The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Madam Speaker, today we are talking about the Canadian value of how we take care of each other when we are sick. We are talking about improvements to the employment insurance sickness benefit.
On average, people who claimed sickness benefits in fiscal year 2017-18 used 10 weeks of the benefit and then returned to work. However, quite a large cohort, 36% or about 150,000 Canadians, exhausted their full 15 weeks before they could go back to work. Among those 150,000 Canadians, women and older Canadians were more likely to need more than 15 weeks.
This is a very serious issue facing Canadians who are sick or injured.
Imagine being a single parent and then overnight no longer being able to pay the bills. Nobody needs that kind of pressure while trying to rest and get better.
It is the government’s responsibility to put measures in place to keep the Canadian workforce strong, healthy and productive.
A healthy, strong and productive workforce means a healthy, strong and productive economy.
That is why our government has committed to increasing the sickness benefit from 15 weeks to 26 weeks. This commitment was praised by the Canadian Cancer Society and aligns well with the requests from The Conference Board of Canada and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada to enhance the support of people living with MS.
The main goal of the EI program is to support people and at the same time maintain their connection to the labour market. This is doubly important, as we know that employers face shortages in labour in all sectors across the country. Keeping Canadians connected to active work lives is important both for the well-being of Canadians and for the well-being of our economy.
As the minister responsible for disability inclusion, I attach paramount importance to this matter. Part of my work, under the Accessible Canada Act, is to ensure that barriers faced by persons with disabilities are removed so that they can fully participate in society.
To explain the connection with employment insurance sickness benefits, let me use multiple sclerosis as an example.
Those with multiple sclerosis have what is called an episodic disability. This means that they go through periods when they are well enough to work, and others when that is not the case.
In 2018, we made changes to the employment insurance sickness benefit to allow claimants to use the rules governing work during a benefit period. Workers therefore enjoy greater flexibility in availing themselves of the assistance provided by employment insurance while doing part of their work in the same week.
According to the Conference Board of Canada, if those with multiple sclerosis could remain in or re-enter the workforce more easily, it could increase our economic activity by $1.1 billion annually. That is a win-win situation.
Our government has committed to extending sickness benefits to 26 weeks. I want to impress upon my colleagues the importance of getting this right, of acting from the best evidence.
I encourage the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to study this matter as soon as possible. We do not want Canadians falling through the cracks.
As I mentioned earlier, we are determined to improve the employment insurance plan so that it better serves employees and employers. We are continuing to work hard to improve the program. I will talk about that now and let my parliamentary secretary add some details shortly.
I am very proud and pleased to say that Canada recently scored 100, a perfect score, on the World Bank's women, business and the law index. This was due in part to our recent reform regarding parental leave benefits that reserve five weeks of paid leave for the second parent, typically the father. With this step, we are ensuring that Canada is a place where everyone can be on equal footing in terms of work.
As Unifor national president Jerry Dias said, “In addition to making it easier for women to return to work this extra leave will help to even out childcare responsibilities and break down gender-based parenting roles.”
Another major improvement was to reduce the time people have to wait before receiving their benefits. In January 2017, we reduced it from two weeks to one week in order to ease the financial burden for those receiving employment insurance benefits. This change puts more than $650 million into the pockets of Canadians each year.
I am also pleased to say that budget 2018 made the 50¢-on-the-dollar rules of the most recent EI working-while-on-claim pilot project permanent and grandfathered claimants who chose to revert to older rules under the most recent pilot project until August 2021.
In budget 2018, we also expanded the pilot project to sickness and maternity benefits, making them more consistent and providing greater flexibility for those who want to return to work while receiving sickness benefits. The new changes make it easier for claimants to remain in the labour force and get through gaps between periods of work.
We have also increased our support for caregivers. We know that millions of Canadians provide informal care and support for critically ill family members. Canadians told us that they want more flexibility and inclusive options to care for and support loved ones.
In budget 2017, we announced special measures to give families greater flexibility by making it easier for caregivers to claim employment insurance benefits. These measures are having a real impact on Canadians' lives.
An example of this is the creation of the employment insurance family caregiver benefit for adults. This new benefit is making a big difference in the lives of many Canadians who work hard, but must also take off work to care for a loved one. For a maximum of 15 weeks, it allows eligible family caregivers to provide care for an adult family member who is critically ill or injured.
I would also like to highlight that for the first time, immediate and extended family members of children who are critically ill now have access to a benefit that was previously available only to parents. This goes beyond immediate family and even relatives. Individuals who are not relatives but considered to be like family, for example, a neighbour, could be eligible to receive the benefit to provide care to a critically ill child. Caregivers can share the available weeks of benefits at the same time or separately.
We estimate that some 22,000 families have received the new EI benefit for family caregivers. These are positive changes that are already benefiting Canadians. We intend to deliver more of the same. We still have a lot to do to ensure that Canadians get the support they need to overcome barriers to full labour market participation.
As I mentioned, in my current role, I have taken on the mantle of further strengthening our employment insurance programs. This means improving our sickness benefit, but it also means making a number of other changes for the better. I will be working collaboratively with my finance and tax colleagues to make maternity and parental benefits tax-free. I will be introducing a 15-week leave for adoptive parents, including for LGBTQ2 families.
I will be working with the to create guaranteed paid family leave. I will create a new career insurance benefit for workers who have worked for the same employer for five or more years and lose their job when the business closes.
This new benefit will kick in after employment insurance ends and will not be clawed back if other income is earned. This is essential in a world where jobs change so quickly that, 20 years from now, our kids will have jobs we have not even heard of.
I am tasked with improving the current pilot project for seasonal workers with a permanent program that provides consistent and reliable benefits. I will be working on this over the coming summer.
Lastly, together with my colleague, the , we are creating a new EI disaster assistance benefit. This new benefit will be developed in consultation with experts, workers and employers. It will replace the income that is lost when families need to temporarily stop working to protect their homes or because they need to relocate to safety.
