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43rd PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • No. 018

CONTENTS

Tuesday, February 18, 2020




Emblem of the House of Commons

House of Commons Debates

Volume 149
No. 018
1st SESSION
43rd PARLIAMENT

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Speaker: The Honourable Anthony Rota

    The House met at 10 a.m.

Prayer


  (1000)  

[English]

Business of the House

    Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and if you seek it, I think you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:
    That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, today, Statements by Ministers, pursuant to Standing Order 33, shall be taken up at 11 a.m.; that the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands be permitted to reply to the statement; and that the time taken for these statements shall be added to the time provided for Government Orders.
    Does the hon. member have unanimous consent of the House to move this motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Speaker: The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    (Motion agreed to)


Routine Proceedings

[Routine Proceedings]

[English]

Chief Electoral Officer

    I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 43rd General Election held on October 21, 2019.

[Translation]

    This report is deemed permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

[English]

Parliamentary Budget Officer

    Pursuant to section 79.2(2) of the Parliament of Canada Act, it is my duty to present to the House a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer entitled “Economic and Fiscal Monitor—February 2020”.

[Translation]

    Pursuant to subsection 79.2(2) of the Parliament of Canada Act, it is my duty to present to the House a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer entitled “Considerations Regarding the 2020 Tax and Spending Review”.

[English]

Auditor General of Canada

    I have the honour to lay upon the table the fall 2019 reports of the interim Auditor General of Canada.

[Translation]

    Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(g), these documents are deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Supplementary Estimates (B), 2019-20

     A message from Her Excellency the Governor General transmitting supplementary estimates (B) for the year ending March 31, 2020, was presented by the President of the Treasury Board and read by the Speaker to the House.
    Mr. Speaker, I am tabling a copy of the supplementary estimates (B), 2019-20.

  (1005)  

Correctional Service of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, I am tabling the 2018-19 report of the Correctional Investigator as required under section 192 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
    I am also tabling the response to the 16 recommendations addressed to the Correctional Service of Canada.

[English]

Citizenship Act

     moved for leave to introduce Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94).

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

Interparliamentary Delegations

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, two reports of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group.
    The first concerns the Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance Conference, held in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, from May 6 to May 7, 2019. The second concerns the Western Governors' Association Annual Meeting, held in Vail, Colorado, U.S.A., from June 10 to June 12, 2019.

Health of Animals Act

     moved for leave to introduce Bill C-205, An Act to amend the Health of Animals Act.
     He said: Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand today and introduce this bill, which is seconded by my colleague, the member for Beauce.
    This bill addresses a critical issue, which is the securing of the biosecurity of our food supply, especially when there are trespassers on farm property and facilities. As the House may be aware, there are numerous protests on farm property and process plants across this country, and it is certainly not relegated to one segment of agriculture or one area of Canada. We have seen people enter hog farms in Abbotsford, B.C. and Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, a pork breeding facility in Ontario, and activists have even tried to remove animals from dairy farms.
    In my own riding of Foothills, a farmer was startled to come to his farm in the morning and see that dozens of protesters had broken into the property and into a barn and were trying to take turkeys. There are numerous examples, and I fear the situation will get worse if producers do not see something is done. I do not think activists understand the full consequences of their actions. We want them to understand that they are endangering the safety of livestock, families, farmers and workers. We understand that they care deeply about the soil, food safety, animal health and the environment, but I think my colleagues in this room would also understand and agree with me that mental health and anxiety within agriculture are at a crisis.
    These are important issues that we hope to address, but I have decided to focus my amendment to the Health of Animals Act to create a new offence. The act provides for the control of diseases and toxic substances that may affect animals or could be transmitted by animals to persons. The risks from viruses like the African swine fever are very real and potentially devastating to Canadian agriculture.
    Currently, there is nothing that addresses trespassers, which is what this bill aims to change. I look forward to engaging with my colleagues as we work together to address this important issue and the safety of Canada's food supply.

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

  (1010)  

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

     moved for leave to introduce Bill C-206, An Act to amend the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (qualifying farming fuel).
     He said: Mr. Speaker, it is my great privilege today to introduce an act to amend the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.
    Agriculture is a pillar of our economy and it is part of the fabric of our society. Agriculture, though, has been having a particularly difficult time. Our farmers are struggling out there. They are now facing multiple blockades in addition to pricing instability and trade disruptions. The pressures on our farmers today are innumerable. Therefore, it is with great satisfaction that I am introducing a private member's bill that would provide some relief to our farmers.
    One of the things I heard when I was travelling my riding, from farmers and non-farmers, is that the carbon tax is impacting the way they operate their businesses. In fact, the carbon tax is taking away up to 12% of their net income, so this is having a significant impact. There is currently an exemption for farmers, but only for gasoline and diesel. For whatever reason, both propane and natural gas were left out. That left many grain growers and farmers out in the cold, as they were drying their grain and paying thousands of dollars in carbon tax.
    Our friends in the government like to say that the carbon tax is revenue neutral. However, for farmers that simply is not the case. Their rebate may account for less than 10% of the carbon tax. Many are paying thousands and thousands of dollars in carbon tax every year, making their prices higher and making it more difficult to compete.
    My private member's bill would allow an increase in the exemption, to include both natural gas and propane, making life just a bit easier and more affordable for our farmers. This would allow farmers to invest in technologies to fight climate change, such as sequestering carbon and other sustainable practices that would make life a bit better for all Canadians.

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

    I want to remind all members in future that “succinct” is the key word, and to try to make it as brief as possible. I know we love our bills that we put forward and want to talk about them, but I just want to emphasize “succinct”.

  (1015)  

[Translation]

Business of the House

    Mr. Speaker, if you seek it, you will find unanimous consent of the House for the following motion:
     That, at the conclusion of today's debate on the opposition motion in the name of the member for Beloeil—Chambly, all questions necessary to dispose of the motion be deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Wednesday, February 19, 2020, at the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions.
    Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Speaker: The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    (Motion agreed to)

[English]

Petitions

Climate Change 

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present an online petition gathering steam. The petitioners are calling on this House to reject the proposal for a very large expansion, with over 14,000 hectares of wetlands to be lost. Petitioners note that if the expansion goes ahead, it would produce 260,000 barrels of bitumen a day and substantially increase greenhouse gases, blowing through our Paris targets. The petitioners call on this House assembled to reject Teck's Frontier mine and halt any existing or planned construction.

Opioids  

    Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House today on behalf of Vancouver Islanders who are petitioning the federal government over the opioid crisis. The petitioners note that the number of preventable deaths, which is well into the thousands now, has surpassed the total number of deaths from all other public health emergencies in the last 20 years including SARS, H1N1 and Ebola. They note that problematic substance use is a health issue, not a criminal issue, and that continuing the criminalization approach to this problem does nothing to solve it.
    Therefore, the petitioners are calling on the government to declare the current opioid crisis a national public health emergency. They would like to see the current drug policy reformed to decriminalize personal possession and the federal government to lead in establishing a network of safe supply so that those who are addicted to these harmful substances can get the help they need.

Climate Change  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition from voters on Vancouver Island who oppose the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline and do not want that pipeline to be expanded. The price tag for that pipeline has gone from $5.6 billion to $12.6 billion. The environmental destruction involved, and the way it will undermine our climate targets, is not acceptable to the petitioners and they would like to see plans for the pipeline expansion to be halted.

Pacific Herring Fishery  

    Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and privilege to table a petition on behalf of Vancouver Islanders from Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Courtenay, Hornby Island and Denman Island. They cite the importance of herring in the Salish Sea for salmon, killer whales, humpback whales, cod, halibut, seabirds and other interdependent species.
    They also cite that four out of five herring grounds are closed right now in coastal British Columbia because of DFO's failed management policies and that, in 2019, the fishery was fished at 25% of the biomass, which is 5% more than the department predicted. They note that the department is recommending the fishery be cut from 20% to 10% because it is a high-risk fishery. They want the government to take a precautionary approach until a whole-of-ecosystem-based management approach is put in place.
    This is not against the fishers. They are calling on the minister and the department to take swift action to protect our ecosystem. They are hoping that the government will pay attention because this fishery is set to open in less than two weeks.

  (1020)  

Questions on the Order Paper

    Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

Request for Emergency Debate

Relations with Indigenous Peoples  

[S. O. 52]
    Mr. Speaker, I rise to propose an emergency debate on the urgent need for the federal government to address the concerns regarding issues of aboriginal title and constitutional rights brought forward by the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en nation and protests in solidarity with the chiefs that have taken place across Canada. I believe this meets the bar of Standing Order 52(6)(a) that the matter proposed be “a genuine emergency, calling for immediate and urgent consideration”.
    Inaction by the government has allowed tensions to rise. This has put significant pressure on the economy and threatened jobs across the country. This morning all news networks, without exception, were speaking openly of a crisis in this country, and reports of the RCMP's use of force against land defenders have deepened this crisis.

[Translation]

    Given the urgency of these issues related to the Wet'suwet'en nation and the protests being held by its allies, I believe it is important to hold an emergency debate in Parliament today.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, Liberals support what the member is proposing, but I would highlight that there will be a ministerial statement at 11 o'clock on the issue.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 52, I rise today to request that the House hold an emergency debate on the issues that have motivated some indigenous communities to impose rail blockades and on the economic impact of those blockades.
    As parliamentarians, we cannot remain silent and allow this conflict to get any further out of hand, a conflict that, with each passing hour, affects more and more citizens and affects the relationship between the federal government and indigenous peoples across Quebec and Canada.
    The social climate has become volatile, and this crisis warrants an urgent response.
    I am therefore officially submitting this request for an emergency debate, which I hope you will authorize as soon as possible.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to say very briefly that we agree with the requests submitted by the NDP and the Bloc Québécois.

[English]

    This is obviously a matter of an emergency situation. We also want to make it very clear that we will always stand in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en.

[Translation]

Speaker's Ruling

[Speaker's Ruling]
    I thank the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby and the hon. member for La Prairie for their interventions. I am prepared to grant their request for an emergency debate regarding the relationship with indigenous peoples.

[English]

    This debate will be held later today at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment.

Privilege

Response by Justice Minister to Order Paper Question  

[Privilege]
    Mr. Speaker, I do not know if I have had the opportunity to do so, but I would like to congratulate you on your excellent position as my neighbour and as Speaker of the House.
    As we are talking about the relationship between first nation people, I rise on a question of privilege pursuant to Standing Order 48, to state that I believe my parliamentary privilege was violated by the Minister of Justice and his staff.
    It is my belief that the minister and his staff misled the House on a fundamental issue, which is the legal cost of fighting indigenous children at the Human Rights Tribunal and in Federal Court. I consequently believe that, because they have provided this misinformation, the minister should be held in contempt of Parliament.
    We have had a lot of talk this week about the importance of the rule of law. I find this issue especially pertinent when we are talking about the actions of the justice department and the Attorney General, who apparently believe they are above Parliament when it comes to their obligation to respond to Order Paper questions on fundamental questions of fact, not opinions on facts. If you will indulge me, Mr. Speaker, I will present the facts of this case as succinctly as possible.
    On December 9, 2019, I gave notice pursuant to Standing Order 39 of a written question seeking information regarding the legal fees for the hours and the associated costs the government has incurred due to legal proceedings related to Human Rights Tribunal cases against first nation children between 2007 and 2019. The Department of Justice provided a written response to this question in late January 2020 stating, “Based upon the hours recorded, the total amount of legal costs incurred amounts to approximately $5,261,009.14, as of December 9, 2019.”
    As a stand-alone figure, the idea that the federal government would have spent $5.2 million fighting the rights of the most vulnerable children in this country is shocking. However, it has come to my attention that these numbers are extremely misleading. I have brought this forward because evidence contrary to the justice official's came out last week when I was representing Canada in Washington, so this is my first opportunity to address this.
    Ms. Cindy Blackstock, who has been involved in this case from the beginning, has tabled documents she has received through multiple ATIPs from the justice department about the costs incurred between 2007 and 2017. The number Ms. Blackstock has provided, through the justice department's own documents, is $9.4 million spent fighting indigenous children in court.
    APTN has analyzed the numbers and has come up with a slightly more conservative figure of $8.3 million as of 2017, but that is still substantially higher than what the Minister of Justice stated the department has spent up until now. This does not include any of the costs incurred after 2017.
    I will remind the Speaker that when the government was found guilty of reckless discrimination against first nation children in 2016, the Prime Minister made a solemn vow that he would respect the rulings of the Human Rights Tribunal. He said he would address this and would not fight this.
    However, there have been nine non-compliance orders, as well as a battle in Federal Court attempting to quash the ruling and deny the rights of children who are in the broken child welfare system. It is clear the numbers we have up to 2017 from the Minister of Justice's office are higher than $8.3 million and higher than the false $5.2 million he provided through the Order Paper.
    How can the House make sense of these contradictory numbers? We are not talking about opinions. The issue goes to the heart of the Prime Minister's promise on reconciliation to create a new relationship based on trust. It must also be based on the trust of parliamentarians, when they use tools like the Order Paper question to get factual responses so they can do their jobs.
    This ongoing legal battle against first nation children has had a corrosive effect on the Prime Minister's brand and it would appear to me that it cannot be explained away as a matter of opinion attempting to downplay the numbers.
    Page 111 of Erskine May: A treatise on the law, privileges, proceedings and the usage of Parliament explicitly states that misleading the House can be considered an issue of contempt. It states, “The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt.”

  (1025)  

    Similarly, page 82 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice quotes the United Kingdom Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in listing various types of contempt, which includes “deliberately attempting to mislead the House or a committee (by way of statement, evidence or petition)”.
    We know being wrong is not a matter of privilege, but misleading the House is. That is why various Speakers, your predecessors, have used the test laid out in page 85 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice. It states:
...the following elements have to be established when it is alleged that a Member is in contempt for deliberately misleading the House: one, it must be proven that the statement was misleading; two, it must be established that the Member making the statement knew at the time that the statement was incorrect; and three, that in making the statement, the Member intended to mislead the House.
    I believe these tests can be met in this case.
     First, if we review the criteria that I have just read, the statement given to me was misleading because there exists in the public domain, in the documents of the Minister of Justice, conflicting information regarding these documents. The minister only provided me with the costs of the hours recorded, but not with the associated legal fees.
    Second, the minister knew that his statement was misleading since the ministry with which he is charged provided different information to Ms. Cindy Blackstock, yet his signature on the document was tabled in the House.
    Third, the minister intended to mislead the House since he intentionally avoided answering parts of the question that would provide clarity, a point made clear by the fact that the minister omitted to mention all additional legal fees and only provided the cost of hours.
    This is not about being wrong; this is about the fundamental question of the obligation of the government to speak truthfully in this chamber.
    I note that previous Speakers have ruled that in the event of contradictory information, the matter can be brought to the House to be dealt with.
    For example, the Speaker, on March 3, 2014, stated:
...the fact remains that the House continues to be seized of completely contradictory statements. This is a difficult position in which to leave members, who must be able to depend on the integrity of the information with which they are provided to perform their parliamentary duties.
    Accordingly, in keeping with the precedent cited earlier in which Speaker Milliken indicated that the matter merited “...further consideration by an appropriate committee, if only to clear the air”.
    I believe that the same situation exists today and that the remedy should therefore be the same.
    The fact that the Canadian government even spent a cent fighting the most vulnerable of its own citizens in court to deny them their indigenous rights and human rights is callous and shameful. However, the fact the government misled the House and provided incomplete or inaccurate information regarding the amount of money that it has wasted on such reprehensible actions is unacceptable. I asked the government to answer these fundamental questions. We need to know that the government will respond with true and accurate figures to an Order Paper question about how much money was spent at the Human Rights Tribunal.
    That is in accordance with page 63 of Erskine May's Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, which states that “...it is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.”
    Also, I am demanding that the Minister of Justice explain to this House and the Canadian public why the information that was provided in response to the Order Paper question differs so much from the information that was provided to Ms. Cindy Blackstock through multiple ATIP requests in his own department. The Canadian people have a right to know.
    I will wrap up here. In conclusion, this matters because what we are dealing with are the lives of children. It mattered to Kanina Sue Turtle, Tammy Keeash, Tina Fontaine, Amy Owen, Courtney Scott, Devon Freeman, Chantell Fox, Jolynn Winter, Jenera Roundsky, Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace, and all the other children who have been broken in this system that failed them. Parliament needs to know that these children were loved. We had an obligation to do better.
    The Parliament of Canada called on the government and the justice minister on December 11, 2019, just after we learned the horrific details of the death of Devon Freeman, to end his legal battle against the children. He has ignored the rule of Parliament. He has ignored the obligations under the Order Paper question. I ask you to address this.

  (1030)  

    I will take this question of privilege under advisement.
    I will hear very briefly from the hon. member for Perth—Wellington, for 30 seconds or less. I do not want this to turn into a debate.
    Mr. Speaker, in the interests of time, the opposition would like to reserve its right to return to the House, if needed, to address this question of privilege.

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

[Business of Supply]

[Translation]

Business of Supply

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits  

    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.
    He said: Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. NDP member for not taking up our entire opposition day.
    We are hearing about some very serious issues in the news, issues that have been commanding our attention and that will now be debating in the House, and rightly so, as we just agreed. I thank the Speaker for that. However, I am asking members today to make room in their thoughts, hearts and minds for an issue that may, on the surface, appear to be less urgent but that, in its own way, has a serious impact on the lives of tens of thousands and perhaps even hundreds of thousands of Quebeckers and Canadians.
    I would like to tell a little story. A few months ago, I met a Quebecker who told me about the situation being faced by his daughter Émilie Sansfaçon. This woman, who worked and paid EI premiums throughout her entire career, suddenly found herself unable to work. That is the very principle behind what we call insurance. It is an amount that you pay yourself or with others in order to be able to cope with a difficult situation that is hopefully temporary.
    However, Émilie was being granted only 15 weeks of benefits, when a regular worker employed by a given industry or the government could receive up to 50 weeks of benefits. That is a major problem for someone who has a serious illness, such as cancer, or who had a serious illness and then relapses, which is even worse.
    When I met with Louis Sansfaçon, Émilie's father, I was shocked to learn that this discrimination exists. To me, that seemed extremely unfair to people in serious need in our supposedly generous and open society and completely devoid of compassion toward them.
    We therefore raised the issue in Parliament and organized several meetings, one of which the Prime Minister did us the honour of attending, along with the minister. It emerged from that meeting that the Liberals would consider not only their own election promise of extending benefits from 15 weeks to 26, but also the possibility of extending them from 15 weeks to 50.
    I left the meeting thinking that we had gone from a ceiling of 26 weeks to a floor of 26 weeks, so that what might have been the maximum had become the minimum. The number of weeks would be somewhere between 26 and 50.
    Of course, there is no such thing as “semi-discrimination”. Either there is discrimination or there is not. If an ordinary worker is entitled to 50 weeks, someone who is unable to work for whatever reason should also get 50 weeks. It would be discriminatory to give that person 32 or 41 weeks.
    At least we were seeing some openness and some progress. At the time, we agreed that although we were seeing some progress and discussions—and of course things would move more quickly in the lead-up to the budget—we would exercise discretion in a spirit of collaboration, as we always do.
    Sadly, it did not happen. The reports we are hearing suggest that there is no measure, that the 26 weeks will not necessarily be guaranteed in this budget, and that the 50 weeks will not even be considered.
    By its own analysis, either the government came to the conclusion that this is not a good measure, and I would be curious to know why, or we got taken for a ride. Apparently they wanted to stretch this out, buy some time and see what they will do with this issue later. Obviously, that is not satisfactory to us.

