I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 37 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Today’s meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of June 23, 2022, but today, at this session, we'll all be here in the committee room. To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the witnesses and members.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. Click the microphone icon to activate your own mike, which will be controlled by the proceedings and verification officer. I will manage the speaking order.
You may speak in the official language of your choice. Interpretation services are available. I would ask members to speak slowly and clearly for the benefit of the translators for the interpretation services. If at any time we lose translation, please get my attention and I will suspend until the situation is corrected.
I would like to remind all participants that taking screenshots or photos is not allowed in the room. Again, should any technical issues arise, please get my attention, and I will suspend while they are clarified.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, June 15, 2022, the committee will commence its study of Bill , an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (illness, injury or quarantine).
At this time I would like to welcome the witnesses to begin the discussion with five minutes of opening remarks. We will begin with our colleague Monsieur Gourde, the MP for Lévis—Lotbinière. We also have another witness in the first hour, Louis Sansfaçon, who is appearing as an individual.
Welcome, gentlemen. I will now move to Mr. Gourde to begin his five minutes of opening remarks.
Mr. Gourde, you have the floor.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I also thank all the members of the committee for participating in this very important study.
Today, the HUMA committee will become a committee of hope. I’m talking here about the hope of 151,000 Canadians who, every year, need more than 15 weeks of employment insurance or sickness benefits. I’m introducing a bill with the spirit and intent of increasing benefits from 15 to 52 weeks for those who are eligible and in need because of a serious illness, such as cancer or a prolonged illness. This study is very important, because it could change things in these people’s lives.
I came to personally understand what getting help could mean. In 1993, my wife had cancer. Between the diagnosis, treatments and remission—in other words, before she was healthy again—a year had passed, from January 1993 to the end of December that same year. I can therefore tell you that, for everyone going through tough times, it really changes things. When fighting for our life and health, we need keep up hope and stay on course.
Unfortunately, too many Canadians lose their fight because they have financial problems due to the fact that they can’t work. Once their 15 weeks of employment insurance benefits have run out, they’re out of resources. Far too many Canadians still don’t have the means to obtain private insurance.
I am therefore asking you to reflect as parliamentarians, and not hide behind a royal recommendation. Parliament voted in favour of this bill at second reading. It is important to keep in mind that the decision on this bill, to be taken over the coming days, will directly affect the lives of 151,000 Canadians every year. It will also affect families, spouses, children, parents and friends. We all know someone who has had or will have health problems.
This is a message of hope that the government of Canada can support.
After a year, when people become essentially disabled, they have access to other benefits. However, there is a type of black hole between the fifteenth and fifty-second week of support offered to Canadians. Our duty as parliamentarians is to ensure that they get this help. The Parliament of Canada agrees. Do not hide behind a process. Its intention may be to prevent abuses, but this bill is not an abuse, it is a necessity.
I hope you will reflect on that.
I’ll stop there.
I’ll be ready for your questions.
Greetings, ladies and gentlemen of the committee.
Thank you for welcoming me here.
I also thank Ms. Chabot, who gave me the opportunity to address you. I am very grateful to her for it.
There’s a great deal of emotion behind the testimony I will attempt to give today, to try and honour the memory of my daughter, Émilie, and, above all, the promise I made to her.
In 2018, Émilie was working as a secretary and bookkeeper for a small construction business. She was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. Mother of a little three-year-old girl, she came to realize that she would need rounds of chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation treatments in order to survive, and this protocol was certainly going to last several months. Never having faced such a situation, she did not know the amount or length of benefits she was entitled to. In fact, she was entitled to a maximum of 15 weeks of benefits, the same number of weeks since 1971.
With all the wisdom of her 29 years, she thought that by getting directly involved, she could contribute to changing the law. Between 62 rounds of chemotherapy, she came here to Ottawa to raise awareness among decision makers—in other words, you—about the need to improve quality of life for sick workers like her. I supported her throughout the entire process. After nearly three years, on December 17, 2019, she even met personally with Prime Minister Trudeau. Hope was running high.
Bill , whose short title is the Émilie Sansfaçon Act, was tabled by Bloc Quebecois member Ms. Claude DeBellefeuille, who always supported Émilie. It did not receive royal assent. An election was called, and the bill died on the order paper, just like my daughter. It ended the hope for approximately 420,000 workers who pay into employment insurance.