Since we want our improvements to the EI system to be evidence-based, I will be working with my colleagues at Statistics Canada to strengthen the data. With the ever-changing nature of families and work, it is important that we join forces to ensure that Canadians get the support they need.
After all, these supports will not only benefit Canadian workers, who are mothers, fathers, caregivers of children and the elderly, and some who are battling long-term illness in their day-to-day lives; they will also go a long way toward ensuring a stable and thriving economy for our country. That is why we will continue to look for ways to improve the EI system so it can meet the needs of Canadian families and workers at every stage in their career, in sickness and in health.
Madam Speaker, it is always an honour to join the debate here in this House. It has been a great privilege to represent my constituents, first in 2011 as the member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and since 2015, when the riding was redistributed, as the member of Parliament for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola.
I mention that because in the first Parliament of which I was a member, we spent the better part of our time in a majority government opposing opposition day motions. Such is the norm of majority governments. In the last Parliament, I experienced an opposition day motion on the other side of that scenario; in fact, I was privileged to submit my own opposition day motion.
If I may take a moment, it was an eminently reasonable motion, calling on the Liberal government to expedite the Comeau case in the Supreme Court. Members may recall that Mr. Comeau was ticketed by his home province of New Brunswick for purchasing alcohol in nearby Quebec. His efforts to economize by shopping for the best prices is a situation that I am sure more and more Canadians can relate to, and they would question why the state was cracking down on someone who had purchased products lawfully, as Mr. Comeau had done.
As many have overlooked, the Liberal government had actually joined in the fight against the Comeau case in the eventual Supreme Court proceedings. It did not truly support internal free trade among all Canadians.
However, that is not the point of my sharing this memory. The point is that my motion, an eminently reasonable one, to expedite the Comeau case ended up in a vote, as opposition motions do, and that vote was one of the rare times, at least in the previous Parliament, when the NDP, the Greens and, as I recall, the Bloc Québécois all voted in support of my motion.
The Liberal majority government, to my surprise and of course disappointment, voted against it. Privately, after that vote, I had several Liberal MPs confide in me that they were whipped to vote that way and had no idea why the all-powerful inner circle and PMO had whipped them to vote against it.
I share this story today because we all know that in this minority Parliament, we collectively have the power to vote in favour of an opposition day motion and see it pass. To date, opposition parties have a pretty solid record of seeing opposition day motions getting passed.
To go on to this motion, once again I feel the need to share some personal comments. It does not happen often in this place, but there is the odd time when I very much want to support a motion but at the same time have strongly considered voting the motion down.
Why the dilemma? It is because I believe we are all here to help build a better Canada. However, at times we may have some disagreement on the best ways to do that. At times we may even agree on an idea or a program but have disagreement on the details of how that idea, project or program should be written into legislation. This is one of those times.
I have to say I will be splitting my time with the member of Parliament for . I did not want to forget him in this important debate.
I absolutely agree that employment insurance sickness benefits are an important program. I also agree that extending the term in which these benefits are available is something that should be seriously looked at. The term has not changed since 1971, so as the minister said earlier, I believe this should go to the HUMA committee. I believe this should be looked at, because I have some issues concerning the motion and how the magic number of 50 weeks was literally drawn out of a hat.
Why 50 weeks? Why not 52? Why not 43? Why not 54? Why not 26? Some adherents of Douglas Adams, not to be confused with Tommy Douglas, would say the answer is obviously 42.
Can anyone explain the logic and science of 50 weeks? Every week of added eligibility adds costs that both current and future workers and their employers have to carry. The member who spoke before me was the , and she actually talked about more benefits that the government is looking to pass. We need to recognize that ultimately those costs would mean employers will pay more, which makes them less competitive, and employees would net less take-home pay in an era of ever-rising costs and taxes, which could create hardship and fiscal pressures.
What if very few people accessed this program? What type of serious illness would qualify or not qualify for this extension? These are all unanswered questions, but they are important ones.
When most of us in our personal lives sign a cheque, we want to know exactly how much it is for and what that cheque will actually buy. In many respects, I feel like this motion asks us all collectively to sign a blank cheque for a worthy and well-intended cause, but with a random number of 50 weeks just because someone liked the sound of 50 weeks, or roughly 11 and a half months. Again, when I asked the leader of the Bloc Québécois, he said that it was to match with what the program currently offers. Depending on one's local situation, how the labour markets are, it could be anywhere between 15 and 45 weeks. The number 50 seems to be in defiance of that. The had said that the Canadian Cancer Society had made a different recommendation, and that is where they are landing on this. We do need to investigate this further.
What could be done instead of 11 and a half months or 50 weeks? In the last Parliament, HUMA, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, studied the issue and recommended an extended time period. Unfortunately, the extended time period was not defined by the committee. Perhaps further study with relevant experts could help guide us all to having more information with more data and more evidence so we can collectively make a more informed decision.
Again, the said there is a potpourri of different additions she is planning to the EI system. Those need to be studied. I believe the more collectively we can study those, the better we can get a sense of what the costs are going to be. One impact added on may be incremental costs, but when one starts adding multiple different impacts, those complicated formulae do take more time to assess and do take more costs to deal with. It also must be pointed out that the Parliamentary Budget Office estimated this EI sickness benefit extension of 50 weeks would cost over $1 billion immediately and would continue to rise every year.
I know there are those who would dismiss an extra $1 billion annually in payroll costs, but in British Columbia today, we now have B.C.-based forestry companies shutting down their lumber mills in order to invest and open new mills in the United States. While there are many reasons why this occurs, one of the reasons is that the cost of doing business in Canada is no longer competitive for their business models. It makes more sense for them to operate outside of Canada.
