I wanted to share this particular case with you because there had been a 10-year delay and when the incident happened, the parents had no resources whatsoever. I know that, because the young man's father, whom I saw that day at the hospital, was completely distraught. Very little support was offered to the parents by either the school system or the government.
    I am talking about this case here today simply to illustrate that it is no secret that these terrible incidents happen on a regular basis.
    What is interesting about this bill is that it is a pragmatic response to the financial difficulties experienced by vulnerable families as a result of tragic and fortuitous events. That is why my party supports the proposed measures, since they would ease the added financial burden on parents in need.
    There is talk of integrity and threats to the physical integrity of a child. I say that parents are often distraught. But this is not just when a young person is the victim of a crime. When I worked in a legal aid office and in my own law firm, I saw the same type of reaction. I represented young people who were under psychiatric care. They were often children admitted into psychiatric care because they presented with symptoms of toxic psychosis. In my community, Uashat-Maliotenam, and also in the city of Sept-Îles, there is a serious problem right now with methamphetamines, commonly known as speed. Some young people are inhaling them by turning them into powder. This is commonly referred to as sniffing speed. They inhale four or five of these pills. After sniffing four or five speed pills, a person decompensates and becomes incoherent and violent. That is not always the case, but it can happen. These young people end up under psychiatric care, and the parents are distraught.
    I noticed that there was a lack of resources available to them, because the health and safety of these young people as well as their physical integrity were in jeopardy.

  (1605)  

    When I was working on my speech for today, I was reminded of these things from my past experience at the itinerant court and the civil court. Often, these were prison custody cases heard in civil court. I was reminded of these things, and I make mention of them today. I believe that it is important to share this information with the Canadian public.
    In passing, I would like to point out the innovative nature of the compensation for parents of missing children, a measure that addresses a deplorable reality in Canadian society.
    I would like to talk about missing children. I agree that the presumption that a crime has been committed can be problematic. However, in many communities, including aboriginal communities, the disappearance of children is a fairly widespread and growing phenomenon, when we compare the number of aboriginal young people who go missing to the total number of people in the community.
    This type of measure will most likely be well received by aboriginal communities across the country. When I was working on this file, I was reminded of the posters of young Maisy Odjick and other young people from aboriginal communities. A criminal investigation is most often launched if suspicious circumstances exist. Many cases of missing children involve a criminal investigation, a police investigation. This always depends on the analysis of the judge and arbitrator, the person who makes the final decision as to the moment at which suspicions of a crime or criminal activity come into play.
    I hope that the members opposite agree, but in my opinion, this criterion would be easily applicable. In most cases, when a child goes missing, there is a criminal investigation and suspicions can therefore be confirmed. It remains to be seen how these proposed measures will actually be implemented.
    That being said and despite the highly commendable nature of the proposed measures, we must reassess the relevance of withdrawing money from the employment insurance fund for parents of critically ill children given that this fund has a cumulative deficit of $9 billion, which is not just pocket change.

  (1610)  

    Before we proceed to questions and comments, I wish to inform hon. members that there have been more than five hours of debate on the motion before the House. Consequently, the time allocated for all subsequent interventions shall be ten minutes for speeches and, as usual, five minutes for questions and comments.
    The hon. member for Honoré-Mercier.
    Mr. Speaker, I was listening to the excellent speech delivered by my colleague and it reminded me of the time when I worked as a high school teacher. I taught young teenagers who had serious behavioural problems. There were, of course, many young offenders among them. Some even robbed convenience stores. I put myself in their parents' shoes. Most of them were professionals. We always think that it is the poor who have children with behavioural problems.
    If a child injures himself while committing a crime and ends up in hospital, his parents cannot even help him. This means they suffer a double punishment. In addition to knowing that their child has a problem that will haunt him throughout his life, they are punished because they will not be able to support their sick child. If they do, it will be at their own expense.
    What does the hon. member think of that situation?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. I submit the following distinction to the Conservatives. In our justice system, when an offence is committed by a young person under the age of 16, 17 or 18, the Youth Criminal Justice Act automatically applies. The Conservatives should nuance their approach in the case of a young person who is injured while committing an offence that would be dealt with under that legislation.
    Based on my own understanding, such an exclusion should be provided. Regardless of whether a criminal activity took place or an offence was committed, the parents of the young person should not be penalized if the case comes under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. As my colleague pointed out earlier, these young people are in their formative years. Parents should not be automatically excluded when their child is injured. They deserve to be compensated. There should be an exclusion clause.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's remarks. He shared his experience with groups that had problems related to drugs, violence and all those things that we do not like to hear about.
    However, despite many speeches like this one, which tell things as they happen in real life, I notice that there are often people who are forgotten in the bills introduced by the Conservative government.
    Is it because members opposite are simply out of touch with local reality, or is it for the sake of ideology? I wonder if the hon. member could enlighten some members.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
    I sometimes ask myself the same sort of questions. When I see the legislation contemplated by the Conservatives, I wonder if their reality is the same as ours. I wonder if they do their groceries, or if they have loved ones, because their approach often seems dehumanized.
    I know they have a rather hard party line that leans towards the right. It is becoming rather obvious with their proposed measures. However, they should sometimes show a bit of humanity and put themselves in the shoes of ordinary citizens, because this would make them aware of specifics and personal experiences.