Émilie died on November 5, 2020, without ever seeing an improvement. This simple process, launched by a young citizen who never asked to get sick, faced challenges both medical and financial. Émilie was disappointed. She had lost on both fronts.
On December 15, 2021, Mr. Jacques Gourde, conservative member for Lévis—Lotbinière, tabled Bill . It’s the latest version of many bills on the matter, and I hope that it will lead to 50 or 52 weeks of benefits. We won’t quibble over two weeks.
A question must be asked: How is it that, election after election, whether they take power or not, certain parliamentarians sometimes vote in favour, sometimes against, a certain bill? In February 2012, Mr. Trudeau voted in favour of Mr. Coderre’s proposal to increase benefits to 52 weeks. This position was a great source of inspiration for Émilie.
Citizens elect their chosen representatives. Every member has the privilege and the duty to participate personally in exercising democracy.
In Quebec, many tens of thousands of people can’t go to work due to illness. Some have been diagnosed with cancer and have to follow a treatment protocol that will go well beyond 15 weeks. According to a report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the majority of sick leave recipients are off work for an average of 41 weeks.
Kelly Masotti, vice-president of advocacy for the Canadian Cancer Society, noted that the average length of treatment for breast cancer or colon cancer was 26 to 37 weeks, not including convalescence.
All of you know that some people, unfortunately, don’t make it. The illness has an impact on a sick person’s daily life, but also on their family, their loved ones and their children. The perverse effect of only 15 weeks of benefits, even 26 weeks, is a slow slide into poverty.
As members or ministers, like me, you won’t have to worry the day after a diagnosis. You are not service sector workers, who aren’t necessarily covered by group insurance or mutual insurance, or who can’t pay for insurance. Personally, I have bone marrow cancer, a bone cancer, and I am covered by insurance.
Those of you who will take part in this decision, tell yourselves that this could happen to a member of your family, a friend, a neighbour, real people. In short, this absurdity is very real. It is insidious and impacts morale almost more than the illness itself. Statistics uphold the law to the detriment of community and solidarity.
It is unjustifiable that in Canada, sick workers have to turn to the funding platforms of this world, like GoFundMe. They have to organize benefit dinners or other activities to pay for their medication or travel to hospital, among other things.
On May 28, 2021, the announced in the House of Commons that Canadians wanted and deserved a flexible employment insurance system that meets their needs.
I agree with her, but the 26-week period does not meet the needs or the goals to be achieved.
Of course, Mr. Chair, you will not see sick workers participating in a protest, sign in hand, marching the streets. They are too busy taking care of themselves and, above all, surviving financially.
I know full well that we have gone through a pandemic. And now, we are going through inflation. What, then, will these sick workers do in the face of inflation?
The pandemic caused delays for surgeries, but also for making diagnoses and taking charge of patients. Therefore, from the beginning, precious weeks that should have been dedicated to healing and returning to work were wasted. Once again, workers are the ones paying the price.
You all agree that a healthy environment promotes healing. However, the stress of the unknown in the face of an illness, compounded by the financial reality and challenge of having to feed oneself, pay bills and take care of one’s family become a source of mental exhaustion. That certainly does not help people return to work.
Sooner or later, a sick worker, having exhausted their weeks of benefits, will have to sell all they have and drain their savings to become eligible for social programs, under provincial responsibility.
To conclude, I highlight that the also said that the Employment Insurance Act needs to be modernized. Again, I agree with her, but let’s not do things by halves. If we divide 50 by 2, we’re close to 26.
I will take the liberty of repeating the words of Ms. Marie‑Hélène Dubé, whom I congratulate for her determination and courage. She said that the goal to achieve is allowing workers to take care of themselves with dignity and respect.
One day, you will all have to rise in the House and represent the thousands of people who elected you. In every one of your ridings, workers are going through the same situation as Émilie. As a citizen, I expect every single one of you to vote with your heart and the mantle of responsibility you wear. I ask you to remember your commitment and the privilege you have to change things for those who have no voice.
In Émilie’s memory, thank you.
In actual fact, people do not start feeling stressed at the 15th week, or even approaching the 15th week; it is long before that. It starts from the time the person meets their doctor and learns that the required treatment could last 40 weeks.