When that happens, we lose thousands of well-paying jobs like we have seen in British Columbia. It also means we have thousands of workers now unemployed, collecting EI and no longer contributing to it. That is why competitiveness should never be overlooked in a motion such as this one that ultimately proposes to create new costs that decrease our competitiveness. For those small businesses that cannot afford to expand into jurisdictions outside of Canada, let us not forget they are competing against other small businesses in jurisdictions outside of Canada that do not have to swallow these costs and pass them along.
We also need to bear in mind that such a change to medical employment insurance does not cover the employers themselves. I was recently contacted by an entrepreneur in my riding who complained that the government restricted her use of what is called a health savings account because her business was too small. I am sure there are many people in this place who have seen how agencies like CRA continue to assess and audit and audit and assess small businesses and make all sorts of demands, regardless of the health of the business or the entrepreneur.
In my home province of British Columbia, small businesses account for 98% of our total business. Oftentimes these are sole proprietors, partnerships and small corporations that often have to stop work when the entrepreneur does. We should be mindful that while there are some able to self-fund or purchase short-term disability, more often than not it is not practical for their enterprise. Entrepreneurs might welcome this change, some who want to see their employees supported when they receive a serious diagnosis, but when time after time these entrepreneurs and their family members are frequently told to give up more time, energy and cash, they might wonder where they factor in.
Ultimately, these are some of the serious concerns I have heard with this motion. EI premiums are paid for by workers and their employers. We should always be mindful that this is money that they have paid. When it comes to a time when people are facing potentially their greatest life challenge, the EI fund that they have paid into, working for their entire lives, should be there for them in their time of need. We are not talking about government money. We are talking about money that has been put aside by employers and their employees for them. That is money off the backs of workers and employers.
A serious medical illness is stressful enough. One does not need the added pressure of trying to pay the bills at the end of the month and coming up short.
One final point I am saddened to share is that in some cases these serious illnesses may well become fatal. We all saw how quickly Canadians lost beloved journalist Christie Blatchford recently. If we can help individuals facing a fatal disease die with more dignity, we should not lose sight of the importance of that.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the Bloc Québécois for introducing this motion today.
I would like to start by saying that I am really torn over this motion. We have an expression that explains why.
The phrase is to put one's money where one's mouth is. I think this is something that is very important to do. It means that we put our money in places that matter. In regard to this motion, as a nation and as a government, let us put our money where our people are. It is very important to put our money where our people are.
Sadly, like many people in the House, I am no stranger to cancer. My father had cancer. It is a very difficult thing to see any loved one go through. It is never a short process. Recovery takes a long time after an operation. Some people, after having gone through radiation, have to turn the heat up at night because they are cold. This stuff is very devastating and touches the lives of Canadians and everyone in this House personally.
I understand why the Bloc Québécois felt that it was a good idea to introduce this motion.
It really truly touches the lives of Canadians and has the potential to make life much better for Canadians.
I receive many cases in my office about people who face the things my family went through. I have a note here about a constituent who was dealing with cancer and whose doctor told him he needed to be off work for a specific number of weeks before he would be given a letter that he was in the clear. The gap between his sick benefits running out and his date for going back to work was significant. He said that he did not know how, other than remortgaging his home or borrowing from friends and family, he was going to be able to survive. He would have to either try to return to work before he was cleared to do so or remain at home with no money coming in. His wife was also dealing with health issues and had not been working for some time.
This motion has the potential to help people. As the previous speaker mentioned, it would allow for a lot less stress in people's lives as they could focus on their recovery and getting better, which is all that they want to do. It would allow them to focus on returning to work and becoming a productive member of society. Every Canadian wants to contribute to this amazing nation of ours. From a fiscally conservative perspective, I believe this would relieve billions from our health care system over time. Individuals would be given the time needed to fully recover before returning to work rather than being forced back to work before being ready or able to do so, as we have seen in these cases.
In the short three months I have been shadow minister for families, children and social development, I have learned that the system is broken. It is absolutely broken. This is why I have a difficult time supporting this motion. While it is a small change to go from 15 weeks to 50 weeks, it has life-changing potential, but so much more has to be done.
We are a nation that needs a national anti-poverty strategy. We are a nation that needs a housing strategy of $40 billion over 10 years. We are a nation with seniors who are not able to make ends meet. OAS and CPP need a major re-evaluation. We are a nation where so many families rely on the Canada child benefit. To me, all of this really speaks to the fact that our nation is broken. Our system is broken. Will this motion be enough? Sadly, I am really not sure.
However, I do know that there is a lot of waste. Until this point, 2020, there has been a cost of $1.1 billion for this implementation. There will be $1.3 billion by 2025. Those are not small amounts at all, especially with a 2019 budget projection of $355.6 billion. That is just so much money that I am very torn about this as well.
As I said, I am torn because I see the benefit of this for Canadians in terms of their quality of life and time for recovery, but I also worry about the entire system and the costs of it as well.
We have seen no shortage of waste from the government, unfortunately, with $20 million going to the food waste reduction challenge. That is a lot of money for such a challenge. The last time we sat here, we saw the government give $50 million to Mastercard. That is a significant amount of money. We have to ask if this large budget is being spent effectively.
In the last Parliament, we talked about the $12 million that went to Loblaws to retrofit fridges. These are not insignificant amounts at all. It goes back again to what I said about putting our money where our people are, rather than wasting it. As I also mentioned, the system is broken. I wish I could say the waste stops there, but it does not: $950 million was allocated for an innovation supercluster initiative to create 50,000 jobs. We do not know if that is actually happening.
It is very hard to consider investing so much more money in our government on the backs of taxpayers when we have this incredible amount of waste, this incredible debt and this incredible deficit. These are definitely things that we have to consider.
As my colleague and the previous speaker alluded to as well, the government does things halfway. I saw in its 2019 platform that it was considering going to 26 weeks, not quite halfway but somewhere between the 1971 precedent, which I agree is outdated, and the amount of time proposed by the Bloc in this motion.