  (1035)  

    The government, and particularly the Prime Minister, is quick to see discrimination everywhere, however it defines it and however imagined. In some situations, there truly is discrimination, but not in every case. In Quebec, we certainly feel the repercussions of comments that we believe are not entirely true.
    In this case, we have a technical and mathematical issue. People contribute to an independent employment insurance fund and then, one day, find themselves unable to do their job, either because it no longer exists or for a wide range of other reasons. Some of those workers will receive employment insurance benefits for 50 weeks, and others for fewer weeks, which is a clear example of discrimination.
    I am appealing to the government's real or purported values to ask it to be fair. Fairness means not being discriminatory. Fairness means applying the same rules to everyone. In this case, there are no linguistic, territorial, religious or other variables. We are talking about the ability to work, a foundation of modern western economies.
     Politicians tend to brag about Canada having a generous social safety net. The primary purpose of the social safety net is to protect the purchasing power of individuals, who in turn support economic activity while successfully maintaining a minimum standard of living and quality of life. In a way, parliamentarians have a solemn duty to protect this 20th century benefit.
    In this case, we would tend to say that it is good for some and not so good for others.
    Naturally we could make the argument about the cost. Still, Canada is not too poor to buy a pipeline, just to mention an arbitrary example. Canada is not too poor to chase a seat on the UN Security Council—which costs millions of dollars—even if it means casually shaking hands with Iran's foreign minister.
    We have the money for lots of things. However, when it comes to the fair implementation of values shared by Canada and Quebec that we consider to be fundamental, we suddenly do not have the money. Clearly, we cannot accept that argument.
    The Parliamentary Budget Officer studied the issue. He found that it would cost just over $1 billion annually if all workers with serious illnesses received EI benefits for the entire period of 50 weeks. We know that very few people with an illness preventing them from working will actually be away from their jobs for 15, 25 or 30 weeks.
    Therefore, the real costs are unknown, but they surely represent less than half the estimated amount. We are talking about amounts that the government readily allocates to matters that could be deemed to be less important. Employment insurance is a fundamental responsibility of the state.
    This is ultimately all about compassion. Some of us are naturally a little more sensitive than others, while others are a little more ostentatious about it. I would like us to be less ostentatious and to take real action.

  (1040)  

    I would like to see us be unanimous, or at least in agreement, about Canada's and Quebec's shared values. I would like to see members stop hiding behind ostensibly economic arguments that may or may not be valid to put off doing the right thing. The government and its leader have expressed values, and I want nothing more than to take them at their word. I encourage them to be clear on their position today and for the vote tomorrow, so that we can put an end to this discrimination that is just as unacceptable as any other form of discrimination. I encourage everyone to show compassion, understanding, justice and fairness to the tens of thousands of people who are suffering in the worst possible way. I believe this to be our fundamental duty, and I urge the House to vote accordingly.

  (1045)  

    Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech by my colleague from Beloeil—Chambly. I rose in the House last week, and I am very attuned to the matter we are debating.
    The member spoke about compassion and discrimination, but what about the Canadians and Quebeckers who are not employees but self-employed workers?
    He told us about discrimination based on the number of weeks, but I find that not including all Canadians who contribute to Canada's prosperity is discriminatory.
    I would like my colleague to speak to that.
    Madam Speaker, there are some subjects and circumstances that lend themselves to some minor adjustments and there are others that do not. The matter we are discussing falls into the second category. If our esteemed colleague would like to propose something, then, my goodness, that would be wonderful. We are listening.
    Self-employed workers who register for the program can access employment insurance benefits. In addition to this change, which seemed necessary, everyone experiencing financial difficulties on top of an economic issue should definitely have support. That goes without saying.
    In this case, we are targeting a specific and recurring issue that has already been raised, one that the government already said it would examine. We are asking if this can be resolved.
    If the Conservatives want to fix more than this one issue, if they want to expand the social safety net, they surely know that it is in our DNA to do so and that we will be pleased to see their concerns come to the fore. We are open to that.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I thank the Bloc leader for bringing forward this important debate.
    The NDP has been bringing forward private members' bills to address this problem at least as far back as the 39th Parliament. Not only are the Liberals at fault, but also the previous Conservative government. This is one of the easiest fixes. I have dealt with so many constituents who fall in the gap between 15 weeks and one year. They need a year at least in order to qualify for Canada pension plan disability benefits, and it is such an easy fix.
    The Liberals and the Conservatives have failed so many Canadians. This is an important debate. I really hope that in this 43rd Parliament we get this done. I ask the leader of the Bloc to add his comments to that.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, it sounds like many of us are on the same page. Now all we need to know is where the government stands.
    I recognize that other MPs have raised this issue before. Our riding offices actually deal with a lot of cases related to these issues.
    I would imagine that government MPs have also been asked to intervene on this issue and that there will be discussions on the subject eventually. Recently, another issue came up that I will not name because I do not want to upset certain members, but some Liberal MPs indicated to their party that they are not comfortable with its position. That happens, and that is part of democracy.
    Those people may also have had constituents come into their office with EI problems, so maybe they can push government higher-ups for progress on this file.

  (1050)  

    Madam Speaker, I would like to know why the Bloc Québécois opted for exactly 50 weeks.
    Madam Speaker, if a factory worker anywhere in Canada or Quebec were to lose his job, and if he had accumulated the number of hours required under the system to be eligible for benefits, he would get up to 50 weeks. It is merely the same number of weeks given to any other worker. That is why we decided on the same number, 50 weeks.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, the leader of the Bloc Québécois talked about values. When I think of the values, I think of the literally hundreds of millions of dollars, record high amounts, that have been spent by this government over the years on health care. Many of those millions went toward cancer. I also think of the hundreds of thousands of individuals lifted out of poverty.
    On this specific issue, even in the days when we were in opposition, the leader of the Liberal Party often advocated for many Liberal members of Parliament to look at ways we could make further enhancements.
    Why is the member fixated on the 50 weeks? Is there some sort of rationale that was used for the number 50?

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I am happy to say it again. Someone who works for a company and loses his job has access to a certain number of weeks of benefits. Someone who must stop working because of a serious illness is entitled to a certain number of weeks of benefits. We should put in an “equal” sign to equate both situations. It is as simple as that.
    Besides that, would we invest hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in developing a new, amazing car but allow it to be missing a wheel? If it is missing a wheel, it is not a very good car.
    In many respects, we have an excellent health care system; I do not disagree with that. It would be even better if the government were to mind its own business and transfer to the provinces the money it owes them by increasing health transfers to 5.2%, as all the provinces have requested.
    In this case, however, this is an independent fund to which people contribute their own money. It is not even the government's money, in the traditional sense.
    I think we can simply improve the system at a relatively low cost and turn this inequity into justice.
    Madam Speaker, I want to commend my leader on his excellent speech. I also want to thank him for choosing this topic for the first opposition day.
    There is one aspect that has not been raised. The employment insurance fund currently has a $4-billion surplus. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates this measure will cost $1 billion, but in fact it will cost roughly half that at $500 million or $600 million. In other words, it would cost next to nothing to adopt this measure.
    The Sorel-Tracy regional association of unemployed people testified at the Standing Committee on Finance. It said that if the EI fund were empty, it would simply take a contribution of 6¢ an hour. Let's not forget that employees and employers are the ones who pay for employment insurance, not the government.
    Why not implement this system immediately?

  (1055)  

    Madam Speaker, it feels a bit odd responding to a colleague. Now I know how our friends across the way must feel most of the time.
    The notion of little to no cost is absolutely extraordinary. I find it very interesting in this case because that brings us back to what we were saying earlier. It brings us back to the notion of values. It brings us back to what is supposed to characterize our work.
    It brings me back to another thing I touched on. There are people among us right now who personally or whose loved ones have a serious health issue that is causing a great deal of concern. We should put ourselves in their shoes.
    Imagine if one of our loved ones, one of the people or the person we love the most in the world, had a serious health problem. Would we not want to be free from worrying about other considerations—

[English]

    I will let the hon. minister know that we will have to interrupt her speech at 11 o'clock.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I want to start by saying that our hearts are with Émilie Sansfaçon. She is incredibly brave, and we thank her for taking the time to come to Ottawa to meet with me and the Prime Minister to explain just how serious this situation is. We understand that it is very serious.
    I am pleased to rise in the House of Commons to discuss the motion before us today. I want to acknowledge that we are on unceded Algonquin territory.

[English]

    Today's motion touches on a key Canadian value, which is how we take care of each other when we are sick. We are not a country where the sick are abandoned; that is not the Canadian way.

[Translation]

    We have a solid social safety net, and one aspect of this net is our employment insurance system.

[English]

    I am proud to be responsible for this program in my new role as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. In this role, the Prime Minister has asked me to undertake a number of measures to strengthen this important Canadian program.

[Translation]

    As everyone knows, workplaces and families are changing. Naturally, employment insurance sickness benefits need to change as well. The employment insurance system has remained a pillar of Canada's social safety net since it was created in 1940. Since then, life has changed considerably.

[English]

    It is time to see how employment insurance sickness benefits can better support Canadians. I will first take a moment to describe what the program is currently meant to do and what it is like now.
    Currently, the EI sickness benefit provides up to 15 weeks of income replacement for Canadians who are unable to work because of illness, injury or quarantine.

[Translation]

    Employment insurance sickness benefits were designed to help Canadians stay connected to the labour market and to provide them with financial support during the healing process. This will allow them to return and contribute to the labour market without having to bear any undue financial hardship. These sickness benefits are in addition to other support measures available in the case of illness or long-term disability through the Canada pension plan disability benefits and employers' health care plans.

[English]

    On average, people who claimed sickness benefits in the 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 get back to work. Among these 150,000 Canadians, we know that women and older Canadians were more likely to need more than the 15 weeks. This is a very serious issue facing Canadians with sickness or injury.

  (1100)  

[Translation]

    Imagine that someone is raising children alone and suddenly is unable to pay the bills. No one needs that kind of pressure—
    The hon. minister will have 16 and a half minutes to finish her speech when we resume debate.

Routine Proceedings

[Routine Proceedings]

[English]

Relations with Indigenous Peoples

    Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by recognizing that we are on the ancestral land of the Algonquin people.
    People are troubled by what they have been witnessing this past week. Young, old, indigenous and newcomers are asking themselves what is happening in the country. They are asking what lies ahead for themselves, for their communities and for Canada. They know that these protests are serious, that this is a critical moment for our country and for our future. So do I.
    On all sides, people are upset and frustrated. I get it. It is understandable, because this is about things that matter: rights, livelihoods, the rule of law and our democracy.

[Translation]

     To those affected by the blockades and protests, I know that you are going through difficult times. Rest assured that our government is working hard to find a solution. Our government’s priority is to resolve this situation peacefully, but also to protect the rule of law in our country. That is a principle we will always stand up for.

[English]

    It is past time for this situation to be resolved. However, what we are facing was not created overnight. It was not created because we have embarked upon a path of reconciliation recently in our history. It is because, for too long in our history, for too many years, we failed to do so. Therefore, finding a solution will not be simple; it will take determination, hard work and co-operation. There is no relationship more important to Canada than the one with indigenous peoples. Today, as Prime Minister, I am once again formally extending my hand in partnership and trust.
     Over the last 11 days, our government has been working on a path forward, even as many have been saying we should give up. We know what is at stake. We know that we cannot afford to fail. Therefore, we are creating a space for peaceful, honest dialogue with willing partners.
    As we heard this morning from Mohawk leaders and from National Chief Perry Bellegarde, we need to resolve this through dialogue and mutual respect.
    To the Wet'suwet'en and Mohawk nations, and indigenous leaders across the country, we are listening. We are not asking that they stop standing up for their communities, rights and for what they believe. We only ask that they be willing to work with the federal government as partners in finding solutions. They remind us, rightly so, that too often trust has been betrayed in the history of indigenous negotiations with Canadian governments. In fact, that underlines the difficulty of solving this situation today. However, our common ground is the desire to arrive at solutions.
     We cannot resolve this alone. Just like we need indigenous leaders to be partners, we also need Canadians to show both resolve and collaboration. Everyone has a stake in getting this right.

[Translation]

     Let us be clear. Our government will continue to work night and day to quickly find a peaceful solution. In the past, we have seen just how quickly these situations can change. I know that we all want to find a solution, and at the same time we must prevent things from escalating. I again convened the incident response group yesterday to discuss the situation and our path forward. I have also spoken with premiers across the country about the impact of blockades on farmers, entrepreneurs, families and workers across the country.

  (1105)  

[English]

    Over the weekend, the Minister of Indigenous Services met with representatives from Tyendinaga, as well as other members of the Mohawk nation. I have committed to the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs that the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations will meet with them any time. I hope the offer will be accepted.
    This is our opportunity now to bring these perspectives together. What is the alternative? Do we want to become a country of irreconcilable differences, where people talk but refuse to listen, where politicians are ordering police to arrest people, a country where people think they can tamper with rail lines and endanger lives? This is simply unacceptable.
    We cannot solve these problems on the margins. That is not the way forward. I know that people's patience is running short. We need to find a solution and we need to find it now.
    I have spoken in the House about how my father faced protests over the debate about aboriginal and treaty rights in the Constitution. Over 30 years later, many of those questions still linger, which is why our pace of change must be even faster, and not only in this situation.
    Despite having invested more than any other government to right historic wrongs, to close persistent gaps, we know that there is still more, much more to be done. It is unacceptable that there are people who still do not have access to clean drinking water, that indigenous women and girls still go missing and are murdered, that there are people without housing and good education. It is unacceptable that indigenous peoples are still denied rights and lands, so we need to keep finding solutions. That can only happen by working together and by listening.

[Translation]

    As a country we are called upon to find a path forward. It is our job to choose respect and communication. We must not embark upon a path where we refuse to listen, or where we give in to hostilities. That is not the solution.

[English]

    There are those who would want us to act in haste, who want us to boil this down to slogans and ignore the complexities, who think that using force is helpful. It is not. Patience may be in short supply and that makes it more valuable than ever.
    Indigenous rights, climate action, law and order and building a clean economy, we will not achieve these things by degrading our—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    This is a very serious topic that we are discussing today and I am starting to hear heckling from both sides, which really troubles me. I want everyone to take a deep breath and listen to the speakers we have today. We have more coming.
    The right hon. Prime Minister.
    Mr. Speaker, I will repeat my last sentence. Patience may be in short supply and that makes it more valuable than ever.
    In this country, we are facing many important and deep debates, debates about the future livelihoods of our children, the future of our environment, our relations with countries around the world and our positioning on things that are fundamental at a time of anxiety. More and more Canadians are impatient to see those answers. More and more people are frustrated that there is such uncertainty. More and more we see those debates carried with increasing intensity on the margins of our democratic conversations.
    The place for these debates is here in this House. The place for these debates is around kitchen tables and community centres in the country. Yes, there is always a place for Canadians to protest and express their frustrations, but we need to ensure we also listen to each other. The reality of populism, and its siren song in our democracies these days, is a desire to listen only to ourselves and to people who agree with us and not to people of another perspective.
    The concern with action before discussion and the need for reasonable, reasoned debate in this place are at the centre of what we have to continue to move forward with as a country. Indigenous rights, climate action, law and order and building a clean economy are things we will not achieve by degrading our democracy. We must be honest about why we are here. We must be open to working together to move forward, not just in the days ahead but as we make progress on everything from implementing indigenous rights and title, addressing historic wrongs and ending long-term drinking water advisories. As a country and as a government, we need to continue the work we are doing and we need to continue to walk this road together.
    I say to everyone that we are extending our hands in good faith for dialogue. The opportunity is there on the table right now. We are in this together: the worker, the senior, the indigenous leader, the protester and the police officer. Let us have the courage to take this opportunity and take action together to build a better path for all Canadians.

  (1110)  

    Mr. Speaker, that was the weakest response to a national crisis in Canadian history. I listened to the Prime Minister's word salad just now and at least two key things were missing: a clear denunciation that the actions of these radical activists are illegal and some kind of an action plan that would put an end to the illegal blockades and get our economy back on track. The Prime Minister's statement was a complete abdication of responsibility and of leadership.
    We are at an important time in our country's history, a time when we have to decide who and what our country stands for. Will we be a country of “yes”, where big national projects can get built and our country can grow and develop, or will we be a country of “no”, where a few loud voices can shut down development and prosperity for all?
    Will our country be one of the rule of the law, or will our country be one of the rule of the mob? Will we let our entire economy be held hostage by a small group trampling the legal system that has governed our country for more than 150 years?
    Let me be clear. Standing between our country and prosperity is a small group of radical activists, many of whom have little to no connection to first nations communities. They are a bunch of radical activists who will not rest until our oil and gas industry is entirely shut down. They may have the luxury of not having to go to work every day, and they may have the luxury of not facing repercussions for skipping class, but they are blockading our ports, railways, borders, roads and highways, and they are appropriating an indigenous agenda, which they are willfully misrepresenting.
    The Prime Minister's elevation of these protesters to the same level as the thousands of men and women in first nations communities across our country who have been trying in good faith to right the wrongs of Canadian history is a disservice to the spirit of reconciliation.
    The Prime Minister has emboldened and encouraged this kind of behaviour by cancelling other big projects based on political considerations instead of science and facts.

  (1115)  

    The reality is that a vast majority of members of the Wet'suwet'en people support the Coastal GasLink project. Every single elected band council on the Coastal GasLink route supports this project. Even the majority of hereditary chiefs support this project. The vast majority of first nations community members themselves support this project because it will create jobs and it will create opportunities. It will lead to investments in their communities and, in the end, it will help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
    This is a fantastic opportunity for the Wet'suwet'en people, so why are these radical activists opposing this project? For them this is just a warm-up act. It is a warm-up act for what they consider to be the next fights against Trans Mountain and against Teck Frontier. In the end their goal is to shut down our entire energy industry.
    It is important to remember who the victims of this have been and who have been victimized by Liberal inaction. They are the farmers who cannot get their grain to market. They are the small business owners who cannot get their shipments in time. They are the homeowners who may face trouble getting their home heating fuel for the winter. They are the workers facing layoffs. The ultimate victims are the Wet'suwet'en members themselves who are looking for prosperity for their children.
    Conservatives have been calling for common sense and appropriate recommendations to end these illegal blockades. We have called on the Liberal government to enforce the rule of law. What we were expecting today was some sort of an announcement about a plan that would put an end to these illegal blockades. Instead, today we heard literally nothing.

[Translation]

     Everyone has the right to say their piece, regardless of whether we agree or disagree, but nobody, and I mean nobody, has the right to hold our economy hostage.