The patient may hope that it does not take that long, but ultimately they receive their benefits for the 12th, 13th and finally the 15th week. As I said earlier, the patient and their loved ones then have to raise money using the GoFundMe platform, for instance, or hold spaghetti dinners and so on.
There is a special ingredient in these efforts. A lot of love goes into these gestures, but that energy should be channelled elsewhere. It should go to helping the sick person, whether that means driving them to the hospital, helping them in their daily routines with the children, in short, just being there.
The 15‑week period is a psychological barrier. Once that period ends, things become dramatic. Émilie was fortunate to have people around her who were a bit more financially secure. Not everyone is in that position, though. As I said earlier, these people are often in the tertiary sector and have low wages. No one expects an illness. They do not have that reflex. They think about building their house, buying a car and making good decisions. When they receive a diagnosis, however, everything changes.
For my part, I had multiple myeloma and had a bone marrow transplant. So Émilie had faith in medicine, but in her case the treatment did not work. And of course the pandemic did not help her situation.
So all of this creates incredible stress. If the financial issues were settled and under control, the situation would be easier. I am not talking about giving out money left and right, but rather spending that money wisely to help sick people. I think workers might be willing to contribute a bit more for that purpose. Perhaps that is the price of the desired peace of mind.
Good afternoon, colleagues, and thank you to our presenters this afternoon.
Mr. Sansfaçon, thanks for coming back. I'm so, so sorry about the tragic loss of Émilie.
Mr. Gourde, thanks for bringing this forward. I appreciate your passion. Certainly in the House I always look forward to seeing you speak.
For the record, I want to state that I'm really happy that I can see all parties around this table advocating for increased EI benefits. That is really very refreshing to see. We will be implementing the 26 weeks by the end of this year, which will help about 120,000 additional Canadians.
All of us around this horseshoe have stories from our constituency offices about the calls we get. I talked to my team this afternoon. Jeannette Arsenault is the person who handles most of my constituency work. I asked her to share with me some of the calls she gets and some of the responses she has to give. Some of these Canadians work all their lives; they get sick, and they receive 15 weeks of EI. We've had some people basically be told that, well, you're going to have to go on social assistance. That is horrifying. We've had some people refuse treatments because they couldn't afford to go on EI sick leave. We're also entering an era of long COVID, when more and more Canadians are going to need more than 15 weeks.
In your opinion, Mr. Gourde, in general, what are some of the greatest challenges employees face regarding access to EI sickness benefits?
When a person is sick and receives a medical diagnosis meaning that they cannot work, the person becomes eligible for EI sick benefits. That is not the problem.
The problem is that, among the 400,000 Canadians who claim EI sick benefits every year, about 151,000 of them need more than 15 weeks of benefits. By extending the benefit period to 26 weeks, we will be helping 120,000 of those 151,000 people. Yet that will still leave 31,000 Canadians per year for whom that is not enough.
If we receive royal assent and the bill is passed, with 26 weeks, that might help another 31,000 Canadians, without costing very much.
I would like the Parliamentary Budget Officer to examine the cost difference between the planned 26 weeks and the average of 41 weeks needed. For the 31,000 Canadians who are really badly off, the average amount of benefits would not be about $600 per week, but about $300 to $350 per week. Is it really worthwhile to penalize 31,000 Canadians by stubbornly debating 26 weeks versus 52 weeks?
This is an important matter now because measures have been proposed to modernize the EI program and the insurance companies are ready. It took 50 years to open the discussion, move forward and grant more than 15 weeks of benefits. The current proposal is 26 weeks, we need 52, but for the vast majority of the population, the average number of weeks needed is 41.
By limiting it to 26 weeks, we will be penalizing about 31,000 Canadians every year. Some of those Canadians are in each of our ridings. Not a week goes by without someone calling to say they are out of money. We must really resolve this matter and settle it for the next 50 years. I am asking you to think about it and talk to your caucus about it.
Good afternoon. Thank you for having me here for the third time. I am going to make a few clarifications.
Since 2009, I have been running the campaign 15 Weeks is Not Enough. I battled cancer three times between 2003 and 2008. I only got 15 weeks of benefits. As a result, I started a petition that became the largest in Canada, collecting 620,000 signatures. I was involved in the development of the majority of bills.