  (1615)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his speech.
    Sometimes, children may disappear because they sniffed something. Why does the support provided by the government regarding children who disappear not apply when it is believed that a Criminal Code offence was committed?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her question. That criminal nature is, of course, included to please a specific segment of the population. Over the past year, I noticed that the Conservatives try to paint themselves as the ultimate source of righteousness and impunity. Once again, they are merely trying to convey the idea that they represent the victims, and not the criminals. However, in this case, they are going after children. There are limits to trying to please a specific segment of the population.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-44. It is always pleasant for an elected member to rise and to find that there is basically unanimity in the House. When we make speeches and say that we are all in agreement, there is less fuss and foot-dragging by other members.
    However, like the NDP members, I see some flaws in this bill, even though I want to say from the outset that the Bloc Québécois supports it. It was time the government took action regarding what is happening on the victims' side as well.
    The previous speaker said the government was boasting about helping victims first. However, since the Conservatives took office in 2006 to form a minority government, they have primarily targeted various types of crimes.
    We have nothing against improving our justice system. However, quite often, the government was primarily interested in grandstanding, for example by adding minimum sentences and increasingly tying the hands of judges for all kinds of ideological motives. This time, with Bill C-44, it is looking after the plight of victims, which is a good thing. We fully support this legislation.
    However, this legislation is less generous than bills introduced by the Bloc Québécois in previous Parliaments. For example, as early as 2007, my former colleague, France Bonsant, tabled the first bill on victims of crime, precisely so that the parents of these victims could, for example, collect EI benefits.
    We know that it is always critical to keep one's job when a tragic event occurs, such as the disappearance of a child or, even worse, the death of a child following a crime. All sorts of events may cause the parents to be absolutely unable to go back to work.
    When my colleague France Bonsant introduced this bill, she was working with Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, who is now a senator. We are aware of the tragedies in Senator Boisvenu's life. He was the president of a missing persons association. He worked with Ms. Bonsant on that bill and he supported her initiative. That was a long time ago, in 2007. We introduced this bill on other occasions.
    During the election campaign, I got Ms. Bonsant to come visit my riding because my constituents made me aware of this issue. Thanks to the Quebec government, parents can maintain their employment. However, even if they manage to keep their job and take leave without pay, the result is the same: they have to quickly return to work because creditors do not have any compassion. These parents have to pay for food, housing and transportation. No one will take into account that something bad has happened to their child. People will sympathize but creditors will not. The parents of a missing child will receive bills and have to pay them.
    If these parents keep their jobs but are not being paid, there is a serious problem. This hole needed to be filled, so to speak, and that is what my colleague was doing. In 2008, I decided to make this an election issue since my constituents talked to me about it a lot, given that there were people who were particularly affected by problems in their families. This issue was more than local; it affected many people. I am talking about 2008.
    We have come back to this issue again. It is the hon. member for Ahuntsic who introduced this bill again. The government finally took note of all the demands that were coming from across the country, including from the Bloc Québécois, and introduced a bill that favours victims for once. This is a very good thing.
    Bill C-44 amends the Canada Labour Code to provide an employee with the right to take leave when a child of the employee is critically ill or dies or disappears as the probable result of a crime. The bill also makes technical amendments to that act. It also amends—and this is important—the Employment Insurance Act to provide benefits to claimants who are providing care or support to their critically ill child and to facilitate access to sickness benefits for claimants who are in receipt of parental benefits. That is key.
    I noticed earlier that members were talking about some shortcomings of the bill, and I have the same concerns. We are talking about injured children.

  (1620)  