[English]

    The blockades across our country are illegal and it is time the government stepped in and did something about that. On this side of the House, we stand with the farmers. On this side of the House, we stand with commuters. On this side of the House, we stand with workers facing layoffs. We stand with everyday, hard-working Canadians. Most importantly, on this side of the House, we stand in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people.
    We stand in solidarity with the elected councillors of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation. We stand in solidarity with the majority of hereditary chiefs from the Wet'suwet'en First Nation who recognize that these types of projects and investments are the only way to lift first nation Canadians out of poverty, give them hope and opportunity, and give the next generation of indigenous Canadians the same quality of life that everyone else in this country enjoys.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I must clarify what the Conservative leader means when he uses the phrase “this side of the House”. We sit on the same side of the House, but clearly, no member of the Bloc Québécois would ever take sides within a first nation, calling some people bad guys and others good guys, depending on whether they agree with the Bloc.
    Who are we, in white society, to get between them and pass judgment on them based on whether they agree with the common interest of the moment? The line between the members on this side of the House is here.
    Furthermore, I have to ask the Prime Minister why it took him 12 days to intervene when it was clear from the very beginning that this would be a serious national crisis.
    Also, why do I feel like I just heard an election speech from 2015? We heard statements about all sorts of highly laudable values, principles and virtues, but with nothing concrete behind them. I understand that negotiations must happen somewhere. I understand that open lines of communication are needed. I understand that the Prime Minister does not want to negotiate in public.
    That is fine, but the government does not convene Parliament to make a ministerial statement if it has nothing to say, and yet, that is what we just witnessed. The way forward does not seem much clearer, but the errors do. First, it seems we have to make a decision. It is almost like we have to choose today in the House between respect for first nations, respect they deserve, and the Canadian economy, as though those two things are automatically and hopelessly irreconcilable. It is almost as if it were impossible to find a solution to the crisis that would get key components of the Quebec and Canadian economies moving again without undermining the talks requested by the first nations. I, for one, think it is possible.
    As a brief aside, I want to once again ask who we are to judge. After all, we are claiming our approach is legitimate based on a law passed in 1876 that imposed a governance model on first nations that stemmed from our great sense of white superiority. Some first nations members are not convinced that this is the best approach. This debate is theirs to some extent. That is mainly what this is about. We are somewhat obligated to respect and listen to first nations. In that respect, I agree with the fact that the government wants to finally have a conversation.
    However, there are certainly some existing tensions. Members must remember that, not so long ago, the government either authorized or turned a blind eye to the use of snipers near Wet'suwet'en territory. I can see how that might create some tension. I can see how some people might not feel safe.
    On the heels of that, the message is to avoid going down a path of tension and violence. I could not agree more. That should never have been allowed. We have heard a litany of excuses over the years. This is a good opportunity to apologize for allowing such a thing to happen, which is certainly a fundamental aspect of the current crisis.
    I do not want to give anyone the impression that I am condoning certain actions. This cannot go on. Some first nations people have called for reason.

  (1120)  

    I can imagine everyone's relief at the thought that maybe, by their own initiative, there would be conversations, processes or reassurances that would produce the urgently needed result of ending the blockades. Negotiations necessarily involve people reacting to other actions.
     That is what has to happen. It is also vital to be open to profound, fundamental cultural differences, instead of simply imposing our own values by banging on desks. First nations have the right to be different. I think we need that perspective and restraint.
    Although the Wet'suwet'en are not unanimously agreed on the issue of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, I think it is important to at least have the wisdom to give them a space where they can have the necessary discussions.
    What actions should be taken? I do not have the authority to answer that question, because I am an observer who only speaks for Quebec. However, this crisis is having a serious economic impact on Quebec.
     This crisis falls within the purview of British Columbia, and we respect provincial jurisdiction. However, apart from all the otherwise highly commendable speeches and values, I wonder if it might be advisable to seek a complete suspension of the work, if only on a temporary basis. It would then be perfectly legitimate to ask the first nations to dismantle their blockades across Canada and Quebec.
    I think that would be a clear, concrete and measurable action that the first nations could surely interpret as a gesture of genuine openness, one that would go beyond mere words, which have all too often only led to disappointment over the past few years.
    I urge the government to take concrete action and propose a clear, measurable solution that I hope will be well received. I want to reiterate that the methods adopted by the first nations are unacceptable and are harming their own economy as well as the Canadian and Quebec economies as a whole. This issue needs to be resolved quickly and definitively. If that is the government's intention, it can count on our collaboration.

  (1125)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge that while the Prime Minister has spoken today on a very important crisis, he has not shown leadership on this matter for over a month.
    I want to begin my comments by acknowledging the fact that it is inspiring to see the youth rising and to see people of all walks of life standing up for human rights, standing up for climate justice.

[Translation]

    I am inspired by young people fighting for the environment and human rights. It is inspiring.

[English]

    I also want to acknowledge the helplessness and uncertainty that many farmers, local producers and business folks are feeling right now. I know there are a lot of workers who are not able to go to work now. There are a lot of people who are worried about whether they will be able to make ends meet because of the impacts.
    I am thinking about all of these people right now, all Canadians. I am also thinking about the people at the blockade who are standing up because they are so frustrated. They are so angry, and they are right to be angry.
    The context for what is going on, something the Prime Minister alluded to, is a deep frustration. It is historic, absolutely. If people have any compassion in their hearts, the bitter and horrible injustice faced by the first people of this land should result in some frustration and anger.
    This is a serious crisis we are faced with. Sadly, it is not what the Prime Minister referred to as an “infrastructure disruption”.

[Translation]

    We are facing a really serious crisis right now in Canada.

  (1130)  

[English]

    Canadians are expecting us to show some leadership. They are also expecting the Prime Minister to show leadership. Sadly, the reality is that the Prime Minister has let a lot of those people down.
    There have been centuries of broken promises to indigenous people, and those broken promises are not just broken words: They have resulted in massive injustice, massive inequality and the deaths of indigenous people. Indigenous people have been denied basic human rights. The Prime Minister promised to be different, but he broke his promises and did not show himself to be very different.
    Let us look at his record. The Prime Minister and the Liberal government members talk about their record, so let us look at what is going on in our country right now.
    A Human Rights Tribunal decision found that the government did not just underfund or discriminate against indigenous kids, but did so recklessly, willfully, purposefully. To add insult to injury, the government is taking first nations kids to court and is not even being clear about how many millions of dollars it is spending to fight them.
    Not only in child welfare has the Prime Minister and the Liberal government let down first nations, Inuit and Métis, but also when it comes to the funding of education for first nations and the funding of programs. Something as simple as the program to allow women to rightfully reclaim status has been underfunded. There have been massive inconsistencies between what the Prime Minister says and what he does.
    We are in the year 2020. I can accept no excuse that the Liberal government, coming off of a five-year majority, cannot ensure that every single indigenous community in this country has clean drinking water. With the technology and the wealth of our country, there is no excuse why clean drinking water cannot be assured as a right.

[Translation]

    It is completely unacceptable and incomprehensible that in 2020 we will not be meeting the targets and that not all indigenous communities will have access to safe drinking water.

[English]

    On top of that, when a young activist raised concerns about clean drinking water in a community at a private fundraiser, the Prime Minister mocked that young person in front of his wealthy donors. That was the response of the Prime Minister and it is part of why this crisis is where it is right now. The Prime Minister said he knew better than elders and that what young indigenous people really need is a place to store their paddles and canoes. That does not show a respect for the seriousness and gravity of the problem that colonialism has left for the first people of this land.
    On the current issue, more than a month ago the Wet'suwet'en chiefs made a request for the federal government to play a role. They specifically asked for the Prime Minister and the federal government to play a role in resolving this conflict. New Democrats asked a question of the government weeks ago. At the time, that question was laughed off. At the time, the Prime Minister said it was not his problem. He said it was “entirely under provincial jurisdiction.” I am glad to see that the Prime Minister now understands that a nation-to-nation relationship means that all levels of government must play a role and that the Prime Minister must play a role as well.
    It is encouraging to see that the Prime Minister is not calling for police to be sent in. We have seen the consequences of that type of response and we do not want to go there. However, it is troubling that it has taken so long for the Prime Minister to realize that there is a role for him and the federal government to play.

[Translation]

    It is disturbing to see that it has taken the government all this time to realize that it has a role to play in resolving this crisis.

  (1135)  

[English]

    The solution to all of this is going to require hard work. It is going to require that we respect the principles of a nation-to-nation relationship. It means having dialogue, having conversations. It means that the Prime Minister and the federal government have to play a role. It means we have to find a peaceful way forward that respects human rights, the freedom of the press and most of all the fundamental rights of indigenous people.
    The Truth and Reconciliation Commission laid a path forward. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples lays a course forward. However, the TRC's path forward has calls to action, not calls to empty words. It is time for the government and the Prime Minister to back up words with real action.

[Translation]

    Now is the time to take concrete action. This is not the time for lip service; it is the time for concrete action to solve the problem and achieve justice for indigenous communities.

[English]

    This is our chance to do better, not just say we will do better. If the Prime Minister is ready to move forward on a path of justice and fairness, then he can count on the New Democrats to work with him to deliver real solutions that create a path forward for justice and fairness and create a path forward out of this crisis.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I thank all my colleagues for giving me this opportunity to speak about this emergency situation that confronts us all with the reality of injustice and the challenge of reconciliation.

[English]

    This is a very important debate and this is a very important moment. During the constituency week when I was home in my riding, we discussed the blockades, the inconvenience, what it means for settler culture Canadians to face inconvenience when indigenous people have had their land, children and culture stolen from them, and efforts to annihilate who they are as people. We have to weigh our inconvenience against the challenge of the moment. One of my constituents, Priscilla, said that we should focus on the opportunity of such a rich conversation.
    Listening to some of the words of my colleagues, the leader of the official opposition reminded me of something. On May 4, 1877, General Oliver Otis Howard spoke of the frustrations he felt in dealing with the Nez Perce and their chiefs as they discussed what mattered to them. He stated that, “Twenty times over I hear that the earth is your mother. I want to hear it no more, but come to business at once.” This is not simple and it will not end overnight because it is based on a century and a half of injustice, oppression and colonialism.
    It is also based on the reality that since 1997, the Wet'suwet'en have had every reason to believe that based on a Supreme Court of Canada decision, the federal government would come and talk about the title for the Wet'suwet'en, which could be 22,000 square kilometres, and about what it means that the Supreme Court of Canada has said that their title and indigenous form of government, which predate Canada by thousands of years, have status in Canadian law.
    We must not ever set out the notion that there is a rule of law on one side and indigenous people on the other. Indigenous people have the law on their side. When the leader of the official opposition referred to “a small group of radical activists”, perhaps he meant the nine judges of the Supreme Court of Canada. They are the ones who said that title is title is title and that indigenous title is collective and intergenerational. Acknowledging that will explain why we stand in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary leadership.
    My colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith went up on January 19 and met with the hereditary leadership of Wet'suwet'en. The Green Party has been trying to appeal to the federal government from the beginning to not let the RCMP arrest people. The huge encampment cost Canada a whole year of a remote location of RCMP detachment encampment on the edge of Wet'suwet'en territory. It is very remote. My colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith went up there and found that they had offered an alternative route. This was acknowledged in the injunction case that granted an injunction to Coastal GasLink. The Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs had offered another location that would avoid the Kweese trail, but according to the court, Coastal GasLink unilaterally rejected the alternative.
    The federal government has to step up. I am glad the federal government is stepping up. It is true that on February 5 in this place, the Prime Minister said that “This is an issue that is entirely under provincial jurisdiction.” That is true insofar as the pipeline goes. It does not cross a provincial border, but it is massively untrue. We talk about indigenous rights, the Delgamuukw decision of 1997, the Tsilhqot'in decision of 2014. The big question to ask when first nations win in our courts is this: What is the statute of limitations on us doing anything about it?
    The Wet'suwet'en have been enormously patient and the Unist'ot'en camp has been sitting there for 10 years.

  (1140)  

[Translation]

    It should come as no surprise to see resistance from indigenous peoples across Canada. It is clear in all the agreements.

[English]

    The indigenous leadership across Canada has been saying for quite some time that if someone marches on any indigenous territory, they will respond as if someone had marched on their territory. This is an aspect of solidarity. This is the solidarity of indigenous people across Canada and their allies, people like me who are settler culture Canadians, who recognize that this is a turning point for this country, where we actually mean what we say.
    I heard a comment from the brilliant senator and former justice Murray Sinclair from the other place, who said, as in Paul Simon in The Boxer, “For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises.” We must set aside our pocket full of mumbles. We must be serious in our intent. This is a land issue. This is a title issue. This is a justice issue. It is only very incidentally a pipeline issue.

[Translation]

    It is now clear that we must face the reality of injustice and the great promise of reconciliation. Now is the time to say yes to indigenous peoples and to reject the notion that they are a radical group, because they are not. This is a group that is committed to the grand project of justice.

[English]

    Now is the moment for Canada to face its moment of truth, justice and reconciliation.

[Translation]

    I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statements, Government Orders will be extended by 43 minutes.

Government Orders

[Business of Supply]

[English]

Business of Supply

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits  

    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.

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

  (1145)  

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.”

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

  (1150)  

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

[Translation]

    I will be working with the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development 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.

[English]

    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.

[Translation]

    Lastly, together with my colleague, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, 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.

[English]

    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.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I thank Minister Qualtrough for her remarks on EI and EI benefits.
    I would like to ask her a question—
    I would remind the member for Thérèse-De Blainville not to use the names of members of the House.

  (1155)  

    Madam Speaker, I apologize.
    When the EI benefit system for serious illness was first introduced 40 years ago, it was shown that 15 weeks was not enough to meet the needs of those who needed it.
    The minister says she is committed to offering 26 weeks of benefits.
    Why stop there? Why not offer 50 weeks of benefits in the interest of fairness for those workers?
    Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.
    I want to assure the House that this is a first step. We are committed to improving employment insurance benefits. In our platform, we committed to providing 26 weeks of benefits. That is what the Canadian Cancer Society and the MS Society of Canada asked for, and it is what the Conference Board of Canada recommended. It is closer to our other benefits, such as the family caregiver benefit.
    We see this as a start. As ever, we are committed to working with all members of the House to improve the system.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, earlier in the debate I asked the leader of the Bloc Québécois why it was 50 weeks, and the answer he gave was that it is because it matches other benefits. From my experience with the system, people may have EI benefits available for anywhere between 15 and 45 weeks, depending on the local situation and where they live.
    I would like to ask the minister if she is supportive of the number the Bloc has given, and if she does not agree with it, maybe she can give us her rationale as to why it should be a different number.
    I really think we should not be pulling numbers out of a hat, whether out of an NDP hat or a Bloc Québécois hat.
    Madam Speaker, for a number of years, and before and during the election, we heard from such organizations as the Canadian Cancer Society, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and even the Conference Board of Canada that 15 weeks was not enough. Almost 36%, a third, of Canadians on EI sickness benefits go beyond the 15 weeks. Clearly, there is a need to go further.
    We also know there are a different number of weeks of benefits. For family caregivers, it is 15 to 35 weeks, depending on whether they are caring for a critically ill child or an adult. The point is that we try to match the benefits with the particular circumstances the benefit is trying to address.
    We are committed to 26 weeks because that is what we heard from experts in different organizations. Right now, that is where we are. Of course, we are always open to making improvements to the EI system. It has been too long already.
    Madam Speaker, I have been working with the minister and trying to get extended EI for fishers in British Columbia who have been affected by the salmon emergency, and I want to thank her for taking time to meet with me.
    I got an email from Gary Egli from Courtenay a year ago. Gary had paid into EI and he had worked his whole life. He is 55 years old. He was told he had cancer. He extended his 15 weeks. He knew he was going to be off work for about 50 weeks and his EI was going to run out 15 weeks later. He has paid into EI his whole life and has not received a nickel of EI during the whole of his working career. He was contributing the whole time and here he is now, at a time when he needs help, and the government is not honouring it. He has been filling EI coffers, but when he needs it the most, he is not getting the help he needs. He does not want to be on EI; he wants to be working.
     He is sick and he is looking for the government to update its EI policy, which it has not done since 1971. Clearly it is outdated and it needs to be fixed.
     One in two Canadians is going to get sick with some terminal or extended illness, so we are hoping that the government will support today's motion and we are urging it to do so. I want to thank the Bloc for putting forward this motion. It is something the NDP has supported for decades. Hopefully, the minister will make the necessary changes to make sure Gary and people like him will get the support they need when they get sick.

  (1200)  

    Madam Speaker, of course I sympathize, and my heart goes out to everyone suffering from cancer and other illnesses that impact their lives and their ability to earn their livelihoods and provide for their families.
    We do have to update this law. It has been way too long. I happen to have been born in 1971, so I can say it has not been changed in my entire life.
    We need to look at the average number of weeks people are taking, whether for cancer or for other things. We have to look at the complementary benefits that are put in place and we have to make sure we listen to constituents and organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society itself, which is calling for 26 weeks.
    As I said, we are always open to further discussions on this issue, but we committed in our platform to 26 weeks, and that is currently the direction we are heading.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I would like to point out that organizations in Quebec, such as the Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses, are asking that the time granted for sick leave be equivalent to what is granted to those who simply lose their jobs.
    I take great offence to the comments of my Conservative colleague, who insinuated that the Bloc Québécois and the NDP do not know how to count. The maximum EI benefit period is one year. That is what we are asking for, because that is what organizations in Quebec are asking for. I am quite disappointed to see that it will remain capped at 26 weeks. As our leader said earlier, in my opinion, only a minority of people would need the full period. For those who have cancer and need a year to get back on their feet and get a little financial support, let us show a little compassion and extend it to 50 weeks, even though the Canadian Cancer Society is asking for 26.
    In Quebec, we have a year of parental leave. That could never have been accepted in the House, because the values of its representatives are not sufficiently social democratic. That is what I am realizing today.
    Madam Speaker, my thanks to my colleague for his question. By way of clarification, this is a first step for our government. The benefits period was 15 weeks and we have increased it to 26 weeks. We are really open to the discussion about how to improve the employment insurance system in a compassionate way. We understand that, for many, the present system is not working. The fact that 36% of people take more than 15 weeks shows that we must go further. We are continuing to work with the other parties in the House to ensure that our fellow citizens are supported in difficult times.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I listened to the other questions that are being posed and I want to recognize that the government over the last number of years has made some significant changes.
    On this topic alone, the minister is talking about increasing the number of weeks. For many years in opposition, I waited for the government to be more sensitive to employment insurance and the need to make changes. For the first time, we now have a government that is making progress on this issue. Can the minister provide her thoughts on why we have seen a current government move forward on changes for EI, compared to the previous government, which was completely closed to the idea of reforms or changes?
    Madam Speaker, I can assure everyone that this conversation is long overdue. Our government has invested significantly in ameliorating the entirety of the EI system, and this is indeed the next step forward. We know that there is always more we can do, and we intend to do it.
    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 Calgary Midnapore. 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 Minister of Employment, 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.

  (1205)  

     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 minister 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 minister 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.

  (1210)  

    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.