Again, it is a government that does things halfway, such as letting Trans Mountain go on and on with no approval, then finally purchasing the pipeline for $4.4 billion, but to what end? We are seeing the government waffle and waver again here with Teck Frontier.
There is the government's inability to take a stand or make a decision on something. It just tries to find a sloppy compromise without being principled, really making a difference or changing anything. It is incredibly frustrating.
I thank the Bloc for bringing forward this motion today, although I was very disturbed to see that one of their final three proposed motions was to vote down Teck Frontier. It was a complete rejection of that. I feel that we as Conservatives have been very kind toward the Bloc and Quebec initiatives, especially in regard to NAFTA, steel, aluminum and those sorts of things. It was very disappointing to see that motion made it to potentially be one of the final three.
I often hear that the systems in Quebec are really superior, especially in terms of day cares.
I hear all the time about these incredible systems that they have there. Maybe this is a place where we can give the Bloc the opportunity to show leadership and lead the way for us together as one House of Commons and one chamber. Perhaps they are doing that for us in this moment.
However, I will finish by saying that I am very torn. I believe that the system is broken, but I also believe that we need to put our money where our people are. I look forward to further debate on this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to thank my colleagues for bringing forward this important motion, allowing us to debate this important priority for the NDP. As many people will know, this was an NDP campaign promise in the most recent election. It put this idea forward in a bill in the past two Parliaments and is delighted to do so in the 43rd Parliament as well. However, this has not been the case with the Liberal government.
When they were not in government, the Liberals voted for increases in special employment insurance sickness benefits, but as soon as they were elected, that support vanished. Instead, we were told that they would “revisit” the issue. The flip-flopping at the expense of sick Canadians is unconscionable and I urge my government colleagues to support this important motion.
While I am so proud to be a member of the New Democratic Party and am delighted to stand in support of this motion, I would like to take this opportunity to share a deeply personal story, which I hope will illustrate the need for the House to pass this bill.
On November 26, 2016, my doctor told me that I had a very aggressive form of cancer and would require emergency surgery and the removal of a significant portion of my large intestine. I was the mother of a nine-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter and I have never been more afraid than I was at that point.
My life very quickly changed. I went from being a very busy mother, driving kids to swim practices, hockey games and music lessons, and being the executive director of a non-profit organization, to a cancer patient who had non-stop medical appointments and tests. It took me months to recover from my surgery and cancer treatment. I could not do anything. I could not get groceries. I could not do the laundry. I could not drive or even get out of bed without assistance.
It was a terrible time in my life, but I still recognize how lucky I was. I had access to incredible medical care. I had an incredibly supportive husband and family, and my husband had a good job with benefits. We were able to continue to pay our bills, buy the expensive pain medication and medical supplies and make ends meet. I did not have the added stress of worrying about supporting myself and my family while undergoing medical treatment.
In a country with as much wealth and prosperity as Canada, I hope that no Canadian would have to bear the additional burden of being unable to pay their bills, buy the nourishing food they need to heal or access the medication they need.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer published a report entitled “Cost Estimate of an Increase in the Duration of Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefits” and found that to increase the number of weeks of sickness benefits to 50 would require the employee premium rate to rise by a total of six cents from the baseline rate of $1.62 per $100 of insurable earnings.
The PBO found that 77% of recipients who used this benefit survived following illness, but were not ready to return to work once they had exhausted their 15 weeks. We are letting more than three out of four Canadians with major illnesses like this simply run out of options over an increase of six cents.
Almost one in two people in Canada will develop cancer at some point in their lives, an illness with an average treatment length of 52 weeks. Fifteen weeks of benefits are simply not enough to allow people to heal before returning to work.
With breast cancer, 25 to 36 weeks is the average time for treatment and recovery. For colon cancer, it is 37 weeks. With the benefit currently at 15 weeks, we know that it is not meeting the needs of patients experiencing these cancers. When will the government finally commit to making this change to increase these special benefits to 50 weeks?
We know that 50 weeks is what we give mothers after they give birth. Why would people who have life-threatening diseases not be given the same benefits? The Liberal government has just given $50 million to Mastercard and over $10 million to Loblaws, yet it cannot uphold its own promise to increase El benefits to the sick and injured.
Why is the government rushing to pay $50 million to a big company like Mastercard, but dragging its feet when it comes to helping ill and injured workers?
More than 600,000 people have signed the petition, calling on the government to increase EI sickness benefits from 15 to 50 weeks for workers who are sick. The NDP wants to fix the employment insurance system that many Canadians need to rely on when they are dealing with an illness so it no longer falls short by not providing the flexibility to support those who want to work when they can.
I will be splitting my time, Mr. Speaker.
In addition to an increase in special benefits, the New Democrats would like to see expanded access to retraining and the creation of a pilot project that would allow workers with episodic disabilities to access EI sickness benefits.
We want to prevent the situation that occurred in 2010, when the federal government transferred $57 billion from the employment insurance account into the government's general revenue.
Employment insurance is an important part of the Canadian social safety net. It is intended to assist Canadians who are facing financially challenging events like unemployment, injury and new parenthood. It is also intended to support Canadians who are afflicted with a serious illness like cancer and require lengthy periods of recuperation. They require the support the most.
Consecutive Liberal and Conservative governments have neglected our EI system, allowing it to become decimated and broken, unable to meet the needs of Canadians. It has not been revised since before I was born in 1971. It is time for an upgrade.
I urge all members to support the motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak today to the importance of extending the EI benefit to 50 weeks for people who are suffering illness.
Those who have followed the House for some time will know that in the last Parliament, the NDP had a private member's bill to accomplish exactly this. In the Parliament before that, the NDP had a private member's bill to accomplish exactly this. We are happy to continue pushing and arguing for this change, because we know it matters to a lot of Canadians.
