The House resumed from September 26 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill . 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 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.
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 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.
Mr.Speaker, I am very happy today to rise in the House and express my strong support for Bill , 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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
New Democrats will be supporting Bill . 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member of Parliament for .
I am pleased to rise today in the House to speak to Bill , 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 .
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.
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.
As announced by the 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.
With this bill, parents will be able to access employment insurance sickness benefits if they fall ill while receiving parental benefits.
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 is an example of the common sense measures that our government is taking to help parents balance work and family responsibilities. As the 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.
It is time to work together and provide support for families in this country, when they need it the most.
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.
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 , in the 39th and 40th Parliaments, and once again introduced that same bill in the current parliament, Bill .
I am absolutely delighted to see the government moving on this. It embodies what I was trying to accomplish in Bill , 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.
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 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.
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 .
I rise today to speak to Bill . 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.
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 . 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 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.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill , 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.
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 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.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support Bill , 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 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.
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 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 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?
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am pleased to speak today to debate Bill , 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 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 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 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.
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 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, I rise today to speak to Bill and to express my support for this bill at second reading.
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.
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 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.
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, 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 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 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.
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 .
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 . 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 has to say after I take a few questions.
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 . 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.
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 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.
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, I will start by saying that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I will begin by stating that I will be supporting Bill . 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 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 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 , which we are discussing today, was introduced by a Conservative minister, while Bill , 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 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.
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 , 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 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.
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 , 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.
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 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.
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.
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—