  (1215)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am completely against this disastrous approach.
    I would like to remind the House that Canada devotes merely 0.65% of its gross domestic product to the employment insurance fund. By comparison, the percentage is 3.6% in Belgium, 2.7% in Spain and 3.5% in Portugal. I would like us to be aware of that. In addition, a number of those countries provide employment insurance benefits to their sick workers for periods that can go from one to three years.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am glad that we are able to talk about these issues. When I spoke to the CEO of the largest private employer in the area of west Kelowna, I asked him about competitiveness and he told me it was not Belgium or Spain that he was worried about competing with. It was the former eastern Soviet bloc countries where the labour is very adequate, costs and regulations are extremely low and there is a high availability of fibre supply. They have seen investment shift from some of those northern countries in Europe over to the eastern bloc countries. They have brand new state-of-the-art lasers and robotics which enable them to compete anywhere.
    This is what we need to be mindful of and not just Belgium and Spain on certain things. I talked about the U.S., but we should also be worried about some of the competition arising from the eastern side of Europe.
    Mr. Speaker, it is important that we look at the need for change and ways in which we can improve upon the system. We can work with stakeholders, like the Canadian Cancer Society as an organization, and at ways in which we can look at making some changes that would be of a progressive nature.
    There is a lot of concern in regards to the 50 weeks, and I am not suggesting in any fashion 50 weeks. I think we need to look at what our stakeholders and interested parties are saying and recognize that the current level is not good enough. We have heard that for a number of years now.
    Would the member agree there is a need for change? Would he agree there has been very little in that specific area and the time for us take some action would be now?
    Mr. Speaker, the simple argument in response is that the Liberals have been proposing a whole bunch of different changes and have not made this change to an existing program. That is part of the problem I think we have as a society, but more importantly, it shows up in the Liberal government time and time again. Rather than try to consolidate and examine the current benefits that exist for supporting Canadians in their time of need, the Liberals tried to move into other areas that were never designed for the EI system.
    I am not saying that those things are not important, but let us get back to the basics. Let us focus on whether or not a program delivers what it says it will do to make sure that it is supporting Canadians because, quite honestly, money is getting tight. The government may pretend that money is not getting tight, but Canadians know.
    As I said, there is a competitiveness cost. We are also talking about our constituents. We should be trying to look at how we can get the greatest value for money, but we have to start by looking at what we are doing now before we start adding on all sorts of new benefits.
    Mr. Speaker, there has to be a need for change. We have been saying this for years and years. One of the things we must recognize is that many employers have given up giving people group insurance for when they are off sick. My constituents in Hamilton Mountain have been asking me for a very long time about the 15 weeks and to make sure that it is extended.
    Where did the year come from? That is what it used to be when people used to file for unemployment insurance, but we played so many games with this system we forgot about the people who are off sick. It is not just for cancer. It could be kidneys, transplants, the whole works. After 15 weeks some people are not well enough to go to work, but all of their income is lost. We have to extend it.

  (1220)  

    Mr. Speaker, it is important for us to always be mindful that ultimately governments serve the people, and if the people are not being served, then we need to come here and deliberate that. I take the criticism that this should have been done a long time ago. Absolutely, it should have been, but ultimately, we have an opportunity here to examine and debate it.
    I am personally open to listening to all sides of the debate. As I said in my speech, I think there are some competing interests here and perhaps this should be studied by the human resources committee, as a first step, but mindful that some members want to go farther and faster. I just believe that whatever we do, Parliament should deliberate, educate itself and then proceed with the right course and a good recommendation to government.

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

[Translation]

    I understand why the Bloc Québécois felt that it was a good idea to introduce this motion.

[English]

    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.

  (1225)  

    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.

  (1230)  

[Translation]

    I often hear that the systems in Quebec are really superior, especially in terms of day cares.

[English]

    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.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to mention that there has also been cancer in my family. My mother had it and campaigned by my father's side while wearing a wig.
    I want to thank my hon. colleague. She understands the situation because her own family experienced it. I can tell she is very touched, but, from what I heard, I also think she feels torn.
    I agree with what she said about putting our money where our people are, particularly because there is currently a surplus in the employment insurance account. That is not the government's money. It belongs to those who paid into it, namely employees and employers, which means that the money is available.
    Some would say that this is a time for fiscal restraint or that there are deficits everywhere. However, the measure that we are proposing would not affect any of those deficits, because the money would come from a surplus in this independent fund.
    That brings me to my question. If our measure does not affect the deficit, does my esteemed colleague think that she could vote in favour of our motion?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
    As I said, I imagine that all members have had cancer in their family. However, it is clear that we have a debt and a deficit, and there is a lot of waste. As I said in my speech, that bothers me.
    When we think about where to spend money, there are good ways and bad ways to spend it. I would rather spend it on this than on some other things, but I think we need to stay vigilant.
    The proposed measure is one possibility. I think that the idea deserves to be examined more closely before a decision is made. I am always open to initiatives that further the Canadian cause, but I think that, in this case, we need to examine the proposal more closely.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the critic for families, children and social development mentioned that we need a poverty strategy. We do have a poverty reduction strategy that targets a 20% reduction by 2020 and a 50% poverty reduction, relative to 2015 numbers, by 2030. We also have a housing strategy. We invested $40 billion initially and are now up to $55 billion to help Canadians find a place to call home.
    The member mentioned the Canada child benefit that has helped 300,000 children get out of poverty and 900,000 Canadians get out of poverty. Programs like this are progressive and are helping Canadians.
     In our campaign platform, we discussed having EI changed from 15 weeks to 26 weeks. Does the hon. member think that we are heading in the right direction in terms of supporting families, children and social development, and that this would be a very important part of that?
    Mr. Speaker, I recognized all of these programs to indicate just how broken our society is. In fact, I thank the speaker because I cannot think of a single better example. In the last four weeks, I had visits from the Minister of Transport and the Parliamentary Secretary for housing. They handed out 296 units to people in Calgary, in a province where they have lost over 100,000 jobs. This is exactly the problem that I am talking about. It is putting band-aids on the destruction of our economy as a result of the legislation of our entire livelihood and natural resources sector.
     I am saying we cannot do this any more. We cannot put on band-aids and say to people we gave them a house or so many dollars a month. These problems go beyond that. Canadian families want to be independent, to take care of themselves and their children. They do not want to rely on programs like this, and the government is perpetuating that. This is not an example of a resolution. This is an example of the symptoms and the bigger problems.

  (1235)  

    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?

  (1240)  

    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.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on her excellent speech.
     It is no secret that the NDP fought for this bill. Former NDP member Claude Patry said that a vote for the bill was, and I quote, “a vote for workers and their families, for the most vulnerable in our society. Please, vote for common sense.”
    Denis Coderre introduced that bill. At the time, he was a Liberal.
    Why does my colleague think that common-sense legislation was rejected by the government?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would also like to know why the government could possibly refuse me.
    When the Liberals were not in government, they supported 50 weeks for people to recover from serious illnesses. Therefore, I have this question. What has changed in the time they were not sitting on that side of the House? Is the view from one side of the House so different from the other side? As soon as the Liberals get to the other side they are no longer interested in supporting Canadians who are suffering?
    Mr. Speaker, the government has responded in many different ways and has made changes to the EI program.
    With respect to the sick benefits, we made a commitment to increase the number of weeks. If we look at the Canadian Cancer Society, it is one of the health care organizations that came up with a well-founded 26-week recommendation. We have committed to working toward that. If we compare the past to what we do today, that is a significant improvement.
     Would the member agree that moving it forward is a positive thing for Canada's working class?

  (1245)  

    Mr. Speaker, if we can all agree that there needs to be significantly longer than 26 weeks for people to recover from cancer, it really does not matter if that is the recommendation from the government. We are saying, as one of my colleagues said earlier, we want to support Canadians when they need it so they can go back to work, so they can be healthy, can contribute and get back into the system. Regardless, 26 weeks does not meet the needs of those people who require longer to heal.
    I understand that the government has talked to the Canadian Cancer Society and that it recommended the 26 weeks, However, it has not talked to the Canadian Labour Congress or labour movements about what they would like to see. We think they would be pushing for the 50 weeks.
    Mr. Speaker, the matter we are debating today is a very important. We must ensure we have a robust debate and ensure we get it right. I think all members of the House would agree with that.
    Does the member agree that this should be sent to a committee as well, that a study should be undertaken to ensure there is a comprehensive review of the EI sickness benefits so we get it right for all Canadians?
    Mr. Speaker, it is a very important issue and we need to fix it. We have clearly seen that this system is incredibly broken. The fact that 1971 was a long time ago means that we do need a complete review of this to come up with a solution that will work. I would welcome having this looked at in more depth at the committee level.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the NDP for her speech. I have a question for her.
    I remind members that the NDP moved a motion on this topic and the Bloc Québécois moved three. The Conservative Party introduced some, as well, in previous parliaments. In 2012, Denis Coderre, who was then in the Liberal opposition, moved a motion calling for 50 weeks of benefits. At the time, the current Prime Minister voted in favour of the motion.
    Does my colleague agree that with just 26 weeks of benefits, some people will fall through the cracks? It is more than a question of math. People are sick. They have cancers and serious illnesses. Forty years ago, 15 weeks was not enough. Now, 40 years later, the government is talking about offering 26 weeks.
    Does the member agree that some people will fall through the cracks?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, absolutely people will fall through the cracks. I thank the good member for bringing up the fact that while we stand in the House and talk about numbers, such as numbers of weeks, and the vital role we have, we do not forget these are people. These are people who are suffering from serious illnesses, They possibly are at the worst moments in their life. To say that we as a country cannot afford to support them as they heal so they can rejoin the workforce is really quite an abysmal thing for our country.
    People will slip through the cracks and that is a problem. A mother who has a new child is entitled to the 50 weeks. Therefore, people who need that time to heal should also be entitled to 50 weeks. It makes so much sense.

  (1250)  

    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 Bloc leader 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.

  (1255)  

    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, we on this side are supportive of taking steps to try to improve the lives of people in the situation my colleague described.
    I would like to hear his thoughts on the use of the EI fund versus general revenue for these kinds of things. Generally speaking, in terms of the efficiency of taxation, having employment deductions, that is, taxing work, is a less desirable and less efficient form of taxation. To be formally correct, we would not say it is taxation exactly, but deductions at that point have more of a negative impact on the economy than revenue raised in other ways.
    Does the member think there is an argument for providing this kind of support for people in this situation through other mechanisms not involving the EI fund? I am curious to hear his thoughts.
    Mr. Speaker, I am inclined to say that the problem with employment insurance to date is that there has already been far too much political interference in what ought to be a straightforward insurance plan.
    When I hear the idea of governments providing this benefit directly, having seen what governments have done, even when they should have been arm's length, I prefer the idea that we do this in a way that is arm's length and managed in a transparent way. Canadians will then know they are paying a fair premium dollar for the insurance they are receiving, and employers will know they are paying a fair premium dollar for that.
    We need to get government out of this one. We need to set up the fund in a way that is open, transparent and meets the needs of Canadians. We then need to leave well enough alone instead of having governments needlessly running up surpluses within EI while restricting access and then spending the money on something else.
    I am all about less political interference on this one and more fairness.

  (1300)  

    Mr. Speaker, I have heard different speeches discussing 15 weeks to 26 weeks to 50 weeks. Does the member agree that perhaps there is no one answer to fit everybody? I had a family member who had cancer and lost her battle with it. She could not work for two and a half years. I know we have done things with maternity leave like spread out the unemployment to a year and a half versus a year.
    Would it not be the best path for something like this to go to committee? Members could examine it and come back with some good, firm recommendations. It is not just about looking after people for one year because, as I said, it was two and a half years that somebody could not work. She did qualify for other benefits, but still, there was no EI or anything like that.
    Could the member comment on that?
    Mr. Speaker, there is no question that each person is going to live out a major health issue differently. Some cases will be resolved more quickly and others will take longer. We know that approximately a third of the people who qualify for the benefit as it stands report that by the end of the 15 weeks they are still in need and in treatment, and that it is not enough.
    We know the program is already not working for a significant cross-section of people, and we know the 50-week mark would help us transition to long-term disability plans and cover that gap. It seems to me that 50 weeks is the way to secure the maximum amount of flexibility and make things easiest for Canadians. That is why I support the 50-week amount.
    I would also say we are in a funny position. If we look at the caregiver benefit under the compassionate care EI stream, Canadians can get up to 26 weeks off of work insured under EI in order to help a family member with a serious health issue, but that family member can only qualify for a 15-week benefit.
    There is serious tension, and I am being generous by calling it only a tension, in the current EI policy. There are always questions about where we draw the line, but it is our job here to draw that line and I think it makes sense to draw it at 50 weeks.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with our whip, my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît.
    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.

  (1305)  

    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 Prime Minister, 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.

  (1310)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is important for us to recognize that for many years there has been absolutely no change on this file. It has been stagnant.
    We have seen changes in the last few years under this government, with different reforms to EI. We have been working with stakeholders, such as the Canadian Cancer Society, to see what we can do with the EI sick benefits. We are now looking into the possibility of increasing them from 15 weeks to half a year. That is a positive step forward.
     We are not even saying that is absolutely final. Maybe there is a need for us to continue to have a dialogue and continue looking at the research and so forth.
    I am concerned because it seems that whatever the commitment from the government, the NDP and the Bloc, although more so the NDP, think it is never enough. I remember the housing strategy, a multi-billion dollar commitment, and other commitments and it is never ever enough.
    Would the member not agree that the increase from 15 weeks to half a year is significant? Maybe the Bloc would have been better off to suggest that the committee look at the potential for changes in the future.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, we have an opportunity to act. As a newly elected MP, I think we should seize opportunities when we have them.
    To answer my colleague's question, I acknowledge that some mistakes in the EI program were corrected in the last Parliament. However, there are still more mistakes. Forty years on, we have an opportunity to fix the situation once and for all and make the program fair.
    Going halfway is not enough. We do not need to conduct major studies or re-examine this well-documented issue. It is a matter of political will. What we are saying is that it is possible to do this right now.
    Our motion must be adopted to allow us to move forward so we do not have to ask the question again in five years.

  (1315)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we have heard the compelling arguments on the half-measures by the Liberal government. We know that incrementalism kills in this regard. We heard it from various previous speakers. We also know that we must prevent the situation that occurred under the Conservative government in 2010, when it pilfered $57 billion from the EI fund.
    Do the Liberals agree that we need to protect the EI operating account under the law so that future governments cannot continue to raid it for general revenue?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
    The EI fund is an independent fund paid for by employee and employer contributions. It is a guarantee, an insurance policy for people who lose their job or fall gravely ill. Special benefits have been added.
    No government should be able to pilfer money from the fund and undermine the benefits that individuals are entitled to under a program that was developed over the years to protect ordinary folks.
    I would take it one step further. This is a motion we need to adopt, but the EI system needs a complete overhaul. There are other types of benefits, such as those for seasonal workers. In the previous Parliament, the government promised to overhaul the system, which has not seen substantial change in 40 years. An in-depth study could be done in committee, but I think we can take action now on sickness benefits without pilfering from the fund.
    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 Thérèse-De Blainville 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.

  (1320)  

    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 Thérèse-De Blainville 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.

  (1325)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am wondering if my esteemed colleague could clarify for me who this program would apply to. She mentioned in her speech there are those who do not have other insurance to get them through, such as mortgage insurance. Does she mean to say that this program would be limited to a very specific group of cancer patients who do not have mortgage insurance or is this for all cancer patients?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.
    The answer is no. In our view, all workers paying into the EI program who become sick while working should be entitled to a maximum of 50 weeks of special benefits. We are not going to start dividing sick workers into different categories. Everyone who pays into the program should be protected.
    In our view, a worker who is sick for a long time and needs more than 15 weeks should be entitled to up to 50 weeks. That would make things fair for all workers who pay into EI.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, my question relates specifically to the Bloc's concerns about EI, but I think its members are missing the boat in that there is a lot more than just this one component that they are talking about. For example, if a woman is pregnant and working in a job she cannot be in while pregnant, she will access some of her EI sick benefits even though she is not sick.
    I am afraid that what the Bloc is trying to do here today is to bring forward this attempt at resolving a problem by just throwing more money at it instead of trying to drill down and correct the problems we have with EI on a level that has more detail. Can the member comment on whether, in preparation for this motion today, they gave any consideration to some of the other problems that exist with EI?

  (1330)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am surprised at my colleague's comment and question.
    The Bloc Québécois is not missing the boat at all. The Bloc Québécois is here to serve and defend sick workers. Our goal is not to move a motion that would make a small change for women or men on maternity or paternity leave.
    As I said before, our goal is to ensure that, when workers who have contributed to the program get sick and need care for more than 15 or 26 weeks, they will not have to worry about their future. We want them to know that they will be able to cover their rent, food and care so they can focus on getting well.
    I can assure the House that the Bloc Québécois is not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes. What we are trying to do is help the most vulnerable people, the most vulnerable workers. I am proud to be here today to put that on the record. Sick workers, workers in general and vulnerable people will always be able to count on Bloc MPs to stand up for them.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am amazed to find the Liberals falling over themselves to find a reason to oppose this very simple measure.
    Before I became a member of Parliament, I worked for a previous MP as a caseworker. For seven years, I was helping constituents who, in many cases, were caught in this trap. They needed EI benefits to deal with their sickness beyond the 15 weeks, but they were not sick enough to qualify for Canada pension plan disability benefits. I was often the person who had to pass on the bad news to them, saying that I was sorry but that the Employment Insurance Act said what it said and their benefits would end at 15 weeks. There was nothing more I could do. This is precisely one of the reasons I ran for politics, to come to this place to make a difference.
    We have an opportunity here to help some of those disadvantaged Canadians in our society. I would like my hon. colleague to comment. Let us get this job done here in the 43rd Parliament. Canadians are waiting. This is something we should be finding unanimous consent on.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, as my NDP colleague said, this is an important opportunity that we do not want to miss.
    It is not every day that we amend a law as important as the Employment Insurance Act. The government would be sending a clear message that it listened to workers and the most vulnerable members of our society. These people need all members of the House to come to a consensus to finally unanimously support our vulnerable workers who need care and who are fighting to survive. They need financial support. It is important to remember that this is not charity. They paid into this insurance plan, and they have the right to that support.

[English]

    I am pleased to participate in the debate on the opposition motion on employment insurance and sick benefits.

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

  (1335)  

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    One example is the creation of the new employment insurance family care benefit for adults.

[Translation]

     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.

[English]

    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.

  (1340)  

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am having difficulty with my colleague's speech. When he mentioned that the change the Liberals made last year had such an incredible impact, imagine all the benefits Canadians would get if we changed the UIC rules on sickness.
    When he asks about the support system from the CPP, that does not take effect until one year off work, and then people have to make sure they cannot work in the foreseeable future. It is very difficult, so that is why we are asking for at least one year on sick benefits. If I need a hip replacement, I can no longer work. It takes six months to get a hip replacement, and then I have to recover. What is 15 weeks going to do for me? It is going to break me and it will be a financial burden on my whole family, so I ask the member to support the motion.
    Mr. Speaker, I think the member has to look at the big picture, which is that 64% of Canadians only use up to 10 weeks of the 15 weeks available to them, and then 34% use up to 15 weeks. By moving forward and changing it up to 26 weeks, we are moving that target. We may have no Canadians needing more than 26 weeks. If there are more, we are going to have to deal with that as well, and that is why we are here.
    Let us not forget that the HUMA committee reported that we should increase it. Members did not say 50 or 75; they said we should increase it. Moving the bar to half a year is a very productive approach, and we are going to be able to meet the needs of Canadians.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech.
    I think I understand the arguments of the Liberals opposite. The cancer and MS associations have said that it takes an average of 26 weeks to recover, so the Liberals decided to increase the benefit period to 26 weeks. The Liberals say that there is no point increasing it to 50 weeks if people are back at work after 26 weeks. For the Liberals, it does not make any difference. That is their main argument in this whole debate.
    In fact, it seems to me that the Liberals do not want to vote in favour of a motion moved by an opposition party and are looking for a reason not to.
    According to my hon. colleague, if claimants go back to work after 26 weeks anyway, why not give them 50 weeks?