I think everyone in the House and across the country who might be listening will have had the experience, either themselves or that of a loved one, a good friend or a work colleague, where they cannot perform their regular work duties due to an illness. We know what a difficult time that is in their lives, and that of their families and friends.
However, that difficulty is compounded, seriously, when they cannot pay their bills at the end of the month because there is no wage replacement in place. That is exactly why people might want to insure their wages, which is what Canadian workers do in conjunction with employers under the employment insurance program.
It is incumbent on us to allow that vehicle for Canadians to insure themselves. This is not a charity case. This is not a government handout. This is a program that employer and employees pay into to insure the wages of employees when they need it. Certainly, when people get cancer or some other form of serious illness that inhibits them from being able to go to work and do their jobs, that is exactly the kind of case in which they need that wage replacement. It is one of the reasons we have, and ought to have, employment insurance in the country.
Earlier in the debate today, a number of members asked “Why 50 weeks? What is special about 50 weeks?” The mentioned one reason why 50 weeks was important. If employees have been working for the amount of time required to qualify for employment insurance and they get laid off, those employees would get up to 50 weeks of coverage. It makes sense that if through no fault of their own, not because they were laid off but because they have become seriously ill, they would qualify for the same treatment as those who were laid off. That is certainly one very good reason why 50 weeks matters.
Another reason why 50 weeks matters is that one in two Canadians, in his or her lifetime, will have some kind of serious illness, with an average treatment length in the neighbourhood of 50 or 52 weeks. At some time, in all likelihood, half the people in this room will face a serious health challenge that will take almost a year to treat. It makes sense that if we are insuring ourselves against lost wages in the event of sickness, we do it in a way that is commensurate with the likely absence from work resulting from that.
A third reason why it makes sense to extend sickness benefits under EI to 50 weeks is because a lot of long-term disability plans kick in at the one-year mark. Right now, to get from the end of the 15-week coverage to when long-term disability would kick in takes somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 weeks. If we had a 50-week sickness benefit, that would make that transition period a matter of only a couple of weeks, effectively giving every Canadian, no matter what workplace they work in, whether they are unionized or non-unionized, whether their collective agreement has a short-term disability plan or not, a short-term disability plan to help bridge them to when a longer-term disability plan might kick in.
Those are three very good reasons to set the goal at 50 weeks. The only reason not to would be if there was a significant financial cost that Canadians could not bear. However, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has done a study on this very issue and has said that the difference in premiums would be approximately 6¢ on every $100 of insurable wages. Folks can correct me later if I am wrong. This sounds quite affordable to me. I think a lot of Canadians would not mind paying for this. That is purpose of having this debate.
We have had this debate many times in the House and we have heard a lot of compelling testimony as to why we ought to do this. It is frustrating for us on this side of the House that we have not been able to get there yet, because the reasons for getting there are quite compelling.
If we think about what that means for the plan, we are not talking about raising taxes. We are talking about somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1 billion a year to provide this important insurance to Canadians who are sick and not able to perform their duties at work.
I recall when the Liberal government in the mid-nineties made significant changes to the EI program. That government made it harder to access EI and it raised the premiums. Over 15 or 20 years, a relatively short period of time for the amount of money we are talking about, that government accumulated a $57-billion surplus in the EI account. The Conservative government then transferred it under the auspices of the PMO to do we know not what. We do not know where it went.
The idea that the employment insurance fund, which is funded apart from tax revenues through premiums paid by employees and employers, cannot afford to do an extra $1 billion a year, when that represents only 6¢ on $100 of insurable earnings, and when the government had such a massive surplus that was squirrelled away, is just a farce.
The fact is that $57-billion surplus could have paid for the extension of this benefit, which will do a lot for many Canadians right across the country, for over 50 years. We had the money. Where did it go? That is the question.
Even without getting that money back, the go-forward cost of making this change is a reasonable one for a very concrete benefit to Canadians who are living out some of the worst times of their lives. The sickness and the health challenges are enough. They ought not to be compounded by further financial difficulty.
Let us not kid ourselves either. Getting a 55% wage replacement is not exactly a financial paradise. It is not a panacea. Figuring out how to get by on that level of wage replacement is challenging enough for people who are facing serious illness. The least we could do is extend a hand to Canadians and ensure that the employment insurance program they already self-finance, along with their employers, covers them in times of great need.
That is why we are very proud to support the motion today. It is why we have been proud to bring this proposal forward many times in many other Parliaments. It is why, notwithstanding whatever might happen on this particular motion, the NDP is going to be there every step of the way fighting for this change until we get it done.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with our whip, my colleague from .
We know that employment insurance needs to be overhauled. This government did not get the job done in the last Parliament. The Bloc Québécois has always advocated for improvements to the employment insurance program and all its benefits.
Improvements to the special EI benefit for serious illnesses are long overdue. We can really see the problem when we know someone dealing with a serious illness like cancer.
On December 9, the leader of the Bloc Québécois and I spoke publicly in support of the demands of two cancer survivors. You will remember that Émilie Sansfaçon and Marie-Hélène Dubé came to the House as they had been fighting for years to have the federal government make necessary changes to the special sickness benefits and increase them from 15 to 50 weeks.
To that end, our motion is very simple and very clear. I am going to repeat it.
That the House call on the government to increase the special Employment Insurance sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks in the upcoming budget in order to support people with serious illnesses, such as cancer.
In its election platform, the Liberal Party promised to increase EI sick benefits from 15 to 26 weeks. That is fine, but it is not enough. It is not nearly enough.
Need I remind hon. members, as we did earlier, how this program got started more than 40 years ago? In fact, the Parliamentary Budget Officer talked about it. The original EI sickness benefit period of 15 weeks was based on surveys by the Department of Employment and Social Development showing that only 23% of claimants returned to work immediately after the 15-week benefit period ended. Among the remaining claimants, 82% took 16 weeks or more before returning to work.