    When the government announced the introduction of Bill C-44, the news release stated that the bill would implement the new EI benefit for parents of critically ill or injured children. However, the bill does not define an injured child. This means that the minister has the power to define an ill child. We need more information about that. I am sure this will come up in committee. Earlier, the official opposition announced that it would propose amendments. I would like my colleagues to consider this flaw in the bill as written to ensure that injured children are included too. Saying it in the news release is one thing, but if it is not in the bill, the people who have to rule in these cases will not be able to do their job properly.
    There is also the matter of the bill's generosity. I do not want to use unparliamentary language, but we introduced a bill providing for up to 52 weeks of benefits. Bill C-44 limits benefits to 35 weeks. Our bill was also more generous with respect to the weekly benefit amount, which was up to $485, if I remember correctly. In the Conservative Party's bill, that amount is $300 and some. Those are some of the differences.
    I am also asking the government to increase the benefit amount. I do not think that we will manage to help all of the families that need help by giving them benefits for 35 weeks. In some cases, the number of weeks could be doubled. In particularly difficult cases, the benefit period could be up to 104 weeks.
    I know that, as legislators, we cannot solve every case. We have to work on a case-by-case basis, and sooner or later, we will realize that we missed something, that someone has slipped through the cracks. We have to be flexible enough to ensure that as many people as possible benefit from the measures in this bill.
    We introduced our bill three times. People say that being in opposition is a thankless job. Indeed, we introduce bills only for the government to take credit for them and find a way to make it look like they came from the government rather than the opposition. Personally, that has never offended me. The government has done this to the Bloc Québécois several times now.
    Consider, for example, some of our justice bills, like the anti-gang legislation or the legislation to reverse the burden of proof, which means that from now on, criminals have to show how they acquired their assets. When someone declares an income of $25,000 a year and has a $450,000 house, an SUV, snowmobiles, motorcycles and beautiful landscaping, sooner or later, you have to wonder who paid for it all. No one can afford that kind of lifestyle on $25,000 a year.
    The government, whether Conservative or Liberal—in the case of the anti-gang legislation—has taken credit for either some portion or entire pieces of our legislation—again in the case of the anti-gang legislation.
    The goal of legislators is to advance our society when it comes to any given issue so that the community somehow benefits. Our role is just as important.
    I see some elements in this bill that come directly from bills that the Bloc Québécois has introduced over the years. I commend this government's efforts to do something positive to help victims by introducing Bill C-44. I repeat, I agree with my colleagues who are in favour of this bill. Despite the shortcomings I have pointed out, we should be pleased and vote to support this bill.

  (1625)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska for his speech. He spoke about some shortcomings. We agree because we will support the bill at second reading, but certain shortcomings, certain omissions should be pointed out. I hope that they will be addressed in committee. I am not a member of this committee, but I hope that my colleagues who are will be able to address them.
    Aside from injured children, there is also the issue of missing children. I focused on this topic in my speech and in an earlier question. I would like my colleague to comment on the omission of cases of missing children where illegal activities or crime are not suspected of being behind the disappearance. A child may run away, which does not diminish the amount of distress felt by the parents, for whom a program like this one could be appropriate.
    Does my colleague have any recommendations to make with respect to this issue?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his very pertinent question.
    That goes back to what I was saying earlier when I mentioned that it was not necessarily bad faith. The people who draft the bills cannot always cover everything.
    I said that someone could fall through the cracks. I believe that is the case that my colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques is raising. It is the case of children whose disappearance is not related to a crime. They find themselves at square one. In the end, these people experience just as much distress as the parent of a child who disappears as a result of a crime, and it is no easier for them to go to work knowing that their child is missing.
    It is an excellent question to ask the government in committee in order to address this shortcoming and ensure that people in this type of situation are compensated.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up on that particular point because it is something we raised earlier within the Liberal caucus. There are some issues that we would hope the government would take to committee with the idea of providing some more detailed responses, and this is one of them.
    Every year there are hundreds, and I suspect thousands, of people who go missing, even though a good percentage of them are found relatively quickly. However, this is for the others.
    Would the member agree that there is a responsibility for the government to, even, give us something in advance of the committee meeting, because I know there would be some interest in hearing direct feedback from the government on this very important issue?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely right. He did not ask me a question, but the government needs to hear his comments.
    My colleague also mentioned it earlier. There are many elements that are missing from this bill, which must be improved. If we cannot do so when studying the bill in committee, members might think about introducing bills to fill the gap. In fact, these parents will experience the same despair as others, and we must not overlook them.

  (1630)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am proud to say that our government continues to focus on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity and I am encouraged today by the debate and the fact that the opposition parties are supporting the bill.
    Our government continues to provide support for families, be it by taking over one million Canadians off the tax rolls, providing over $3,000 of tax cuts to the average family, or instituting the working income tax benefit and the universal child care benefit. These are all initiatives that have helped the families I talk to in my riding of Mississauga South.
     I wonder if the member for Richmond—Arthabaska would comment on how important all of these measures have been, in terms of a declining poverty rate in Canada?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, it may seem strange, but I do not think this is the right moment for the member to engage in a partisan aside and read a list of everything she believes the government has done right.
    What we are saying today is that Bill C-44 is a step forward. As for the other budget measures, I could point to the fact that Quebec is suffering enormously because of everything the government decided not to do for the forest industry, for example. It contributed billions of dollars to Ontario's automobile industry and virtually nothing to Quebec’s forest industry. It is a serious problem. We should not mix things up.
    It is true that Bill C-44 is a step forward. We established that there were a number of shortcomings, and the member should also be made aware of that and ensure that her government addresses these shortcomings to make the bill even better.