  (1345)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. Maybe I am just lucky, but it seems to me that every time I make a speech, he asks me questions. I invite him to continue, because it allows me to further explain to Canadians what our government’s plans are and what changes it is making.
    We need to be careful. One could argue that the Bloc knows that we already promised Canadians, based on consultation, to increase the length of benefits to 26 weeks. The Bloc is proposing that it be increased to 50 weeks. Is this not the Bloc playing political games? It is certainly not us.
    We listened to Canadians. We made them a promise. The committee recommended that we expand EI sickness benefits and that is what we are doing. There are also other safeguards in place to help us do that, such as the Canada pension plan measures and other provincial and territorial services. Today, we are adequately addressing that need.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, increasing the EI sickness benefit from 15 weeks to 50 weeks is essential if we want to ensure that hard-working Canadians have the protection and insurance they need when they face serious injury or illness. New Democrats put this forward in the past two Parliaments and are proud to support this motion.
    I am disheartened that the Liberal government is breaking its commitment to sick and injured workers. When in opposition, it supported extending EI sick benefits to 50 weeks, but now the Liberals would rather give $50 million to Mastercard. Why would they rather support a big corporation than support the sick and injured Canadians who need help?
    Mr. Speaker, we should not be playing politics with this. The member for Victoria is talking about the Visa cards and everything else, and she said in her opening statement that the Liberals are not following through on their commitments. I am sorry, but if one reads the platform correctly, one will see that we said that we were going to move the bar from 15 weeks to 26 weeks, which was the recommendation of the Canadian Cancer Society and various other organizations across the country.
    We are following through on our commitments, and I am very proud of that.
    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.

  (1350)  

    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.

  (1355)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, that is fantastic. I thank my colleague for his superb speech. It was interesting because he talked about all kinds of things, except the Bloc Québécois motion we are debating today.
    We have been debating this motion all morning. I heard my hon. colleagues in the government tell us how proud they are to increase special EI benefits for serious illnesses to 26 weeks. However, I did not hear a single reason why the government refuses to increase those benefits to 50 weeks.
    Here is my question. Can my hon. colleague explain why the government refuses to increase special EI benefits for serious illnesses to 50 weeks?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, since 2015, our government has reduced the EI waiting period from two weeks to one week. Since 2015, we introduced new legislation for caregiver leave. Since 2015, we made the working-while-on-claim provisions permanent, and expanded them to include people receiving maternity and sickness benefits. Since 2015, we created new EI provisions for workers in seasonal industries.
    Finally, we gave parents the choice of taking either 12 months or 18 months for parental leave and introduced a new parental sharing benefit to make it easier for parents to share in the raising of their children, resulting in more equality.
    Moving forward, we will further our commitments on EI to expand and build on our promise to Canadian workers and our commitment to equality for all Canadians, continuing to do what we have been doing since 2015.

[Translation]

    The hon. member for Niagara Centre will have another three minutes for questions and comments when the House resumes debate on this motion.

Statements by Members

[Statements by Members]

[English]

Relations with Indigenous Peoples

    Mr. Speaker, I rise again today to speak to the Wet'suwet'en situation, and the crisis that is gripping the country and about which this evening we will have an emergency debate.
    The most useful thing that I can do in 60 seconds is quote from a letter that appeared in the national newspapers from one of my constituents, whom members will know. Ron Wright, Massey lecturer and author of A Short History of Progress, notes in this letter that in writing his book Stolen Continents, he spoke of the Oka crisis and he sees parallels. He stated that:
...[like] the Mohawks, the Wet'suwet'en have never [lost] their ancient sovereignty as an independent people.
    Under international law, he added, there are only two ways to lose sovereignty: by armed conquest or by signing it away in treaty. Neither is the case here. He continued:
    Like the Mohawks, the Wet'suwet'en have an ancient system of self-government that predates European occupation and is still alive.
    Finally, he concluded that the elected band councils set up under the Indian Act merely administer the small territories defined as reserves.
    It is clear that the rule of law in this case is not muddied and only on one side. The Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs also stand with the rule of law.

  (1400)  

[Translation]

Academic Success

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by wishing my son, Gabriel, a happy birthday, as he turns six today.
    [Member spoke in Italian]
    [Translation]
    The work we do in this House is for him.
    This week we are celebrating Hooked on School Days, which highlights the hard work and efforts of our students.

[English]

    Whether it is creating favourable learning environments or connecting youth with inspiring role models, we can now play a role in encouraging perseverance among the young people in our communities to help them reach their full potential.

[Translation]

    I invite my colleagues to actively participate in this social challenge by recognizing success and encouraging young people in their communities, since all such actions contribute to their success. That is what I have done for the primary schools in Alfred-Pellan, where grade 5 and 6 students who have excelled will receive a certificate of recognition.
    I congratulate those students for all they do every day to contribute to their own success.

[English]

Family Day

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday I joined Canadians across the country in celebrating Family Day, and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all families for their contribution as the bedrock of our society.
    I particularly want to thank the families who have members serving in the House who sacrifice much in allowing us to be here. I may be biased, but I am convinced no one does a better job of this than my wife Kyla, who is here today, along with our three children, Jacoby, Jada and Kenzie.
    Several retired MPs have told me that if at the end of my political career I no longer have my family at my side, I will have gained nothing in my time in office, but if I leave with a strong, loving and intact family, I will have accomplished much. I can tell my wife Kyla that our work here has just begun, but it is because of her that I have every confidence we will accomplish much in the years to come. I thank her for being my rock.
    If members will allow me, I have one word of advice, which is to always put their families first.

[Translation]

Guy Cormier

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to honour the memory of a great man.
    Guy Cormier was a fisher and mayor of the village of Saint-Léolin, in my riding. Sadly, he died suddenly on January 11. Mr. Cormier had two dreams: to become mayor and to find a new purpose for the former school in his village. In 2014, he was elected to municipal council and became mayor in 2018. Thanks to him, the former school became a hydroponic greenhouse that is enjoying great success.
    Guy, or Ti-Guy as he was known, was a friend to many. He gave countless hours of his time to various causes and was valued as a volunteer. Guy always had a smile and a good story to tell. He was a man who loved politics and never hesitated to give advice to elected members to help them understand the issues of our region.
    His death is a major loss for the entire community. I offer my deepest condolences to his wife, Edwige, his daughter, Nancy, as well as his family and friends.
    Ti-Guy, you will be sorely missed. Thank you for your incredible contribution to the riding of Acadie—Bathurst.

The Patriotes

    Mr. Speaker, Saturday was a day of mourning for Quebec.
    On February 15, 1839, five of our heroes, five Patriotes, were hanged at the Pied-du-Courant prison. They were executed for defending their nation's freedom.
    François-Marie-Thomas Chevalier de Lorimier, Charles Hindelang, Pierre-Rémi Narbonne, Amable Daunais and François Nicolas lost their lives for the sake of justice and democracy.
    Their voices were silenced that all Quebeckers might be heard.
    The night before he was executed, Chevalier de Lorimier wrote these final words: “Although so much has gone wrong, I take heart and continue to hope for the future. My friends and my children will see better days. They will be free. Long live freedom and independence.”

Family Day

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday all Ontarians celebrated Family Day, and the community of Orleans, which I am privileged to represent, joined me for some fun at a local bowling alley.

  (1405)  

[English]

    I was pleased to see such a great turnout as nearly 500 people joined me at the Orleans Bowling Centre to play with their friends and their families. It always gives me great joy to see two and three generations taking the time to share an activity together.

[Translation]

    When elected representatives like us can organize that kind of community activity, in many cases it enables entire families to participate in recreational activities that would be too costly otherwise.

[English]

    I want to thank Kevin, Jonathan and Rock from the Orleans Bowling Centre who made sure the event ran smoothly. They have been extraordinary partners and I thank them very much. I thank Orleans for showing up for bowling day.

Dr. John Spencer MacDonald

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to acknowledge the passing of an exceptional Canadian, Dr. John Spencer MacDonald.
    Dr. MacDonald was a graduate and esteemed professor of engineering at both UBC and MIT, who went on to receive office in the Order of Canada. He was also the co-founder of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, a high-tech company headquartered in Steveston—Richmond East, better known to Canadians as the company of Canadarm and the constellation of RADARSAT Earth-observation satellites.
    I was an employee of MDA for many years. It is from this experience that I can say that MDA under Dr. MacDonald's vision and leadership was the incubator of many professionals within Canada's technology sector, a source of pride for the Canadian economy.
    I know what a difficult loss this is for many within the MDA family. Not only will Dr. MacDonald be missed for his engineering genius, but also because he was known as an exceptional individual and a visionary. His death will leave a void in the lives of all those to whom he imparted his wisdom during his life.

National Flag of Canada Day

    Mr. Speaker, on February 15, 1965, our national flag was raised for the first time on Parliament Hill. In 1996, February 15 was officially designated National Flag of Canada Day, thanks in large part to the advocacy of former MP for Parkdale—High Park and now Oakville North—Burlington resident, Jesse Fliss. Last Saturday, we celebrated our flag day from coast to coast to coast.
     At the official ceremony inaugurating the new Canadian flag in 1965, the Hon. Maurice Bourget, Speaker of the Senate, said, “The flag is the symbol of the nation's unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion.”
    Residents are invited to drop into my community office and pick up a paper flag poster that they can display to honour and show our pride in being a beacon of strength, fairness and freedom around the world.

Simon Fraser University

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate Dr. Joy Johnson, who has been named the next president of Simon Fraser University. Throughout her career, Joy has done extensive work in gender and health studies and has worked on groundbreaking issues, including diversity in hiring processes and creating a culture of innovation.
    Her appointment also means that in September, we will see the departure of our current president, Andrew Petter. I have been incredibly fortunate to work with Andrew on a number of files during the last decade. He has set a vision for an engaged university that would meet the needs not only of our community, but also those of Canada and the world. He has championed entrepreneurship education and has significantly grown all of SFU's campuses in significant and meaningful ways.
    Andrew has left an incredible legacy on the SFU community, and I want to thank him for his service.

[Translation]

    We are proud of the outstanding work that has been done at SFU, and we would love to see more of it for an even greater positive impact in the future.

[English]

Iran

    Mr. Speaker, while exposing the evils of slavery, William Wilberforce said, "You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know."
    We here know well the horrors inflicted by the Iranian regime, horrors most experienced by the people of Iran, but seen and felt by many Canadians after the downing of Flight 752. We have seen the photos of parents and children whose lives were cut short. We have felt with them the crushing loss and pain. Some may choose to look the other way, but we may never again say that we did not know.
    In the midst of feeling this pain, Canadians and Iranians saw the images of our Prime Minister, grinning, hugging, bowing and shaking bloodstained hands during an interaction with the Iranian foreign minister. Did our Prime Minister know how this portrayal of obsequiousness and ease would be used by the regime and could impact its victims? After attending memorials and meetings with victims across this country, either he did not know, or he did not care.
    Canada has a choice to make. We either embrace the regime or we stand with its victims. We cannot do both.

  (1410)  

Canada Summer Jobs Initiative

    Mr. Speaker, today I would like to talk about a program that is well appreciated in my riding of Mississauga East—Cooksville, the Canada summer jobs program.
    The Canada summer jobs program is rolling out 70,000 jobs for our youth. In 2019, employers and youth satisfaction levels with this program were high. I am encouraging employers and youth of Mississauga East and across Canada to effectively utilize this program's tremendous opportunities. By encouraging our youth into these high-quality jobs, we are helping youth, particularly those facing barriers to employment; employers of 50 or fewer employees; and our communities.
    A summer job is an important way to earn money while gaining valuable work experience and will help our youth on the road to a successful career. In my riding, hundreds of employers and youth have benefited by taking part every year. I encourage employers to come forward with their applications during the employer application period that is now open until February 24.
    Let us help our youth build our future workforce.

Carbon Pricing

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has stood in this place on occasion after occasion and stated that Canadians would be better off under his Liberal carbon tax. Well, the reality of the Liberal carbon tax is setting in, and the Prime Minister would be hard pressed to find someone in my riding who is better off.
     Simply put, this assertion fails to acknowledge the basic realities of living in rural Saskatchewan, and my constituents deserve better from the government. The cost of everything is going up and they are feeling the squeeze, none more so than our farmers and our agricultural producers. From grain drying to hauling crops, rail transportation and other major farm expenses, their bottom lines and their ability to compete are taking a direct hit.
    It is time that the Prime Minister abandons his carbon tax scheme that unfairly punishes rural Canadians and agricultural producers, and deliver a real plan for the environment.

Government Priorities

    Mr. Speaker, professional protesters and well-funded NGOs have seized the opportunity to divide indigenous communities and threaten their chance for financial prosperity. The very fundamentals of our country, our unity, our security and our economic well-being are under attack. Where is the Prime Minister while this is happening? He has been traipsing around the world trying to get us a seat at the UN Security Council.
     As if the Prime Minister's absence did not already send the message loud and clear that he really does not care, he took it one step further. While in the Republic of Senegal, he was discussing the attractive growth potential of their oil and gas sector. That is right. Our Prime Minister was in a country in west Africa advocating for them and his vanity project, while ignoring what is going on in his own country. This is not leadership.
    We on this side of the House call upon the Prime Minister to take seriously the responsibilities that have been entrusted to him as the prime minister of this country. We ask that he make sure that the rule of law is upheld and that we as a country would enjoy a united, strong, free and prosperous future.

Relations with Indigenous Peoples

    Mr. Speaker, what we are seeing across this country is not just about one resource project. This is about generations of underfunding, broken promises and broken treaties. The federal government has backed indigenous peoples into a corner. Food, water, safe housing and infrastructure are fundamental human rights that the federal government has promised us and continues to deny us.
     The anger around Wet'suwet'en territories is about the failed policies that have let indigenous peoples down. The federal government has ignored or threatened our well-being and our very existence as indigenous peoples. How can we talk about reconciliation when the federal government has stolen our lands, slaughtered our sled dogs, refused us our rights and continues to give us impossible choices?
    The situation is complex, but here is a simple start: The RCMP needs to stand down and the Prime Minister needs to get involved and meet with hereditary chiefs.

[Translation]

Mathieu Girouard

    Mr. Speaker, the riding of Drummond is in mourning. Last Friday, a traffic accident claimed the life of a man who was dearly loved by his family, friends and entire community.
    Lieutenant Mathieu Girouard, 44, was a fireman in Drummondville for 18 years. Mathieu was also a super dad of five children, a real family man, and very involved in his community. As a model fireman, he exemplified the best of his profession's values. Last Friday evening, on Valentine's Day, Mathieu was driving with his wife Karine in Saint-Célestin when a drunk driver struck them, killing Mathieu and seriously injuring Karine, who is fighting for her life.
    Here, in the House, I want to offer my most sincere condolences to Mathieu's family and friends. Mathieu was a firefighter lieutenant, badge number 630. I wish his family much strength and serenity in the days and weeks to come. My thoughts are with Karine, his wife, who is currently recovering in hospital. The tight-knit community of Drummondville will support her throughout this ordeal. The riding of Drummond has lost a hero.

  (1415)  

[English]

Christie Blatchford

    Mr. Speaker, over the generations, Canadians have been served by many great journalists, eloquent chroniclers reporting from city halls, cop shops and courtrooms, locker rooms, rinks, sports fields, battlefields, sites of disaster and human tragedy.
    Christie Blatchford reported and opined from all those places over almost a half-century, but she was like none before. Her newsgathering skills ranged from gritty to compassionate. She inspired colleagues and rivals. She challenged conformity and authority, and very often her editors. As a former editor remembered last week, she made every newsroom better.
    Christie won more awards for her work than time allows to list. When she was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame, she told a colleague, “I care about stories that tell us why the system matters, why things are worth protecting, why the rule of law is important.”
    It is an honour today to remember a journo's journo, a truly great Canadian.

[Translation]

Hooked on School Days

    Mr. Speaker, we all know that education is a vital part of children's lives. Historically speaking, the school drop-out rate in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is one of the highest in Montreal. Approximately 33% of elementary school students have a disability or adjustment or learning difficulties, and two-thirds of elementary and secondary school students are immigrants.
    I would like to commend the people of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve who have been taking action for over 10 years to keep kids in school. I thank the members of Chantier promotion et valorisation de la persévérance scolaire for their work.
    In order to succeed in school, children, adolescents and young adults rely every day on the help of teams and organizations who help meet their needs. Group mentoring and simple acts, such as providing encouragement and celebrating accomplishments, promote success because staying in school is not a matter of performance.

Oral Questions

[Oral Questions]

[English]

Indigenous Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, it is almost 4,400 kilometres from the Wet'suwet'en territory to the protesters in Ontario, and the Prime Minister this morning spoke of dialogue with the people who are breaking the law. Does the Prime Minister think these protesters have more to say about what is in the best interest of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation, including those elected councillors who want jobs for their kids and their grandkids and who support the Coastal GasLink project?
    Mr. Speaker, earlier this afternoon I was pleased to sit down with three parliamentary leaders to talk and discuss concretely the approach we are taking in constructive dialogue to resolving this situation not just peacefully, but for the long term.
    The leader of the official opposition, the leader of the Conservatives, excluded himself from this conversation with his unacceptable approach to not have constructive dialogue but to follow an approach that would hurt the very people he supposes he wants to help.
    Mr. Speaker, dialogue is not going to pay the bills for people who are facing layoffs because of people breaking the law who have no connection to the Wet'suwet'en First Nation. He is elevating people who have no connection, people who constantly protest and try to blockade energy projects, to the same level of those indigenous Canadians who have been working hard for reconciliation in this country, and that is shameful.
    I have a simple question. On what day will these illegal blockades be taken down?