So my tenure has been longer than most MPs. I think it's important to remember that context, as so many Canadians have been involved in this process and have called for an increase in the benefit period from 26 to 50 weeks.
I never thought I would be going through the same nightmare again 13 years later. I had more complications and, as of August 28, I am still without an income because my 15 weeks of benefits are over. In short, everything that was said before applies.
I'm glad to see that there is a new bill, but, honestly, I find it very discouraging. I have worked with all the parties over the years. Everyone always agrees during discussions, but the game of musical chair game continues. It used to be the Conservatives who blocked the Liberals. Now the roles are reversed. Honestly, I've seen it all. Ask me, I was there, unfortunately.
So this bill must succeed. The political bickering passes, but in the meantime, people are suffering. When the Liberals, though strongly supportive of this change, proposed 26 weeks of benefits, Mr. Sansfaçon and Émilie had just joined my fight and we did a tremendous amount of legwork.
I also met with and , who made it clear to me that we were not going to be limited to 26 weeks and would go back to the drawing board and change that to fit the reality. I met with the people responsible for the budget, such as and Tyler Meredith. Then I met with . Everyone agreed not to limit ourselves to 26 weeks and to find an appropriate length.
Finally, in summary, COVID‑19 came along and, for reasons we can't explain, we went back to 26 weeks. That hasn't moved since 1971. If we're doing something, let's do it right.
A lot of numbers were cited earlier, but I would remind you that setting the benefit period at 26 weeks is going to let down the people who need it the most. Extending the benefit period from 26 weeks to 50 weeks changes everything when it comes to treatment and recovery.
Right now, I'm dealing with costs that have skyrocketed. It just doesn't make any sense. Honestly, I'm really not proud to be Canadian. The UN calls Canada a laughingstock when it comes to social programs. There are many things that make me proud, but this is not one of them. I find this appalling.
In addition, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has demonstrated that this is a viable change. We can pay for this; people agree, it is a socially acceptable measure. As I said, extending the duration of benefits from 26 weeks to 50 weeks would completely change the situation.
I want to make a clarification about private insurance, which was talked about a lot earlier. Whether you have private insurance or not, it's important to talk about eligibility. When you spent your childhood at Sainte-Justine Hospital or a family member is sick, no matter how much you apply, you are not eligible.
I am a criminologist by training and I worked for over 10 years in youth protection. So there are a lot of things that I specialize in. The risk of abuse has been mentioned and good points have been made, but what is not often mentioned are the consequences of doing nothing. People may think that amending the legislation in this way is going to cost a lot of money, but who has ever thought about the cost of doing nothing? It costs a fortune to keep this outdated legislation in place because there are a lot of unnecessary extra costs. It is important to consider this.
On the other hand, there is the intergenerational transmission of poverty, which ranges from three to seven generations according to the authors. For example, when a person, after 26 weeks on benefits, is forced to sell their house, is on the street and has to go on welfare, that has repercussions. I submitted a brief at one of my previous appearances, which has been distributed to you, where this is much more documented. You should know that poverty in a single family can affect up to 1,000 families. All of these people end up relying on assistance programs permanently when they shouldn't because of a situation in their lives that is only temporary. These people have lost hope.
Another point that is important to mention is the revenue shortfall. All those people who are offered last-resort programs and should not be in that situation are no longer paying taxes. It makes no sense. There are really additional costs associated with poverty.
A 2016 federal government report noted that socio-economic inequality in health imposes a direct economic burden on Canada of at least $6.2 billion every year. Of course, this is not just due to the 15‑week benefit limit, but that still accounts for a sizable portion, as such costs could be avoided.
So I don't understand that in Canada, in 2022, with all the steps that this campaign has taken, we are still at this point. I have met many people who have become friends, including Émilie and Louis Sansfaçon, and others, who were activists with me, but are now deceased. Will I be next? I don't know.
I find the situation inconceivable. So can we please put partisanship and politics aside? Could we really focus on this problem and allow people to get treatment?
Earlier, Mr. Sansfaçon said that medicine is getting better. Yes, people used to die, but now they survive. In fact, we can die with dignity, but do we have to get treated in mediocrity and poverty? Do we have to be condemned to go through things like I am still going through now?