Even when this benefit was created it was clear that just 15 weeks was woefully inadequate. The content of the program was therefore based on the proportion of claimants who returned to work more quickly rather than on the majority of the program's claimants. We could correct this mistake, which I would describe as historic, by supporting the motion before us today.
Let us imagine for a moment that we were diagnosed with a serious illness that prevented us from working and forced us to rely on these special sickness benefits. I am sure that we all have family or friends who are going through this. As if getting such news were not bad enough, these people also have to take the necessary steps and meet several criteria before they can access the program.
I will not get into details, but in order to qualify, a worker must have worked 600 hours to receive 55% of their earnings for 15 weeks. The House can raise that number from 15 to 50 to genuinely reflect the reality of those in need.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, extending EI sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 would cost an additional $1.1 billion a year. To absorb the cost, EI premiums would have to be raised by six cents per $100 of insurable earnings. That is feasible. We must not forget that this $1.1-billion cost is based on a benefit period of 50 weeks. However, that is not the reality. The 50 weeks of benefits would be in line with what workers receive when they lose their job.
Not everyone will take full advantage of 50 weeks of EI sickness benefits. The goal of every worker is to go back to work healthy, and the purpose of this program is to protect people who are really in need.
In terms of fairness, compassionate care benefits are a special case. We do not object to offering 26 weeks of benefits to people caring for loved ones at risk of dying within six months. What we find peculiar is that people caring for a loved one get more weeks of benefits than people who are sick themselves. That is not right.
When we say that the Liberals promised to offer 26 weeks of benefits because the Canadian Cancer Society and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada called for it, we are talking statistics. When we talk to people who are affected, like Ms. Sansfaçon and others who have received multiple cancer diagnoses or been diagnosed with MS, people who have been unable to work for more than 50 weeks, people who have been fighting for years, and unemployed workers' associations from all of our regions and those of other provinces, it becomes very clear that extending benefits to 50 weeks is a matter of fairness and dignity.
It is possible that not everyone will use 50 weeks of benefits. However, one thing that is certain is that 26 weeks of benefits are not enough. We will be creating a space where we neglect people who need benefits. We do not want to create a black hole in EI sickness benefits as we have done for seasonal workers.
We absolutely must guarantee 50 weeks of benefits to avoid future situations like the ones experienced by two individuals who came to testify. When someone is diagnosed with cancer and knows they will need treatment, their first thought should not be how they will make ends meet. Financial considerations should not be a greater concern than care and treatment. The testimony was very compelling.
We are talking about returning to work. Everyone hopes to go back to work. Our system is based on that. People who lose their job want to find another one. People who need sickness benefits for serious illnesses also hope to recover and go back to work. According to the Supreme Court of Canada, the employment insurance power “must be interpreted generously. Its objectives are not only to remedy the poverty caused by unemployment, but also to maintain the ties between unemployed persons and the labour market.”
The Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses provided some good statistics in the brief it submitted to the Standing Committee on Finance, including this fact: “Of all the G7 countries, excluding the United States but including Russia, Canada has the worst health benefits coverage of any country”.
Here, we make choices. We take care of our people. Employment insurance provides only 15 weeks of special benefits to a person with a serious illness, while workers who lose their job are entitled to benefits for up to 50 weeks. We have to restore fairness and give sick people the chance to recover with dignity.
Several similar bills have been introduced in the House. In 2012, the Liberals, who were on the opposition benches at the time, introduced one such bill, and the , who was just an MP back then, voted in favour of it, so it is possible.
The Liberal government claims to be working in a spirit of co-operation. It says it supports the middle class and workers. That means this bill could be passed quickly.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise to speak to this motion that is so important to me. For the benefit of those who are watching us on TV and who may be wondering why I am wearing a green ribbon, I want to point out that this week Quebec is celebrating Hooked on School Days. The members of the Bloc Québécois who rise today are proud to support Hooked on School Days, which are so important to our nation.
As I have said many times, I am a social worker by training. Before I became a member of Parliament I worked in a CLSC. I worked with the most vulnerable members of our community, including the sick and those who needed support. I am very proud to share a little about my job today, because it shows why I support this important motion.
Social workers in Quebec's health care network are fortunate to have good, unionized, secure jobs with group insurance that guarantees they will get paid in case of illness. The union negotiates this insurance. It helps workers get treatment and return to work quickly.
Today, I can say that, over the course of my career, I have met many people who do not have the privilege of having insurance or of having a job that gives them everything they need to get through difficult times in their lives.
The people we are talking about today and who will be affected by this motion, should the government support it, are the type of people who are not that fortunate, who do not have the privilege of having a job that guarantees them group insurance coverage at times of personal hardship. They are workers who like their jobs and have the misfortune of getting sick. When the doctor tells them about chemotherapy and radiation, the first thing they think about is how they are going to pay their rent if the treatment takes a long time or if the cancer comes back. I am not talking about a mortgage here, because people who own their own homes often have mortgage insurance that covers payments in the event of misfortune. I am talking about people in precarious jobs, who live in apartments, who do not own their own homes, and who get sick. I am talking about people who have to fight to beat a serious illness and quickly get back to work.
In my professional life, I met with people in this situation whose jobs were precarious, who were good workers, men and women who wanted to work and who paid EI premiums, fulfilled all their responsibilities as workers, but who became ill. This motion, this amendment of the Employment Insurance Act that the Bloc Québécois has been championing for many years, seeks to meet the needs of these people and of these workers in particular.
The government is telling us that it is too much to ask for 50 weeks, that benefits are increasing from 15 to 26 weeks. It is saying that the opposition always wants the maximum amount. That is a rather odd way of looking at things. As my colleague from stated, when someone has this serious illness and requires treatments that prevent them from working, when they become that statistic, the person who goes over the 15 or 26 weeks, it is not about exaggerating, it is about being compassionate, understanding and inclusive. This is a social safety net that Quebec and all provinces want to provide to their workers who become ill.