  (1420)  

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party of Canada continues to demonstrate that it does not understand that the path forward is concrete actions in reconciliation, in dialogue—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    The heckling is getting a little out of hand. Name-calling that was on this morning is not something that is parliamentary and I do not think we want to hear it during question period. I would point that out to anyone who is thinking of name-calling again.
    The right hon. Prime Minister.
    Mr. Speaker, we need a long-term constructive solution. The short-term forceful approaches proposed by the Conservatives would end up harming the very farmers, small business owners and workers across this country with their heavy-handed approach that would plunge the country into long-term chaos.
    We will exhaust every action possible to resolve this situation peacefully and rapidly.
    Mr. Speaker, what the Prime Minister seems to be talking about today is action if necessary but not necessarily action. Does he not understand that the Wet'suwet'en First Nation supports this project? The elected band councillors support this project. The majority of the heredity chiefs even support this project.
     When he talks about dialogue, moving forward and a path, does he not realize that he has an obligation to stand up and defend the interests of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation and their support for this project?
    Mr. Speaker, as Prime Minister, I have an obligation to stand up for Canadians, and that is exactly what I am doing.
    We are engaged in actions that will lead to a long-term resolution of these issues in partnership and respect. That is how we ensure that for farmers, for workers, for small business owners, over the coming months and years, they can rely on our transportation system, because we will not have engaged in the kind of short-term, forceful actions that the Conservatives are proposing.
    Mr. Speaker, who is he talking about sitting down with in partnership? These people in Ontario are ignoring the demands of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation. They are using them as an excuse to protest and block projects that they have always been opposed to.
    Once again, why is the Prime Minister elevating people, activists, who have no connection to the first nations that we are talking about, and elevating them on the same level as hard-working and well-meaning indigenous leaders who are actually interested in reconciliation in this country?
    Mr. Speaker, we have seen this approach from the Conservatives through 10 years of Stephen Harper that did not get projects built, because they believed in picking and choosing who spoke for whom. They believed in picking and choosing how to engage and characterized anyone who disagreed with them as their opposition or as enemies of the national interests.
    That is not the approach we have. We will stay grounded in actions of respect and move forward constructively to help Canadians right across the country for the coming years.
    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is talking about picking and choosing who speaks for first nations communities. Let us talk about who speaks for the Wet'suwet'en First Nation: the elected band councillors, the majority of the hereditary chiefs and the people living in these communities. They realize that the only way to have the same quality of life as every other Canadian is to have these kinds of partnerships with natural resource corporations and the jobs that they create.
    Once again, who does the Prime Minister think he is going to sit across the table from? Is it the people who are breaking the law and who have no representation for the people who are affected by this project?
    Mr. Speaker, five years ago, Canadians made a clear choice to support parties that were committed to reconciliation. Unfortunately—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Can we proceed?
    The right hon. Prime Minister.
    Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party of Canada continues to demonstrate that it wilfully and deliberately tries to misunderstand the reality of reconciliation in this country. That is why they were excluded from a constructive conversation on how to move forward as a country on the path of reconciliation, to support all Canadians from coast to coast to coast in their economic livelihoods and in their sense of what this country is.

  (1425)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am concerned about the fact that, right now, Quebec and Canada are being seen by the world as pitting oil and indigenous people against each other, when the fundamental issue, for the good of everyone, involves finding a solution to end the blockades, which are an expression of something very real.
    The Prime Minister invited a certain number of people to a meeting, and I do not think the tone is aggressive. However, I would ask the Prime Minister if he could give us an indication of the key times, the deadlines, the benchmarks, and the ways of measuring progress that will help people, such as members of the first nations, to see that we are moving toward putting an end to the blockades.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the leader of the Bloc Québécois for his question and his co-operation.
    We recognize that if we want to find solutions and develop the necessary process, the first step and next steps must involve constructive dialogue and concrete action with the Wet'suwet'en people.
    We are ready to meet with the Wet'suwet'en people any time to talk about how we can address these issues, and that will be the key to ending these protests across the country.
    Mr. Speaker, the first nations are nations, much like Quebeckers make up a nation and Canadians make up a nation. That is the kind of relationship that needs to be built and established. With that in mind, all party leaders who wish to participate respectfully should be invited.
    Will the Prime Minister agree to hold more meetings like the one held this morning on a regular basis, because this Parliament as a whole must address the first nations as a whole?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. Yes, I am very open to ensuring that all parties in the House who want to work constructively will be regularly informed of our approach and our strategies.
    The meetings may not always be with the Prime Minister, but the ministers will engage with all interested members and parties to ensure that we can work together and set party differences aside to advance reconciliation and help all Canadians succeed.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we have asked this question before and not received a response, but after today's speech, it seems that the Prime Minister recognizes there is a federal role to be played in rectifying and solving this crisis.

[Translation]

    When will the Liberal government meet with the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en nation?
    Mr. Speaker, with regard to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, this is certainly an issue of concern to British Columbia. Of course, the issue of indigenous rights and the rights of the Wet'suwet'en people heavily involves the federal government as well. That is why what we need to do is meet with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs as soon as they want to and as soon as they can. We would have liked to meet with them yesterday, if that had been possible.
    We are here to engage in direct and constructive consultation with the Wet'suwet'en.
    Mr. Speaker, what we need right now is real action.

[English]

    We learned recently that the ministry of indigenous services does not keep accurate details. It does not know how many indigenous kids are being taken from their families or how many are in care. These are kids we are talking about, and the federal government is not keeping accurate records about where these kids are.
    If the government is not keeping accurate records, it amounts to a systemic negligence of these kids. Will the Liberal government commit to protecting indigenous kids and keeping accurate records of where these kids are being cared for?
    Mr. Speaker, as we well know, the question of child and family services is something that deeply involves the provinces across the country. We have moved forward on legislation that restores support to indigenous communities for their kids. That is something we have made historical movements on.
    We will continue to work with indigenous communities. We will continue to hold certain provinces that are resistant to this to account. We will ensure that no children in Canada get raised far from their language, far from their community or far from their identity. Those are the building blocks for success that everyone deserves to have.

  (1430)  

Public Safety

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the transport minister issued a statement saying that “tampering with rail lines, railcars or signalling systems is illegal and extremely dangerous.” If rail lines are being tampered with, the consequences could be deadly. Canadians deserve to know what is happening and deserve to be protected.
    If the minister is indeed aware of rail lines being tampered with, then why is he and his government doing absolutely nothing to stop this illegal activity and these illegal blockades?
    Mr. Speaker, indeed I am concerned by the fact that some people are going near rail lines, on rail lines or in rail yards and doing things that are potentially dangerous. In addition, we have had some indication of tampering on the rail lines, which is not only dangerous but criminal activity and can affect not only those people but those who might be affected by it.
    We are trying to pursue this to find out where it comes from, and I would urge Canadians to be safe near railroads.
    Mr. Speaker, this is a serious situation. As the minister acknowledged, illegal activity is going on, so either the rule of law applies in Canada or it does not and we have anarchy.
    I will ask the minister again. If he is aware illegal activity is going on, and tampering with rail lines is an illegal activity, why are the Liberals just giving Canadians words and word salad, as the Prime Minister is so good at delivering, instead of delivering real action to protect Canadians from these illegal blockades?
    Mr. Speaker, let me explain it to my colleague. When an activity of tampering occurs and we detect it, we try to follow up. Because it is a criminal activity, we need to have clues and evidence to find out who the perpetrator is. It is called detective work and that is what we are doing.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, it took 13 days for the Prime Minister to finally seem to grasp the extent of the crisis that is rocking this country. Protesters are illegally blockading rail lines across the country, which is having disastrous safety and economic consequences.
    We know that the Minister of Public Safety has the authority to ask the RCMP to take action. When is he going to do it?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the last thing this very difficult situation requires is politicians trying to score political points by pretending that governments can instruct the police on how to do their job.
    I am having a hard time hearing the minister's answer. I am sure the person who asked the question is having an equally difficult time.
    I will ask the hon. minister to continue.
    Mr. Speaker, the concept of police independence requires that police officers be free from political direction or influence in carrying out law enforcement functions and making operational decisions. As the Supreme Court of Canada has said, police independence underpins the rule of law and is necessary for the maintenance of public order and the preservation of the peace.
    Mr. Speaker, I can assure the minister that what Canadians are asking is for politicians to take action, not say words, like he is doing right now.

[Translation]

    What we have here is a government of neglect. Last week the Prime Minister refused to say a word for two days, while his ministers would only say they could not do anything and that it was up to the provinces to enforce the law.
    What we want today is for the government to enforce the law. However, it does not want to do so, and that is disappointing for Canadians. Canadians want a government that takes action in a positive way for the future of Canada.
    Why does the government refuse to enforce the law?

  (1435)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to correct my colleague. The federal government knows it has a role to play and that this role is extremely important.
    To answer the question, when there is an injunction, we must respect the authority of the provincial police, which has the discretion to decide how to handle the matter.
    That said, the federal government has an important role to play, and that is why we will work with our provincial counterparts to solve this problem.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, while the Prime Minister was off wining and dining African dictators and kowtowing to Iranian despots, anti-energy activists were busy derailing the Canadian economy here at home.
    It has been nearly two weeks and the Prime Minister has done nothing to assure Canadians that the rule of law will be upheld. His own anti-energy rhetoric has given courage to those who are willing to defy the courts with their illegal blockades.
    Does the Prime Minister agree that these blockades are illegal? If so, when is he finally going to do something about it?
    Mr. Speaker, as I have already indicated, it is not the role of government to give instructions to the commander of the RCMP.
    Let me share with the House the RCMP's procedure for dealing with this. The RCMP operating manual for dealing with aboriginal demonstrations says very clearly that their responsibility is to preserve the peace, to protect life and property and to uphold the law, and every enforcement action shall be measured, incremental and as non-confrontational as possible, and they shall always try to negotiate the conflict before taking enforcement action.
    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister's empty words have done nothing to de-escalate the situation. In fact, these protesters have been emboldened by his lack of meaningful action.
    This morning a group of extremists in British Columbia attempted to carry out a “citizen's arrest” on Premier John Horgan in his home. This is happening in Canada, under the Prime Minister's watch.
    Will the Prime Minister realize that appeasement is no longer an option and finally make it clear that the rule of law will be upheld and enforced in this country?
    Mr. Speaker, I am always shocked when someone invokes the rule of law and then chooses to ignore it.
    The Supreme Court of Canada has been very explicit about this: Police independence underpins the rule of law. It is necessary for the maintenance of public order and the preservation of the police.
    The police in this case are following their training and their procedures. They are working diligently to resolve this matter peaceably, and they have our confidence.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the rail blockades are holding the public hostage. In my riding, more than 3,000 people no longer have access to public transit.
    Last week, I tried to contact the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations; no answer. I contacted the Minister of Indigenous Services; no answer. Then I found out that the questions need to be directed to the Minister of Transport, but I saw him on television saying that this is a provincial matter.
    I know that the Prime Minister is in Africa and I wonder where the Deputy Prime Minister might be.
    My question is simple: Who is going to address the concerns of my constituents?
    Mr. Speaker, we are extremely concerned about the impact of these blockades on those who rely on public transit, not only Canadians, but also those who rely on the freight system. We are seized with the issue. We are well aware of the problem and want to resolve it as quickly as possible. As we have been saying from the outset, we will resolve this matter through dialogue.

Indigenous Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, first nations expect to have nation-to-nation relationships with the government, but there must be leadership to manage this type of relationship. Stakeholders must be present. When the crisis broke, the Prime Minister was in Africa. You would think that he took the minister with him, because we did not hear from her for the entire week. The minister made light of the first nations' anger.
    What is she now doing to re-establish dialogue?
    Mr. Speaker, our government believes that dialogue is the best and most appropriate way to address these issues.
    We are committed to establishing, together with indigenous peoples, a relationship based on the affirmation of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
    We recognize that these are difficult times. That is why, together with the Government of British Columbia, we wrote a joint letter to the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs asking to meet with them as soon as possible.

  (1440)  

[English]

Ukraine International Flight 752

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians were horrified to see the Prime Minister grinning, hugging and bowing during his interaction with the Iranian foreign minister, providing the regime a major propaganda victory and revictimizing families whose loved ones it killed.
    Could the Prime Minister update the House as to whether this servile display led to any concrete progress on compensation for flight 752 victims' families or on a proper independent investigation?
    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister was very clear and very firm with the Iranian foreign minister. He made a promise to families in Canada that we will do everything we can to make sure that they get full disclosure, accountability, transparency and justice.
    Equally, in Munich the Minister of Foreign Affairs and our allies sent a strong message that Iran—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    I want to interrupt the hon. parliamentary secretary. There is quite a bit of shouting while he is trying to answer. There are one or two voices. I do not want to have to point the members out, but they know who they are. Their voices carry very well, and I am sure they would not want to be pointed out.
    The hon. parliamentary secretary.
    Mr. Speaker, our Prime Minister has taken every opportunity and was extremely clear and always firm with Iranian officials, the Iranian prime minister and the foreign minister. He made a promise to families in Canada that we will do everything in our power to make sure they get closure, accountability, transparency and justice.
    Mr. Speaker, when former prime minister Stephen Harper met with Vladimir Putin, he said, “get out of Ukraine.” Now that is real leadership. The Iranian community and the families of the victims of flight 752 deserve that kind of leadership. Instead they had the insulting spectacle of the Prime Minister glad-handing, backslapping and of course bowing to the Iranian foreign minister and chief propagandist.
    Will the Prime Minister apologize to the families and the Iranian community for this blatant disrespect? Will he say sorry for once again embarrassing Canada on the world stage?
    Mr. Speaker, now more than ever as families grieve, as families try to make sense of this situation, it is important for us to be united in the House and in Canada and for Canadians to stand in the wake of this terrible tragedy.
    I would ask my colleagues on all sides of the House to avoid trying to score political points on this very important and deeply personal issue to many Canadians. We have brought together Canadians and international partners to hold Iran to account. We will do that and we expect members to help us with it.

Foreign Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, at the Munich Security Conference last week, our closest ally, the United States, once again emphasized that reduced American intelligence co-operation would be the consequence for countries considering letting Huawei build next-generation telecommunications networks. Canada depends on U.S. intelligence sharing. Is the Prime Minister prepared to compromise Canada's national security and NORAD intelligence sharing by approving Huawei?
    Mr. Speaker, on every issue, we use an evidence-based approach. We ensure that we take into account our allies' positions, which are not unanimous. We will continue the discussions around the Huawei decision and do it thoroughly, carefully and expeditiously.
    Mr. Speaker, the theme of this year's Munich Security Conference was “Westlessness”, highlighting a more divided and uncompetitive NATO alliance.
     In response, France advocates for a Europe-first approach to security, arguing that Europeans need to preserve their own sovereignty in a world dominated by an increasingly nationalist United States and an ambitious Russia.
     On this side of the Atlantic, Canada needs allies, but with Europe turning inward, Canada has never been more alone. How is the Prime Minister protecting Canada's sovereignty when no one has our back?

  (1445)  

    Mr. Speaker, our foreign policy is based on renewing a rules-based international order that Canadians have built together, protecting universal human rights, supporting democracies.
     We are a leader in the world on critical issues, whether it is in Venezuela, or in the Middle East or in China, all around the world. We will continue to stand with our allies, with NATO partners, as we continue to ensure Canada's leadership is strong and heard in our world with allies and like-minded who work with us.

Indigenous Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, the government uses the concept of the rule of law when it comes to helping their corporate friends build development projects without the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous people. We can all agree that upholding the Constitution, which includes section 35, aboriginal title and treaty rights, requires the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous people prior to developing. It is the rule of law.
    Why does the Prime Minister have a double standard when applying the rule of law in this country?
    Mr. Speaker, I was honoured to receive in my mandate letter something that pertains precisely to the hon. member's question, and that is the implementation of UNDRIP into Canadian law. We plan to implement this declaration by the end of 2020 and will be engaging with Canadians and working in partnership with indigenous people to implement the framework that will, in part, be the answer to her question.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, while the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en nation were defending their rights and lands and solidarity protests were being held across the country, the Prime Minister was taking selfies around the world. The crisis is here.
    Today, the leaders of the Assembly of First Nations proposed realistic and reasonable conditions for finding a solution. They have a plan to put an end to the crisis.
    Obviously, the Prime Minister does not have a plan. Will he agree to the Assembly of First Nations' plan? Will he take this outstretched hand, meet with the hereditary chiefs and promote true reconciliation?
    Mr. Speaker, our government believes that dialogue is the best way to deal with this issue.
    Discussions with the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en nation are under way. What is more, I spoke with Chief Woos on Sunday.
    I would like to reiterate our government's commitment to a joint meeting with the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en nation and the Province of British Columbia. This commitment was confirmed in joint letters between our government and the Government of British Columbia. We are open and available as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

[English]

Employment

    Mr. Speaker, last week, in Niagara Centre, I was proud to share more great news about the Canadian economy with my constituents, 35,000 new jobs. In just the first 31 days of 2020, that is an incredible accomplishment by our Canadian folk, a credit to all business and fantastic news for Canada's workers.
    Could the Minister of Labour tell us some of what she will be doing to continue making Canada a place to build a business and support Canada's workers?
    Mr. Speaker, February 7 was indeed another great day. Our government is and remains committed to Canada's workers.
     We have repealed unfair labour-targeting legislation, introduced protections to address workplace violence and harassment and introduced more flexible work arrangements. Our plan for the future is a $15 federal minimum wage, implementing the Pay Equity Act and modernizing labour protections.
     We remain committed to Canada's workers.

[Translation]

Consular Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, 43 Canadians in Japan have contracted COVID-19, including three Quebeckers: Mr. and Mrs. Ménard and Mr. Bergeron.
    In all three cases, and for other Canadians too, family members are extremely worried and are getting conflicting information. These people want to return to Canada as soon as possible. This is a serious situation, and people need clear, specific answers, but the problem is that the government is moving at a snail's pace.
    Will the government finally tell us the plan for the 43 Canadians who have tested positive for the virus in Japan?
    Mr. Speaker, we are still working to bring the Canadians home. We understand the concerns of the families and individuals involved. Our embassy in Japan and our consular officials are in constant contact with these Canadians, including Mr. and Mrs. Ménard. I would like to thank our officials again for their important work. We will continue to provide consular services to all the Canadians involved.

  (1450)  

    Mr. Speaker, other countries are bringing their citizens home, but our citizens are still there. A woman on another cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, has now tested positive for COVID-19. The ship docked today with 1,455 passengers on board. This could be an extremely problematic scenario, because most of the passengers flew home not knowing they might constitute a risk.
    Can the government tell us where the 271 Canadians are and their current health status?

[English]

    Let me be very clear, Mr. Speaker. Ensuring the safety and security of Canadians abroad and at home is our top priority.
     We have been engaged in this issue since the very beginning. The minister has spoken with his Japanese counterpart, international colleagues and other allies regarding the safety and security of Canadians. He has also spoken directly with the families and the CEO of the cruise ship company. Our chartered flight is now en route to Japan.
     Again, I want to thank our tremendous consular services team, which is working night and day, literally all weekend, to ensure Canadians have the right information.

Health

    Mr. Speaker, our community was surprised to learn late Saturday night through social media that a coronavirus quarantine site would be established at the Nav Centre in Cornwall. The mayor and local officials were not advised. Local residents and employees who work there were left in the dark for nearly two days, with valid questions about the suitability of this building, which has hundreds of general public going through it daily. The rollout of this site was a communications failure that was completely avoidable.
    Could the minister explain why the people of Cornwall and local elected officials, including myself, were left in the dark on such a critical issue?
    Mr. Speaker, the accommodations at CFB Trenton are currently at capacity because of the previous repatriation efforts. The Nav Centre was chosen because there are existing supports to coordinate processing and provide support services for all repatriated Canadians coming from Japan. It also has a facility available to house individuals in separate accommodations. These Canadians have been through a stressful experience over the past couple of weeks.
    The member was offered a meeting directly with the minister. My understanding, to the best of my knowledge, is that the member turned that meeting down.
    Mr. Speaker, to clarify for the member, the minister offered a meeting after the news was made late Saturday night through social media, a little too late. That is for clarification.
    To clarify, the Nav Centre is not a military base like CFB Trenton. It is one large building, open to the public 24/7. While flood victims and asylum seekers have been hosted at this site before, they have never hosted a quarantine for a global health emergency.
     It is apples to oranges to compare to past practices when it comes to protocols, security and safety for the employees and those who visit the site. Basic information should have been provided immediately, not days later or—
    The hon. parliamentary secretary.
    Mr. Speaker, it is important to know that before boarding the plane, passengers will be screened for symptoms. I remind the members on the other side—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    I just want to clarify that when I mentioned earlier one voice coming across, I did not mean that everyone should coordinate and have many voices at a lower level. That is not what I had in mind.
    I will let the hon. parliamentary secretary continue.
    Mr. Speaker, I remind members on the other side that those who get on this plane are healthy Canadians. They have been screened multiple times. Those who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 will not be permitted to board and will be transferred to the Japanese health system to receive appropriate care. Those who remain in Japan will continue to receive full consular services from the Government of Canada.