It doesn't make sense that this is possible in Canada, in 2022. People are not getting treated. It took 51 years, 620,000 signatures and 14 bills to get to this point. I can't count the number of meetings I've attended to get a comma moved. So why do it the wrong way? If the act is limited to 26 weeks, do you think it will be possible to change that number afterwards? I would be very surprised if that happened.
That would be appalling. We have talked about long COVID. People who suffer from it really need to be able to get treatment. They will go back to work because employment insurance, which is taxable, is only 55% of their salary. So they are living on less than $7,000 or $8,000 for a year, while all the costs are skyrocketing. It makes no sense.
I would really like all these parameters to be taken into account and for us to come to an agreement. I've worked so much with the Liberals on this issue, so it is difficult to understand why we are still here. I think there is a duty to be consistent.
I know there are a number of new members, but it would be important to understand the scope of this campaign and what we have been doing. You need to be consistent for the people who elected you, for those who are sick, for the 620,000 people who signed the paper petition—yes, paper—across Canada.
So please be consistent. Let people get proper treatment and recover without all this stress that is totally inhumane.
I thank the members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities for allowing the Mouvement action-chômage de Montréal to give its opinion on Bill . I would first like to say that we are, obviously, in favour of the proposed amendments.
I will divide my five-minute speech into two parts. I would like to make it clear that I will be referring to the sections of the Employment Insurance Act that affect salaried workers. Of course, the same thinking applies to self-employed persons who pay into EI special benefits.
First, I would like to draw the committee's attention to subsection 12(6) of the Employment Insurance Act regarding the general stacking of benefits. Indeed, the amendment to paragraph 12(3)(c) of the act may unfortunately be ineffective for some claimants or, at the very least, may not have the intended effect.
Subsection 12(6) prevents claimants with at least one week of regular benefits from accumulating more than 50 weeks of benefits, all benefits combined. Thus, a claimant who has used regular EI benefits in his or her benefit period will not be able to receive the famous 52 weeks of sickness benefits if he or she becomes ill. The reverse is also true: a claimant who has used 52 weeks of sickness benefits and then loses his or her job will not be able to receive regular EI benefits, despite the fact that illness is one of the reasons for extending the qualifying period under subsection 8(2) of the act.
I would therefore invite the members of the committee to consider this issue, so that the amendment to paragraph 12(3)(c) does not leave a proportion of sick claimants without replacement income. Of course, the simplest way to deal with the perverse effect of subsection 12(6) is to simply repeal the entire section, which is a single sentence. Let us eliminate this sentence from the Employment Insurance Act and thus solve the problem of the general stacking of different EI special benefits after or before regular benefits. By adding the amendment to Bill to repeal subsection 12(6) of the act, committee members will be able to correct a potential unfairness to a portion of the unemployed who become ill.
Second, while amending a part of the Employment Insurance Act concerning special benefits, in this case sickness benefits, I would invite the legislator to correct the inequity of the act towards women who have received maternity or parental benefits, or their equivalent from a provincial parental insurance plan. Mothers who have received maternity and parental benefits are left without replacement income if they lose their jobs without having worked a sufficient number of hours to requalify for regular benefits. Yet the federal government considered the situation worrisome enough to allow these mothers to receive the Canada Emergency Response Benefit or the Canada Recovery Benefit during the pandemic. In addition, on January 10, the Social Security Tribunal issued a decision stating that subsections 8(2), 8(5), 10(10) and 12(6) of the Employment Insurance Act violate the equality rights protected by section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I would therefore invite the members of the committee to amend Bill to correct this violation of the right to equality. To do so, Parliament should amend subsections 8(2) and 10(10) by adding to each an additional ground for extending the qualifying period and the benefit period. For the record, there are already four grounds for extending the qualifying period and the benefit period. This amendment to subsections 8(2) and 10(10) would add a fifth ground.
This fifth ground for extension could simply be written as follows, obviously using the feminine: “She was receiving maternity or parental benefits or their equivalent from a provincial parental insurance plan”. In addition, Parliament should repeal subsection 8(5), as well as subsection 12(6), which I already mentioned in the first part of my statement.
I know that the second part of my intervention is a bit removed from what you are considering in Bill . Nevertheless, I preferred to talk about it.