Let's now take a look at the 26 weeks that are provided to family caregivers. People in their mid-fifties like myself are often parents, grandparents and also family caregivers. As society is changing and people are living longer, people of my generation must support their children, grandchildren and parents.
Essentially, the Employment Insurance Act was amended to make things right and address this new social reality by increasing special benefits for caregivers to 26 weeks. It is a very good idea.
I have worked in a CLSC, and I can honestly say that this measure was really helpful, particularly for providing at-home support to seniors in rural areas. It enabled seniors and very sick people to leave this world with dignity, while surrounded by their loved ones.
Now, it is not right for someone to lose their income because they get sick and their treatments require them to miss work for more than 15 weeks. Clearly, the last thing someone in that situation wants to think about is how they will meet their financial obligations if they require further treatment.
When somebody has cancer and lives in a rural area, they must not only shoulder the burden of the disease, but also pay to travel in order to receive treatment, which is often only available in large urban areas. For example, if someone from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, which is in my riding, needs to get to Montreal for chemotherapy or radiation therapy, it takes an hour to an hour and a half to drive there and costs an average of $45 to $50.
Basically, people get only 15 weeks of employment insurance, even though they often have low-paying jobs that barely allow them to meet their financial obligations. These people have to pay out of pocket to travel for treatment.
The Liberals claim that the Bloc Québécois is being a bit greedy because they have already promised to extend the benefit period from 15 weeks to 26. They say that this is already a lot and that we should not cry wolf. They are suggesting that we keep thinking and that an amendment to the act, such as increasing the benefits to 50 weeks, could be introduced a little later.
I have seen a situation first-hand. A member of my family was diagnosed with cancer and fought it. His recovery and treatments lasted over 15 weeks. He was very happy, and so were we, to have group insurance so that he was able to honour his commitments.
We in the Bloc have a hard time understanding why it would be so complicated to amend the Employment Insurance Act and increase the benefit period to 50 weeks. We know that an amendment to such an important piece of legislation does not happen in every Parliament, and, as my colleague from said, we have a great opportunity to settle this issue of inequity and injustice once and for all.
For us, giving up and settling for 26 weeks is out of the question. We want to support these people who have to fight for their lives day after day to regain their health, get through their illness, and return to work.
In debates in the House, we do not talk enough about workers in that situation. I do not know whether any members of the House are actuaries, but it does not take a genius to know that not all sick workers will need 50 weeks to get better.
I believe that we have the means to do this. We have a golden opportunity, and I hope that government members will support our motion and be inspired by our arguments. These are workers with precarious jobs. They are the most vulnerable members of our society. They have the right to legislation that gives them better protection than they have now.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am pleased to participate in the debate on the opposition motion on employment insurance and sick benefits.
For starters, I want to say that our government is not blind to the financial difficulties that Canadians may face during the most challenging times of their lives. On the contrary, we take them very seriously. Health problems can change a person's ability to earn a living at any time.
We know that far too many Canadians are coping with serious illnesses, and are worried about being able to get the treatments they need and ending up relying on their families. A serious health problem can disrupt all aspects of their lives, whether it is a chronic or life-threatening illness, such as cancer, mental health illness, stroke, heart attack, etc.
We know that workers and their families face difficult, stressful situations because of this, particularly if they are also dealing with financial burdens. That is why we made changes to the employment insurance plan to make it more responsive to Canadians' actual circumstances.
First, I would like to highlight the employment insurance sickness benefit, which is an important measure supporting Canadians who are unable to work because of illness, injury or quarantine. It allows workers time to restore their health so that they can return to work.
Today, under the Employment Insurance Act, eligible claimants can receive sickness benefits for a maximum period of 15 weeks. Recipients have the flexibility to use their 15 weeks of sickness benefits during the 52-week benefit period. For example, in 2017-18, a total of approximately $1.7 billion in sickness benefits was paid to over 412,000 claimants.
Of that number, 64% of recipients did not use the full 15 weeks of benefits to which they were entitled. That being said, some recipients use up 15 weeks before they are able to return to work, and we are sensitive to the experiences of these Canadians and their families. That is why our government is committed to extending the EI sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 26 weeks in order to help workers pay the bills while they rest and recover.
The proposed extension would support Canadians who are diagnosed with a serious illness like cancer and who need to take time off from their jobs to receive treatment. Sickness benefits are a short-term income replacement measure for temporary absences from work.
It is important to note that in cases of chronic and long-term illness, workers also have other financial support measures at their disposal; for example, Canada pension plan disability benefits, private insurance plan benefits and support from provinces and territories.
Since 2016, our government has improved the flexibility of the employment insurance special benefits, which include maternity leave, parental benefits, sickness benefits, compassionate care benefits and family care benefits. Today, millions of Canadians provide informal care and support for critically ill family members. Canadians told us what they wanted, and we found ways of being more flexible and more inclusive for all families.
We announced special measures in budget 2017 to make it easier for caregivers to access EI benefits and give families more flexibility. These measures are making a real difference in the lives of Canadians.
One example is the creation of the new employment insurance family care benefit for adults.
This new benefit has made a huge difference in the lives of many hard-working Canadians who must take time off work to care for a loved one. This benefit of up to 15 weeks allows caregivers to provide care for a critically ill or injured adult family member.
I would also like to point out that, for the first time, immediate and extended family members of children who are critically ill have access to a maximum of 35 weeks of benefits, which was previously accessible only to parents.
This goes beyond the immediate family and relatives to individuals who are not relatives but are considered to be like family. For example, neighbours could be eligible to receive the benefits to provide care for a critically ill child. Caregivers can share the available weeks of benefits at the same time or at a separate time. It is estimated that approximately 22,000 families have accessed the new EI caregiving benefit since its creation.