[Translation]

Public Safety

    Mr. Speaker, the consequences of the railroad blockades are very real for Quebeckers. We are fast approaching a propane shortage for our farmers, our hospitals and our CHSLDs. The cost of groceries will be going up for all families. Quebeckers are being laid off. We are in danger of running out of chlorine for our drinking water. Soon, the port of Montreal will even have to turn ships away.
    What we are going through is called a crisis.
    Since the Minister of Transport does not seem to be aware of the gravity of the situation, is the Prime Minister going to show leadership and deal with the problem?

  (1455)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments.
    I agree with him that the situation is serious. We are well aware of the impacts this is currently having in Quebec and throughout Canada, namely the shortages of important commodities, the impacts on other goods and the movement of people. We are working on a solution and we believe that we must find it through dialogue, which is what we are in the process of doing.

Employment Insurance

    Mr. Speaker, the government is being discriminatory in its discrimination. It condemns the wrong discrimination while engaging in the right discrimination. For example, Émilie Sansfaçon got 15 weeks of employment insurance because she had to quit her job due to serious health problems. Meanwhile, someone who loses their job can get up to 50 weeks of employment insurance. There is a form of discrimination here that we find absolutely unacceptable.
    Will the Prime Minister address this issue and end employment insurance discrimination?
    We all agree with Émilie Sansfaçon. Her courage is truly remarkable.
    We have made a number of significant changes to the EI system over the past four years and we are continuing to improve it. In our platform, we promised to increase sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks, and that is what we will do.

[English]

Natural Resources

    Mr. Speaker, the Liberals are moving the goalposts and dragging out their political decision on Teck Frontier and 10,000 Canadian jobs. The evidence and experts are clear. It is in Canada's public interest, it will reduce global emissions and every single local indigenous community supports it. One already promises legal action if the Liberals deny this opportunity.
    Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is promoting oil and gas in Senegal while funding pipelines in Asia and giving grants to pipeline protesters in Canada. The reality is that he emboldens activists shutting down Canada today. Why?
    Mr. Speaker, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, which is the law under which this project is being assessed, the legislated timeline for cabinet to make a decision on this particular project is the end of February. As it can with any project, it can approve the project with conditions, it can reject the project or it can extend the legislated timeline.
     We are certainly actively considering this project and all the relevant information before we make an appropriate decision.
    Mr. Speaker, the truth is that Liberals are lobbying Liberals and pushing petitions to shut down the oil sands and to kill Canadian jobs. Liberal MPs selectively quote the joint panel report. What they do not say is that Teck Frontier is “not expected to threaten the sustainability” of local ecosystems or wildlife populations and that rejecting Teck could result “in exporting emissions to other jurisdictions with higher emissions intensity.”
    The reality is that Teck surpassed every measure. Last week, the finance minister even said that there was no barrier to a timely decision.
    Will the Liberals stop using Teck Frontier as a cynical bargaining chip and approve it on its merit?
    Mr. Speaker, the purpose of an environmental assessment is to go through the process and have the effects identified. The joint review panel found that there were significant negative adverse environmental impacts associated with the project. It now comes to cabinet to have a conversation about whether or not those effects can be justified under the circumstances.
    There is a legislated timeline to make a decision by the end of February, and we will make a decision.

Public Safety

    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Public Safety knows that Ralph Goodale issued a number of directives to the RCMP in the past. He simply has his facts wrong. No one should be surprised by that when we see a government that has no plan to restore the rule of law, no plan to get our transportation network moving again and no plan to even get fuel to parts of our country.
    What is the Prime Minister doing to address the propane shortages in Quebec and in Nova Scotia that are causing the layoff of hundreds of employees?

  (1500)  

    Mr. Speaker, for the member's edification and for the benefit of members of the House, the Minister of Public Safety does have the authority to issue directions to the RCMP pursuant to the RCMP Act. However, this is circumscribed by two very important principles. First, the directions cannot in effect require the RCMP to disregard any of its lawful duties. Second, the directions cannot infringe on the independence of the RCMP regarding its law enforcement functions.

Regional Economic Development

    Mr. Speaker, last September our government unveiled a new long-term and strategic vision for Canada's Arctic and north with the release of the Arctic and northern policy framework.
    Could the Minister of Northern Affairs comment on the co-development process of the framework and update the House on the next steps?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Northwest Territories for his hard work in the north.
    The Arctic and northern policy framework is historic because it was co-developed with our provincial, territorial and indigenous partners.
    Northerners have told us that they want Arctic people at the centre of the framework and we have listened.
    The framework takes an inclusive approach to the northern region and reflects the unique interests, priorities and circumstances of its people. We are now moving from co-development to co-implementation.
    Together with our partners we will work to implement a shared vision for a strong, prosperous and sustainable Arctic.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

    Mr. Speaker, Global News is reporting that a refugee judge told a woman that her choice to keep a baby meant that she was never raped. The judge asked the victim during her interview, “If you're raped, why would you keep a child of rape?” The line of questioning taken by the government official is appalling and further traumatizes the victim.
    Could the Liberals confirm if this individual is still employed as a refugee judge?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to be absolutely clear. The comments as reported are completely unacceptable.
     The IRB has provided my office with assurances that it is overhauling its complaints review process and it is making sure that sensitivity training is mandatory for all of its members. These are two critical steps that will ensure that everyone gets a fair hearing absolutely free from all forms of discrimination, including gender bias.
    Mr. Speaker, to be honest, I really hope that judge was fired.
    The Liberals must take immediate steps to stop IRB adjudicators from revictimizing vulnerable claimants. There have been several reports of mishandling sexual and gender-based cases, including the demand for nude photos of a sex trafficking victim. Another victim was asked why her abuser did not just kill her. This pattern of sexist remarks suggests IRB judges have no understanding of assault whatsoever.
    What is the government going to do to ensure that victims of sexual abuse and exploitation are protected, and when are you going to do this?
    I want to remind hon. members that when they place a question, to place it through the Speaker and not to the speaker.
    Mr. Speaker, I understood the intent of my hon. colleague's question. As I said, these comments are completely unacceptable.
     The IRB has provided assurances to my office that it is overhauling the complaints process, that it is ensuring that mandatory training is being provided to all members so that we maintain the highest professional standards, and that every person who appears before the IRB gets a fair hearing that is free from all forms of bias, including gender discrimination.

[Translation]

Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer

    Mr. Speaker, the House spoke and the Auditor General listened. Light will be shone on the $186-billion infrastructure plan. This minority government boasts about being open and transparent at every opportunity it can find.
    Can the Prime Minister assure all parliamentarians in the House that the Auditor General will have the resources to investigate the Liberal infrastructure fiasco?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for this excellent question. There are two things. First, the Auditor General will have the necessary resources to carry out this important work. Second, we expect that he will find again and again what the Conservative members may have forgotten: Over the past four years, four times as many infrastructure projects have been developed in Canada, and six times as many in Quebec, as in the previous four years.

  (1505)  

[English]

Finance

    Mr. Speaker, in my riding of Kitchener Centre, the cost of living continues to increase for middle-class families. Families are asking that our government take more steps to make life affordable.
    Can the Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance please update the House on our government's plan to make life more affordable for middle-class Canadians?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Kitchener Centre for his advocacy and hard work on behalf of his constituents.
    In 2015, Canadians elected our government to strengthen the middle class. As our first order of business, we lowered taxes for middle-class families.
    In 2019, we once again lowered taxes for 20 million Canadians by increasing the basic personal amount. Once fully rolled out, this measure will put $600 back in the pockets of the average middle-class family each year. These tax cuts are in addition to investments our government has been introducing, such as the Canada child benefit.

Indigenous Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, in the summer of 2019, the minister came to Nunavut and apologized for the federal government's failure to provide “proper housing, adequate medical care, education, economic viability and jobs.”
    Apologies without action mean nothing. How do Liberals think they can move forward, along with indigenous peoples, on situations like we are seeing in the Wet'suwet'en territories if they refuse to back up their words with concrete action?
    Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to working in partnership with territorial, provincial and indigenous partners to co-develop priorities for the north. Together, we revised the Nutrition North list of subsidized food and lowered the cost of the northern food basket. We have signed an agreement in principle on the devolution of Crown lands and water rights in Nunavut, and we launched the Arctic and northern policy framework in September 2019.
    We will continue to work on solutions for the north, by the north.
    Mr. Speaker, some two years ago the Prime Minister stood in the House and committed to the recognition and implementation of indigenous title and rights in legislation. That long-overdue work has not happened, and we continue to see the challenges across the country due to that inaction.
    As was committed, and speaking of concrete action, will the government introduce legislation that upholds the minimum standards of UNDRIP?
    Equally important, will it actually implement those standards domestically, so that indigenous peoples are supported in their self-determination, can rebuild and can exercise their authority in clear and predictable ways for their own people and for all Canadians?
    Mr. Speaker, I was honoured to receive, in my mandate letter from the Prime Minister, the immediate priority of implementing UNDRIP in Canadian legislation.
    We will be engaging with Canadians and working in partnership with indigenous peoples to implement the declaration as a framework for reconciliation.

Presence in Gallery

     I draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of Ms. Elin Jones, Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales.
    Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
    Mr. Speaker, I want to elaborate a little bit further and ask the parliamentary secretary if he would withdraw his misleading statement to the House. For a government that is committed to doing politics differently and not taking cheap political shots, that was absolutely what happened today.
    Will he withdraw his misleading statement about my being offered a briefing? I was not offered a briefing until a meeting that I had in the House of Commons, or rather, in the parliamentary precinct yesterday, 48 hours after the issue became news.
    I would ask that he would—
    I am afraid that falls into the area of debate.

Government Orders

[Business of Supply]

  (1510)  

[Translation]

Business of Supply

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance sickness benefits 

    The House resumed consideration of the motion.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I wish to share my time with the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle.
    The Bloc Québécois is once again calling on the government to take action on employment insurance. This is not the first time that we have made this request. We have always been working for a thorough reform of the program. Whether it is for a separate fund, for improved access to regular benefits—
    Order. I will have to interrupt you for a second.
    I would like to remind everyone that there is a debate taking place and if anyone has something to say they should whisper or go to the lobby.
    Mr. Speaker, I was saying that the Bloc Québécois is again calling on the government to take action on employment insurance. This is not the first time we have made this call.
    We have always been committed to a thorough reform of the program, whether by establishing an independent fund, improving access to current benefits, ending the classification of the unemployed based on their claims, or, of course, improving benefits, all benefits.
    For almost 30 years now, we have been demanding that the EI program be designed for our world—not for the needs of the government, but for the needs of our people, those who have given us the privilege of representing them in the House.
    Right now, we have a program that is a direct attack on those who are already in precarious situations, that hurts seasonal workers in our regions and that leaves out those who are ill, seriously ill. The reason is very simple, and that is a lack of political will. The EI program cannot adequately and properly support those truly in need.
    This is precisely why the Bloc Québécois moved the motion we are debating today, which calls 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.
    The main motivation for this demand, if one is necessary, is that the period of special employment insurance sickness benefits was based on the use of barely one-quarter of recipients. When the special benefit program was created, the government knew that the number of weeks was insufficient for over three-quarters of recipients. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the Department of Employment and Social Development chose the number of weeks based on survey data that indicated that just 23% of recipients returned to work after the 15 weeks of benefits.
    In other words, the government at the time and successive governments since then have known that the EI benefits provided do not adequately meet demand. It is completely unfair that every government elected since has knowingly accepted this situation.
    The EI sickness benefit is inequitable because of the number of hours required to qualify. No matter where they live, be it Vancouver or Blanc-Sablon, claimants need to accumulate 600 insured hours of work to be eligible for benefits. It is also more difficult to qualify for sickness benefits than for regular benefits if the regional unemployment rate is greater than 8.1%, which, according to various economic indicators, is the case for one in four economic regions, despite strong overall job numbers. I shudder to think what things would be like if the economy were doing poorly.
    In my riding, people in Minganie and the Lower North Shore have to work 180 more hours to qualify for sickness benefits than for regular benefits. The same goes for people in the Gaspé and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
    It seems that no government has wanted to admit that the purpose of employment insurance is not to have a petty cash fund alongside the budget, so that it can dip into it to cover up its deficits or make money off the sick. The purpose of employment insurance is to make life easier for people who are forced out of the labour market for reasons beyond their control. It is insurance, a social safety net to which workers contribute in return for the guarantee and assurance that they will be compensated following an unfortunate event, such as the loss of a job or a serious illness.
    The worst part of it all is that no one chooses to get sick. There is no such thing as someone getting up in the morning and saying to themselves, “I think I am ready for a little serious illness. I am ready for a tragedy. I am ready for some misery.” Getting sick is a tragedy. It turns people's lives upside down. It is a daily struggle. It is stressful and demanding for people. We should be there to support them.
    It is not right for a person to worry and fret about their financial health before their personal health. Situations like that of Marie-Hélène Dubé should not exist. Because she did not work 600 hours, she had to mortgage her house several times while she was fighting cancer.
    In such a wealthy society, no one should ever be unable to pay their rent and end up on the street when they are in remission. It is not right for people to be left with nothing when they are going through one of the most difficult ordeals of their lives. It is not right, because we have the power to change things and to enable our people to have some measure of dignity during those trying times.

  (1515)  

    Also, the government might want to remember the last time it was in opposition when it responds to our motion. In 2012, the Liberal Party overwhelmingly supported a bill that would have extended EI benefits from 15 to 50 weeks and eliminated the wait times.
    Today, we are reaching out to the Liberals. We are inviting them to follow our lead and to do what should have been done a long time ago, namely make life easier for people who are forced to take time off work because of illness.
    During the vote on the motion, I would like each member of this House to remember that every second person living in Canada will get cancer during their lifetime. If we set aside every other serious or chronic disease that could affect our lives and think only of cancer, half of us will have to rely on EI benefits. We could have to cope with the disease and all the added expenses that go with it with only 15 weeks of benefits.
    I think that it is time we did what we should have done a long time ago, namely help people who cannot work and give them time to heal. Providing 50 weeks of benefits is the only way of giving the sick time to heal with dignity.
    In closing, I would like to point out that I am thinking about all the people in my riding, about all Canadians, and about one person in particular, who has long fought for the unemployed and who is now fighting an illness. I would like this person to have peace of mind, and I know that the only thing that will do that is to abolish all inequities for all EI claimants, in particular those who are sick.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as many members of the Liberal caucus will say, it is important to recognize that as a government, we all believe very passionately in EI benefits for sickness.
    We have seen many EI reforms take place over the last number of years. We have listened to the stakeholders, in particular to the Canadian Cancer Society, which has recommended 26 weeks. We have now seen the Liberal government, this government led by the Prime Minister, say that we are moving toward a half-year of benefits. That is significant progress. For many years I sat in opposition, and back then the Conservatives completely ignored the issue. We now have a government that is taking tangible action in moving towards a half-year.
    Would the member from the Bloc not agree that at the very least, we could recognize that? Maybe what we could do or should be doing, because we are not saying “absolutely not” into the future, is advancing the idea of expanding, not only in this area but other possible areas, by recommending that this issue go to a standing committee as opposed to just adding additional weeks.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague opposite for his question.
    I am a bit disappointed to see that his passion has subsided over the years. I remember that, in 2012, the Liberal Party, which was then the official opposition, wanted to extend benefits to 50 weeks. Now here we are, eight years later, and we can do that, but we are being told that 26 weeks is enough.
    When a person is really passionate, there are no limits, especially when the means are there. I therefore expect to see benefits extended to 50 weeks.

  (1520)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Manicouagan. Today is the first time that I am participating in this important debate about this key motion.
    I would like to thank the Bloc Québécois for giving us this opportunity to change the EI system and offer 50 weeks of benefits to those struggling with major health crises, such as cancer.
    I would simply like to ask my colleague if she would like to raise any other matters, because she spoke very movingly about the consequences such crises can have on the life of every family member.
    Mr. Speaker, if I understand correctly, my hon. colleague’s question is about what all members of Parliament should do.
    In my opinion, we have talked at length about figures and actuaries, but we are beyond figures now, and we have the opportunity to act. People do not get sick for predetermined periods of 26, 15 or 32 weeks, so the program needs to be flexible.
    In a spirit of fairness, given that people who lose their jobs receive 50 weeks of benefits, we believe that people who are sick should also receive 50 weeks of benefits. Obviously, I am also appealing to my colleagues’ sense of compassion: I am certain that they will see that 50 weeks is the right solution.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the Liberal member who previously made comments spoke at length about gender equity. In Canada, one in eight women will experience breast cancer in her lifetime, and the average time for treatment and recovery is 25 to 36 weeks.
    However, this is not just about gender equity; it is about justice for all. For those with colon cancer the average treatment and recovery time is 37 weeks. As the member mentioned, one out of every two Canadians is going to experience cancer at some point in his or her lifetime, with an average treatment and recovery time of 52 weeks.
    I ask the member across the way for her thoughts on the Liberal government's comfort with half measures when sick and injured Canadians are waiting.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for her question, and I would be pleased to answer it.
    In my opinion, it is absurd. We can do it. Everyone wants to co-operate. Everyone agrees. We do not want half measures, we want full-fledged measures. The government has no valid reason to refuse.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to use my time to thank my fellow citizens in Laurentides—Labelle who placed their faith in me. This is the first opportunity I have had to do so.
    I would especially like to thank all of my volunteers, including Samuel Gervais and Alexandre Dubé. I would also like to thank everyone in my team. People will soon get to know them. I would like to thank Maryse Larente and Annie-Claude Poirier at the Mont-Laurier office, and Isabelle Paré at the Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts office. Lastly, I would like to thank Mathieu Laroche Casavant, who now works on Parliament Hill.
    Our loved ones make a difference in our lives. My mother was instrumental in my being here today, addressing members of the House in an effort to improve the collective well-being. I would also like to thank my in-laws. Work-life balance is a challenge that many of us are currently facing.
    Of course, I would also like to thank my children, Anne-Sophie and Ève-Marie, and my spouse, Yanick Thibault. They have been there from the start, and they have faith in me. I must honour them, since what happens here during the 43rd Parliament will determine what happens in Canada in the coming years.
    I would also like to recognize someone who gave me the courage to do this, and that is former MP Johanne Deschamps. She was a member of the House for four Parliaments, from 2004 to 2011. She made a significant contribution to the well-being of constituents, particularly when it came to employment insurance.
    I would like to explain why I decided to go into politics. In my short life, I have worked in various sectors where employment insurance was very important. I am talking mainly about the forestry industry, which experienced a crisis, and the health sector, which underwent a significant reform.
    I also worked in the arts, in the community sector and in social development. That brings me to the positive impact that an increase in EI sickness benefits would have, and we sincerely hope that will happen. I am sure that members of the House will agree to quickly increase the number of weeks of benefits from 15 to 50.
    As I was saying earlier, I hope that we will be able to improve the employment insurance program during this Parliament. I am sure that we can do so. That is what we have been talking about since this morning. Right now, the system is unfair because it provides only 15 weeks of sickness benefits. People have no control over their health, just like they have no control over a plant closure. This warrants analysis.
    I have to admit that the employment insurance system has been improved in recent decades. I will admit that, but there is still work that needs to be done to make the system fair. This system is not accessible to most people who contributed to it.
    Let's look back in time, since the best way to know where we are going is to know where we have come from.
    I want to remind everyone that until 1990, in Canada, the government paid into the EI fund. In 1990, the Conservative government upset the balance by putting an end to federal contributions to the EI fund, meaning it had to be funded entirely by employers and workers. This created a very large deficit. What happened? The government tried to make up for the deficit by slashing the coverage provided by the system, reducing the amounts paid to claimants and tightening the eligibility rules for workers.