With that, I thank the members of the committee for listening to the opinion of the Mouvement action-chômage de Montréal.
Obviously, I shouldn't be appearing before your committee again. Honestly, I don't have an answer for you. I can never get a straight answer. Just yesterday, I was told again that they wanted to study the matter further and that they would do so gradually. Honestly, I find that as soon as a new government is elected, it changes its position. This is what I have concluded from the many steps I have taken. It is very sad, because we are really losing time. Meanwhile, every day, people are losing their homes or committing suicide. Some families are going to be impacted for the rest of their lives because they were a few weeks short.
I don't have an answer for you since no one has a really sensible answer for me. The government is just stalling by hiding behind procedures, behind the administration and behind this or that. Then something always comes up, like an election call. This is often the case. When there is an election, the bill dies on the order paper. Also, we are unlucky in the draw, as Mr. Gourde mentioned. We often get caught up in obstacles like that. With respect to Bill C‑215, it is true that it is well placed in the order of priority.
To sum up, I don't have a specific answer for you because no one has answered me satisfactorily. Yet the feasibility is there. It is now a question of will. In Canada, do we want people to treat themselves on the street? Do we want people to live on welfare and lose everything they have?
I have given over 400 interviews. I once collaborated on an article about a lady who had lost everything and was living in a campground with her 11‑year‑old boy so she could do her chemotherapy treatments. I worked on this article with the journalist Patrick Lagacé, who was outraged. There have been so many of these cases. Is this the Canada we want? Can we finally open our eyes and see that things are not going well? It's really not going well for people who are sick, people who have worked all their lives and who just want to go back to work.
We talked a lot about mental health earlier. Think of the effect this has on mental health. Do you think it helps people who are ill? People get depressed. Because of stress and many other things, people develop a host of complications that they wouldn't normally develop. Poverty sets in and children are affected and start having a lot of problems. This is what I call the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
The reasons I am given for refusing the extension of benefits are never satisfactory and never will be. Sometimes I find that they stumble over the costs. They say there is a risk of abuse, as if people decide for themselves how long they want to be off sick. Honestly, that never happens. This aspect is always supervised by a doctor. As we said, no one wants to depend on EI sickness benefits. Of course not! Getting only 55% of your salary means you are downright poor.
We need to stop using all these bad reasons. We really need to do the right thing. I can't believe I'm here again. I started this fight when I was 38 years old. I was born in 1971, the year the act was passed. Today I am 51 years old and I am still standing here. It's dreadful. I am going through this again and I am doing it for others. It's complete nonsense.
In your constituencies, you hear testimonies, but I hear these stories all the time. Over the years, a lot of times I've said to myself that I'm going to stop doing this, because nobody listens to me. I should say that people listen to me, but nothing happens. I am discouraged. I do this on a voluntary basis. I have never stopped because I have never stopped hearing the accounts of people who lose everything and end up on the street. It touches me so much that I continue. I keep going. I'm not with you today because my health doesn't allow me to, and it's really frustrating. I'm carrying on and I can't believe that I won't see this change. I can't believe that the government is just going to extend benefits for only 26 weeks. Indeed, we know—
It's a really difficult situation, one with consequences.
My children are now grown up. If I go back to when they were younger, our whole life was really changed. We couldn't do activities anymore. We did everything as little as possible. All the clothes we bought for the children were used. You didn't buy clothes for yourself anymore. It was a thousand things. You had to cut back on treatments to look after the children. Everything had to be done so that the children's lives would not be compromised. I think all parents do that.
I'll take this opportunity to digress. The Employment Insurance Act has been amended for parents of sick children. A mother who finds herself with a baby who has leukemia can take 35 weeks to care for the baby, which is wonderful. However, a mother like me who has leukemia, cancer, and children is only entitled to 15 weeks. Yet she has dependents. This is an aberration.
So yes, the repercussions are incredible. In my story, the only bit of luck I had was to have a house that's going to be mortgaged forever and remortgaged forever. I will never be able to have a nice retirement and enjoy it. Yes, it has an impact. It has a huge impact on my children. I would like to spoil them a bit, finally. I used to think that after all these years, one day I would be able to do that, but no, it's impossible to consider.