Another very important aspect applies to caregivers of both children and adults. More specialists, family physicians and even nurse practitioners will now be authorized to sign medical certificates confirming that a child or adult is critically ill or injured.
This also applies to caregivers who access compassionate care benefits while providing care, including end-of-life care, for a child or adult family member.
This change makes the administrative process easier while allowing Canadians to focus on what really matters, being at the side of their loved ones. Every Canadian situation is unique, with different family and work needs, but every Canadian family deserves our support. That is why the EI benefit is now more flexible and more inclusive for Canadians.
In conclusion, what matters most to us is family. When a family member needs help, people must be able to provide care, and we must support these caregivers. We are committed to offering EI benefits that are more flexible, inclusive and, of course, accessible.
Our government promised Canadians that we would support parents and caregivers, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be here today and to rise in the House to talk about the employment insurance program and, more specifically, about maternity benefits, extended parental benefits and parental sharing benefits.
Becoming a parent can be a stressful time for many Canadians. The weeks leading up to the birth can be fraught with nerves and worry at the best of times. In other complicated cases, mothers-to-be may be on bed rest or even hospitalized. Whatever the case, we want to give Canadians the flexibility to choose the option that best meets their needs.
Our employment insurance program is robust and covers a wide range of life situations during which Canadians may need financial support, and maternity benefits is certainly one of them.
We understand how hard it can be for hard-working families to balance their career and their family responsibilities. This is why we have done a lot for parents so far. In December 2017, we launched the extended parental benefit, helping parents across the country to find the right work-family balance. Parents of newborn or newly adopted children are now able to choose between two options. The first option is to receive 35 weeks of parental benefits paid at the standard rate of 55% over 12 months. The second option is to receive 61 weeks of parental benefits for an extended period of time, corresponding to 33% of their average weekly income. They may in fact be paid over a period of 18 months.
In March 2019, we launched the parental sharing benefit. This benefit helps support parents, including adoptive and same-sex parents, in sharing a more equal distribution of the joy and the responsibility of raising their children. It does so by offering two options: providing an additional five weeks of employment insurance parental benefits when parents agree to share standard parental benefits; or providing an additional eight weeks for those who choose to extend parental benefit options. The increased flexibility will support parents in their ability to spend quality time in raising their children.
In addition, eligible mothers are now able to receive maternity benefits earlier, up to 12 weeks before their due date. This is more flexible than the benefits provided under the previous government, which limited benefits to eight weeks before the expected delivery date. I am proud that our government can help Canadians when they need it most.
Since 2015, we have embarked on a journey to modernize the program so that it reflects today's realities. One of those realities is gender equality. As a side note, I would like to mention that since 2018, the fourth week of September is now Gender Equality Week in Canada. This has been an opportunity for people to celebrate the progress we have made in advancing gender equality in Canada while reflecting on the work that remains to be done to make sure that everyone, regardless of gender, could reach their full potential.
Gender equality week is now enshrined into law, which is a very good thing. It is a good thing because it reminds us to celebrate our progress as a society, but it is also a week to reflect on the challenges and work that still lie ahead.
I mention this today because even if Canadian women are among the most educated women in the world, they are still the least likely to participate in the labour market and most likely to work part time. On average, women in Canada earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by men on an annual basis. Canadian women are under-represented in positions of leadership, and businesses in Canada are overwhelmingly owned by men.
It has been estimated that adding more women to the workforce could boost the level of Canada's GDP by as much as 4%. Providing Canadians with the opportunity to realize their full potential is not just the right thing to do: It is the smart thing to do for our economy.
Now, what does gender equality have to do with employment insurance maternity and parental benefits? The answer is, everything. In 2017-18, women represented 84% of all parental benefits claims. This indicates that child care duties continue to fall heavily on mothers.
Our government is committed to making evidence-based decisions that take into consideration the impacts of policies on all Canadians, and it fully defends the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
If we are serious about gender equality, we have to integrate it into everything we do. That is why as government, we applied gender-based analysis plus to the decisions that Canadians have elected us to make.
Equality between Canadian women and men will lead to greater prosperity, not just for women and their families, but for all Canadians. Gender equality is a principle that has guided this government in all our budgets. It has allowed us to take important steps to a more prosperous Canada. It is what drives the employment insurance parental sharing benefit. It is intended to support young families and encourage gender equality in the workplace and at home. This benefit helps to support a more equal distribution of home and work responsibilities.
As I mentioned earlier, it provides an additional five weeks of EI parental benefits when parents, including adoptive and same-sex parents, agree to share parental leave, or an additional eight weeks for those who choose the extended parental benefit option.
Since it was launched, more than 32,000 parents established a claim for extended parental benefits, higher than the anticipated 20,000 claims per year.
As an interesting fact, in Quebec, 81% of spouses or partners of recent mothers claimed or intended to claim parental benefits in 2017, compared with only 12% in the rest of Canada. In large part, this is due to the Quebec parental insurance plan, the QPIP. This “use it or lose it” approach is designed to create an incentive for all parents to take some leave when welcoming a new child, and to share equally in the responsibility of raising their children.
Equitable parental leave may lead to equitable hiring practices, reducing conscious and unconscious discrimination against women by employers and reducing stigma against men for taking parental leave. This benefit has been enforced since March 2019. As many as 97,000 Canadian parents are expected to claim the parental sharing benefit annually.
In closing, I would like to say that for the employment insurance program to continue successfully and play a major role, the government has to continuously make the program more adaptable, more flexible, more inclusive and more accessible.
We are committed to doing so, and continue to listen to all Canadians. Their preoccupations are ours. We took action to further the well-being of Canadians and we will continue to do so. By promoting equality, our government will help to create long-term prosperity for all Canadians.