  (1525)  

    This had a major impact. It cut the number of people covered by the system in half between 1989 and 1997. It also created a huge surplus, and I have proof. Figures show that labour income accounted for 2.3% of Canada's GDP in 1990 and 0.6% in 2015. The people of Laurentides—Labelle were directly affected by those rules, which put them in an extremely vulnerable situation. I must admit that I even experienced it myself, and I could go on and on about it.
    Those cuts helped amass a slush fund of nearly $50 billion. Who suffered? Our workers and employers suffered. For the last 30 or 40 years, they have been the only contributors to the fund, and every year, the surpluses in the fund are swallowed up by a federal machine whose appetite knows no bounds. I would like to know why taxpayers' money is being used for things that are not in their best interest. It saddens me today to know that many of our friends, colleagues and relatives have been deprived of this program.
    Now I wonder. I think the employment insurance program in its current form is no longer about helping workers. Should those who benefit from this program not be the ones who contribute to it? Some of these people spend their whole life building up this fund without ever being able to access it when they really need it, especially when they involuntarily contract a serious illness.
    We all know that no one chooses to get sick. I would like to share with the House an experience I had a few years ago when I was a political staffer for the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle, Johanne Deschamps. I was having a hard time helping a constituent when he told me he had just one week of benefits left and was not even halfway through his chemotherapy treatments. I checked the law. Indeed, this person had no other options, since he was not eligible for EI benefits because he had several assets. That bothered me because we had no way of giving him something he was perfectly entitled to receive.
    I would like to share another thought with the House about the term “insurance”. In my opinion, insurance exists to cover real needs, such as theft, fire or disability insurance. When workers have needs due to illness, the program does not do enough to assist them.
    Do hon. members agree that the assistance should be equivalent to what a worker gets when they lose their job?
    I am sure no one can object to improving the well-being of our constituents. We have to make this program fair. Right now, it is not fair to everyone who contributes to it. I am calling on all hon. members to agree to extend sickness benefits to 50 weeks.

  (1530)  

    Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her speech.
    She addressed the financial aspects of the employment insurance fund, which is very well managed. Members will recall that the situation was worrisome for several years. This fund is meant to provide support for people who lose their jobs in the conventional way. The fund now also provides support for people on maternity leave, among others.
    If we expand the program too much and then there are massive job losses, this would lead to huge demand on the fund. Would we be prepared to increase premiums?
    Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question.
     Earlier I mentioned that some improvements have been made. We have made adjustments based on needs, and we have come a long way. We have made improvements to benefits for new parents and for people providing end-of-life care for loved ones.
    There is just one glaring inequity left, and that is EI sickness benefits. We need to go just a little bit further. This issue has been talked about for a long time already. This is nothing new, and I am confident that this is something we will do together.

  (1535)  

    Madam Speaker, I would like to start by congratulating my colleague on her magnificent speech and her extremely well-structured arguments.
    If I may, I would like to address the question asked by the Liberal member who just had the floor about whether we are prepared to increase premiums. I would like to remind her that, in recent years, the EI fund has posted an average annual surplus of $3 billion to $4 billion. Every year, the government, whether Conservative or Liberal, has taken this surplus and transferred it to the consolidated revenue fund.
    Had money not been taken out of this fund, which is paid for by employers and employees, we would now have a surplus of some $20 billion from the past five years alone. That could have financed all of my colleague’s proposals, including not only EI sickness benefits, but also compensation for the seasonal workers’ black hole, which is the five-week period between the end of their EI benefits and the date they return to work.
    The money could also have been used for the preventive withdrawal of pregnant women. When these women return to work and then lose their job, their months on preventive withdrawal should not be taken into account in the determination of whether they are eligible for EI.
    I would like to ask my colleague if she agrees that the implementation of the intentions stated in today's motion is not a matter of money, but a matter of political will.
    Madam Speaker, I am in complete agreement with my hon. colleague.
    The billions of dollars transferred to the consolidated revenue fund are gone. The slightly more than $1 billion we are talking about is so small, and, in any case, it comes from workers and employers. The figures are there, and they are very reassuring. There is no reason not to support the motion and agree to this request.
    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech.
    The NDP agrees with the proposals that have been put forward. It is unbelievable that sickness benefits last only 15 weeks, but that compassionate care benefits for informal caregivers last 26 weeks. Caregivers can take more time off work than sick people. This is an inconsistency in the program that must be corrected.
    Does my colleague agree with our party that we should reduce the number of hours required to be eligible for benefits in general, since less than 40% of unemployed workers are eligible for EI?
    Madam Speaker, I will address the two points raised by my colleague.
    I am wondering about something. If I am a fisher and am eligible to receive EI for seasonal work, but I happen to get sick, is it better to claim as a fisher or as someone with a serious illness? When a seasonal worker is off work, they are fortunately entitled to 50 weeks of benefits. However, if that worker falls ill, they are only entitled to 15 weeks. There is a contradiction.
    That said, the program certainly must be made available to all people who need it. For the time being, let us start by increasing benefits from 15 weeks to 50. We will propose other improvements to the program later.
    Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak about the employment insurance program.

[English]

    I will be splitting my time with the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

[Translation]

     Our government is proud of this long-standing program that has offered support to Canadians in times of need for 80 years. When a Canadian loses their job through no fault of their own, the EI program is there. When a mother or father needs to care for their newborn child, or when someone needs to take care of a gravely ill family member, EI is there.

[English]

    Since its creation in 1940, EI remains a pillar of Canada's social safety net. Today, I would like to talk about our continued support for workers through the employment insurance program.

  (1540)  

[Translation]

    Since 2015, our government has made a series of changes to the employment insurance program that benefit Canadian workers across the country. For example, we reversed the 2012 changes to the employment insurance program that specified the types of jobs that unemployed workers were expected to search for and accept. The long-standing requirements that claimants must search for and accept available work while on employment insurance will continue to be upheld. This change took effect on July 3, 2016.

[English]

    In 2016, we also helped workers living in the regions most affected by low oil prices. We did that by temporarily extending the duration of EI regular benefits for all eligible claimants by five weeks in 15 targeted regions. Up to a maximum of 20 additional weeks were provided to long-tenured workers.

[Translation]

    That same year, we announced that as of January 1, 2017, the waiting period for EI benefits would be reduced from two weeks to one week. Today, I am able to say that as of October 1, 2019, approximately 5 million claimants combined have benefited from this change.
    Reducing the waiting period from two weeks to one week relieves the financial burden on claimants when they need it most.

[English]

    In addition, about two-thirds of claimants return to work before they exhaust all of their weeks of benefit entitlement. As a result of the waiting period reduction, these claimants gain one extra week of benefits. In fact, it is estimated that this puts an additional $650 million in the pockets of Canadians annually.

[Translation]

    The reduced waiting period applies to regular, sickness, maternity, parental, compassionate care, family caregiver, and fishing benefits. This means that Canadians in all workplaces are benefiting. The package of changes to the EI system does not stop there.

[English]

    The new measures put in place also include eliminating new entrant and re-entrant rules to increase access to EI benefits, making permanent the working-while-on-claim rules and simplifying job search responsibilities for claimants. Let me provide a little more detail.
    First, we amended the rules to eliminate the higher eligibility requirements that restricted access for new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market. Under the previous rules, new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market had to accumulate at least 910 hours of insurable employment before being eligible for employment insurance regular benefits.

[Translation]

    As a result of the changes we have made since July 3, 2016, those who enter or re-enter the workforce are subject to the same eligibility requirements as other claimants in the region where they live, namely from 420 to 700 insurable hours.

[English]

    Also, we made changes to working-while-on-claim rules, which help claimants stay connected to the job market and allow them to earn some additional income while receiving benefits. These improvements, which took effect August 2018, are that the 50¢-for-every-dollar-earned rule became a permanent part of the employment insurance program, and that the working-while-on-claim rules were extended to now apply to sickness and maternity benefits.

[Translation]

    We are also helping seasonal workers through a new pilot project announced in August 2018. This pilot project provides up to an additional five weeks of EI regular benefits to eligible seasonal claimants in 13 targeted regions. It is estimated that 51,500 seasonal workers will benefit from this initiative each year.

[English]

    Finally, we are supporting adult learners through skills boost. EI claimants now have more opportunities to go back to school to get the training they need to find new jobs without fear of losing their EI benefits. During our last mandate, we also improved conditions for workers.

[Translation]

    Many Canadians are struggling to balance work, family and other personal responsibilities. That is why we brought in amendments to the Canada Labour Code to ensure a better work-life balance and to strengthen labour standards protections in federally regulated private sector workplaces.

[English]

    In 2017, our government introduced legislation to give federally regulated workers the right to request flexible work arrangements, such as flexible start and finish times. Subsequently, in 2018, we introduced further amendments to support even greater flexibility in the workplace. Among these changes are new breaks and leaves, including personal leave of up to five days with three days' pay. This new leave can be used for, among other things, medical appointments or sick days, or to take a dependant to a medical appointment.

  (1545)  

[Translation]

     We also introduced leave for victims of family violence of up to 10 days with five days paid, and leave for traditional indigenous practices of up to five days unpaid.
    Access to many existing leaves, including critical illness ?leave and reservist leave, was also improved by eliminating length of service requirements.

[English]

    Also, changes were made to increase annual vacation entitlements, so that workers have more downtime to spend doing the things they love. These legislative changes came into force on September 1, 2019.

[Translation]

     We know that many employees struggle to balance the demands of work and family due to lack of time and scheduling conflicts. These changes to the Canada Labour Code will provide better work-life balance.

[English]

    Without a doubt, we are taking the necessary steps to support hard-working Canadians. The situation of every Canadian is unique with different family and work needs.

[Translation]

     By making employment insurance benefits more flexible, more inclusive and easier to access, and by modernizing labour standards, we are providing hard-working Canadian families with more options to better balance their work and life responsibilities.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, my colleague spoke about EI benefits in Alberta. I want to jump off on this point, because we hear over and over again from the government that it is doing things for energy workers, that it extended EI.
    Of course, EI should be available for people who are not working, but what we could really do to support energy workers in Alberta is actually establish the conditions where they do not need to collect EI and they could be working. We have members of the Liberal caucus actively speaking out against the Teck Frontier project and supporting petitions opposing that project. We have members of the government caucus as well as other parties who are actively opposing these projects, which have indigenous and community support and are necessary to allow people to get back to work.
    I would say to the hon. member, on behalf of the people in Alberta who I represent, that our priority is not EI but it is actually establishing the conditions that allow people to have hope and opportunity through employment.
    Would the member recognize that the primary thing he could do for energy workers is to support the development of vital projects, such as Teck Frontier, pipelines and other projects that have community and indigenous support and are in the national interest?
    Madam Speaker, with respect to EI and the situation in Alberta, as the member is aware, we have also been working on TMX and bringing it forward. As the parliamentary secretary in the last Parliament, I was working hard to make sure that this project moved forward in the right way. We are seeing it develop and continuing. This is creating thousands of jobs in Alberta and British Columbia.
     Another project is Line 3. The Canadian side has been approved, we approved it, we are in support of it, and we are now in talks with the U.S. to make sure that extension is provided.
    Also, there is Keystone XL. I was in Washington last year at a mining conference and I took the opportunity to talk with governors and senators in the U.S. about the issue of Keystone and where it was at, because on the Canadian side it had been approved and ready to go, but it was basically on the U.S. side.
    As well, there is LNG. Three weeks ago, I was in Kitimat at the Roundup conference in Vancouver. I told my team that I wanted to visit the LNG plant in Kitimat to show support. I spoke with the Haisla First Nation chief as well as the mayor of Kitimat and did a tour of the LNG plant.
    We are working hard to have these projects advance and create good jobs. There are billions of dollars of investment in Canada that would create thousands of jobs. We realize that and that is what we are working hard towards.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.
    The NDP is certainly in favour of increasing EI sickness benefits to 50 weeks. That would be the most acceptable and compassionate approach, and it would be more in line with people's reality.
    I have a question for my Liberal Party colleague. Only 40% of unemployed people get EI benefits because the hours of work eligibility threshold is too high. In other words, 100% of workers contribute, but only 40% of workers who lose their job have access to benefits.
    Why does the Liberal government not have an action plan to fix this problem so that all unemployed individuals can get support from this social program when they need it?

  (1550)  

    Madam Speaker, that is an important question. Our government has already reduced the number of hours required, but I understand workers’ anxiety about premiums and access to benefits.
    With respect to the 15 weeks of benefits that are currently offered, the government wants to extend the period to 26 weeks. That was in our election platform, and that is what stakeholders such as the Canadian Cancer Society told us was needed. They clearly asked us to extend the period from 15 weeks to half a year. That is where the number 26 comes from. It will make a big difference for people who are suffering. My father got cancer while he was employed. He had a hard time, because he was only allowed 15 weeks off. Increasing the benefit period to 26 weeks would help a lot. We hear what is being said today in the House, and we will see if we can do more, but the government wants to propose what we campaigned on. We want to make sure we can offer 26 weeks of benefits.
    Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise in the House today to talk about how we have enhanced employment insurance.
    The employment insurance program is one of the pillars of our social safety net. We are taking measures to ensure that it continues to serve workers and employers in a spirit of fairness and compassion.
    Generally speaking, EI benefits are extremely effective. They fulfill the purpose for which they were created. They provide support for Canadians who are looking for a job, working to improve their skills, dealing with an illness or preparing to become a parent or caregiver. However, Canadian jobs and Canadian families are changing. This means that the program must change as well.

[English]

    As a result, we are committed to improving the employment insurance program so that it continues to serve people. Part of our government's commitment to Canadian workers includes expanding the EI sickness benefit from 15 to 26 weeks. This commitment was welcomed by the Canadian Cancer Society which said:
The proposed extension would support Canadians who have been diagnosed with cancer and need to take time away from work to seek treatment.
    In addition, our commitment to expand EI sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks matches the recommendations from the MS Society of Canada and the Community Unemployed Help Centre that were brought forward at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
    We have already worked hard to make improvements to the program. Let me detail a few of these now.
     In January 2017 we shortened the employment insurance waiting period from two weeks to one week. The goal of this change was to ease the financial strain on claimants, and I am proud to say that we reached that goal. By October 2019 about five million claimants had benefited from the reduced waiting period.
     Another change we made is helping to make the El program more flexible. Eligible pregnant workers are now able to receive employment insurance maternity benefits earlier, up to 12 weeks before their due date. This gives women more leeway to consider their personal, health and workplace circumstances as they decide when to start their maternity leave. As of December 2018, about 8,000 workers had made use of this new flexibility.
     We know how challenging it can be to raise a family. That is why we improved the employment insurance parental benefits. Since December 2017 parents have been able to choose a longer parental leave at a lower benefit rate. It turns out that a lot of parents are taking advantage of this option. As of December 2018 approximately 32,000 parents had chosen the extended parental benefit option.
    To further demonstrate the government's commitment to parents, the employment insurance parental sharing benefit was launched in March 2019. Its main objective is to promote greater gender equality in the home and workplace by encouraging parents to share parental leave.
    More precisely, it offers an additional five weeks of employment insurance standard parental benefits reserved for a second parent. This 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.
     There is also the family caregiver benefit. Our government knows that many Canadians have to take time off from work to care for a loved one. We wanted to help them as well. That is why we made changes to make employment insurance benefits for caregivers more flexible, inclusive and easier to access. These changes came into effect in December 2017.
     Caregivers can access up to 15 weeks of benefits to provide care to an adult family member with a critical illness or injury.

  (1555)  

    We have also enhanced the benefits available to parents when they provide care or support to a critically ill child by extending eligibility to include additional family members who may provide care to the child. Also, in order to improve access to EI caregiving benefits, both medical doctors and nurse practitioners are now able to sign medical certificates.
    As I mentioned, the Government of Canada is looking for ways to improve the EI program so that it meets the needs of Canadian workers. That is why changes were made to improve the sickness benefit. As of August 2018, the EI working while on claim rules were extended to EI maternity and sickness benefits, including those for eligible self-employed persons. This measure provides Canadians who are dealing with an illness or injury with greater flexibility to manage their return to work and keep more of their EI benefits.
    Also, EI claimants in receipt of parental benefits, compassionate care benefits or the EI family caregiver benefit can switch to the sickness benefit if they become ill or injured while on claim.
    Finally, I want to mention one more change to the EI program. I am talking about our new EI skills boost measure, which was created to better support claimants who have lost their job after several years in the workplace. Through skills boost we are providing claimants with more opportunities to take full-time training while continuing to receive employment insurance benefits. The promotion and expansion of employment insurance flexibilities for training will encourage more claimants to upgrade their skills while receiving benefits.
     I also want to mention some important changes the Government of Canada recently made to the Canada Labour Code. These changes provide better work-life balance and strengthen labour standards protections in federally regulated private sector workplaces. Changes include new leaves such as personal leave and leave for victims of family violence, improved access to existing leave and general holiday pay, improved annual vacation entitlements and leave for traditional indigenous practices. These changes came into force on September 1, 2019, and exemplify the flexibility and work-life balance we are trying to achieve for Canadian workers.

[Translation]

    The reality is that families and workplaces are changing, so EI must also change.

[English]

    Employment insurance needs to keep up with the modern realities of today's labour market. It needs to continue to serve workers, and it needs to work well for employers too.

[Translation]

    It is all a question of balance.

[English]

    Giving employees flexibility is good for our economy as all of Canada benefits.

  (1600)  

    Madam Speaker, we are often fixated on the full term of EI, but we know individuals do not necessarily always need 100% of the 15 weeks, or the full term. One can actually utilize EI by being, as the member referred to it, flexible.
    Perhaps the member could reiterate that what our government has done to utilize the current term is very beneficial. Again, I think he used the term "flexible".
    Madam Speaker, I very much appreciate my colleague's concern on this issue. Illness is disruptive and often devastating to families and Canadians. We know how much the EI sickness benefit means to Canadians. We know that over 400,000 Canadians utilize EI sickness benefits annually and we also know that about one-third of those Canadians max out their claim benefits.
    We agree with the Canadian Cancer Society, which stated that 15 weeks is simply not enough. It does not provide the amount of time or the flexibility Canadians require, which is why this government is committed to extending the duration of EI sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 26 weeks, which is half a year, or six months. This is the first serious modernization in 40 years.
    We understand that this is a first step. This is a critical and crucial first step. We know it is just the first step, and we are committed to continuing our dialogue with the members of this House and other stakeholders across Canada.
    Madam Speaker, the member said that his government cleared the backlog for EI claims, yet I have heard from members who are seeing serious wait times for EI claims and are told that staff will get to them when they can. Could the member tell us what the current timeline is for an EI claim?