[English]

    Before we resume debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the house that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Drummond, the Environment; and the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Employment Insurance.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I will of course be pleased to support these changes. These new measures will truly enable workers to take leave and draw employment insurance benefits in the event that their children become seriously ill, disappear or die as a result of a crime. In my view, all the parties agree on that.
    I would nevertheless like to state my concerns about employment insurance. It is clear that the employment insurance system needs a reform like this one. The fact is that 1.3 million Canadians are without work and the vast majority of them do not have access to employment insurance. This bill is the first in a long series of changes that would strengthen and improve access to employment insurance.
    Knowing what we do about the budget bill, I doubt that the government is seriously committing itself to improving the system. I find this truly unfortunate, because the members of this House have the power to make a genuine difference in the lives of Canadians.
    In my riding, the average person’s income is below the average income for Quebeckers and Canadians. I often hear that people do not have access to employment insurance and that they have trouble making ends meet.

[English]

    I support the substance of the bill and the help it would accord an estimated 6,000 people who can really use the relief it would provide. However, there are aspects of the bill that are badly thought out and I am hoping that the government will see fit to amend the bill at committee. For example, the Conservatives first promised to make this change to EI benefits during the last federal election campaign and at the time they specifically stated that, “Funding for this measure will come from general revenue, not EI premiums”.
    Now that the bill is in the House, we find that the government is reneging on this promise and will be taking the funds out of EI to pay for the part of the legislation that would provide benefits to parents with children who are critically ill. It may seem like an insignificant cost but when we consider that, by the Conservatives' own calculation, an estimated 6,000 people will be claiming this benefit, it will come to a large amount when the EI program is already $9 billion in deficit and hundreds of thousands of Canadians already cannot access regular benefits and are slipping deeper into poverty.
    It is important to note that the $9 billion deficit is not because EI is an intrinsically unsustainable program. It is because the government and the Liberal government before that did a really bad job of managing and maintaining it. This is the case for so many of our essential public services. These services are being eroded by short-sighted corner cutting that costs taxpayers more money in the long term. Major cuts that came down with the last federal budget are having major impacts in my riding. Every day when I am in my riding I hear from constituents who cannot make ends meet because of insufficient EI, pensions and OAS. I have promised them that I will bring their needs to the House and raise them when I can.
    My constituents would say that this bill is good but that it does not go far enough to improve our EI system. We need comprehensive EI reform and we need it fast. I am very proud that today we are helping Canadians who are caring for their sick children but that should not divert our attention from the thousands of other Canadians whose lives could really be improved by extending similar EI benefits to their specific needs.

  (1635)  

[Translation]

    For example, one of my constituents recently called my office. She said that she had cancer and was undergoing treatment. As people who have undergone cancer treatment know, 15 weeks of employment insurance benefits are not enough to recover and return to work.
    My constituent was not even eligible for employment insurance benefits, even though she truly needed them to make ends meet. To be entitled, she would have had to work 600 hours, but had only worked 450.
     If the government had deemed it appropriate to adopt the NDP's long-standing position, which would reduce the number of hours for employment insurance eligibility from 600 to 360 hours, my constituent, who worked 450 hours, would have been eligible for these benefits.
     If the bill put forward by my colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam had been passed, we would have a system under which benefits for serious illnesses would be extended from 15 weeks to 52 weeks. My constituent would then have had the financial security to take care of herself during these difficult times, rather than have to worry about making ends meet and not knowing whether she would be able to pay her heating, grocery or rent bills. That is the situation she is currently in, as she suffers from cancer and tries to undergo treatment to cure it.
     This is not the only example I have encountered since being elected, but it is the most recent. There are many others in my riding. We really need to reform employment insurance to help these people.
     For example, we need to improve employment insurance for seasonal workers. Since so many of my constituents earn their living in seasonal industries like forestry, farming and tourism, I have a duty to fight for this. It is a question of equity for rural people. All of Canada benefits from the work of seasonal workers. They deserve protection appropriate to the way they live and work.
     The other major improvement we could make to employment insurance reform is to introduce compassionate benefits. My constituents are aging. The average age in my riding is higher than the average age in Quebec, which is higher than the average age in Canada.
     In view of the shortage of long-term health care services in my riding and the rural factor, the task of caring for the elderly often falls to family members or friends. The Canadian Caregiver Coalition estimates that five million Canadians are caring for a loved one. This is an incredible amount of work that goes unpaid. These caregivers are heroes.
     The NDP has frequently tabled bills to extend employment insurance benefits for caregivers, but the Conservatives have always voted against them. This is an area that truly needs improvement.

  (1640)  

[English]

    These are all issues I thought I would use this opportun