It also affects family. I had help, but I needed help over and over. When I was ill, GoFundMe didn't exist. People were doing workplace collections, things like that. It's a situation that has huge implications.
Also, having to be away and leave work creates isolation. It affects us a lot. When you're under a lot of stress, you try not to let it show too much in front of the children, and also in front of the family, because you don't want to bother people with your problems. It has a terrible impact on the family.
There is also intergenerational transmission. This is where children start to develop multiple problems, such as learning problems or psychological problems of all kinds and other difficulties. The children in turn enter an impossible system. There are families who will really end up in atrocious conditions.
When my children were young, I remember how difficult it was, trying to keep up with everything. The school collaborated. It's hard to try to keep it all together. It's the mothers, the parents, who suffer. The repercussions are enormous. All the energy put into this doesn't allow you to do the rest. I wanted to have a social life and I thought it would be good for me, but no, it wasn't possible.
It is true that everybody agrees on an emotional level. On a rational level, you have to provide numbers and describe the consequences. To start with, you have to tot up the costs associated with keeping the current law, instead of constantly asking how much it is going to cost to change it. This has already been proven. How much does intergenerational poverty cost? I touched upon this issue in my presentation. We have to ask these types of questions.
You have to make a choice between giving 20 extra weeks of benefits to the person, or making that person suffer all the consequences, like being on social assistance for 20 years, no longer paying taxes and not feeling like an active member of society. Moreover, there will be repercussions for the entire family. You have to take all these costs into account, because they exist.
Apart from the United States, Canada is the only G7 country that gives less than a year's worth of benefits. The majority of European countries offer benefits for a full year, a year and a half or two years. This is well documented: the countries that offer more coverage and treat their citizens struck by sickness with more respect come out as winners, whichever way you look at it. In Europe, there is the Centre des liaisons européennes et internationales de sécurité sociale.
Spain offers benefits for a period equal to one year plus six months, Ireland offers a benefit period of two years, Portugal makes benefits available for 1,095 days and Hungary offers a year's worth. Even South Africa has 52 weeks of benefits. What about Canada? We should look at what other countries are doing and check if it's working. And you know what? It's working.
In some countries, benefit amounts can be increased. To start with, a sick person can receive 55% of their wages. The sicker the person is, the more benefits they receive; up to 90% of wages. Only a small proportion of people are entitled to this amount, but they are the ones who need it the most in order to avoid becoming homeless.
We have to be open to such arguments and see what other countries are doing. We must stop limiting ourselves to only measuring the upfront costs. We have to look at the costs involved in keeping to the status quo, which are enormous. Then take into account the shortage of workers. It boggles the mind.
You have to give people time to get better. Afterwards, they can go back to work. Do you want to make all these people homeless? They might not ever be able to get back up on their feet again. They might decide that it is not worth it. We have to ask ourselves these questions and look at what other countries are doing. Let's look at the costs and decide if we will come out ahead in terms of economic results but also in human terms. People who are feeling better will be able to go back to work more quickly. They are going to be active members of society. They will enjoy better mental health because they won't be asking themselves how to fill their days, they will no longer be depressed and they won't have lost their jobs. We have to tailor the system to their needs.
We should look at all the factors, even those that we don't often take into consideration. The technical details are extremely important. There are other important factors apart from feasibility.
Indeed, when it comes to Bill , we absolutely have to amend section 12(6) so that everyone can receive the maximum amount of employment insurance and sickness benefits, i.e., 52 weeks.
It is all well and good seeking to change section 12(3)(c), which sets out the maximum amount of employment insurance and sickness benefits that a person can receive, but if we do not amend section 12(6), there will still be problems.
Let me give you an example. In Montreal, we are entitled to a maximum of 36 weeks of regular benefits. That is the maximum period for regular benefits. If I lose my job, I'm entitled to 36 weeks of regular benefits, but if I become sick afterwards. I will not be entitled to more than 14 weeks of sickness benefits under the employment insurance program because I will have already received the maximum amount of benefits. Section 12(6) is very clear on this. As soon as you receive at least a week of regular employment insurance benefits, the maximum that you can receive afterwards is 50 weeks. It is impossible to receive more than 50 weeks of any benefit because you have received regular benefits.
Sometimes, the reverse can also be true. I will give you another example. Say I get sick. I am entitled to 52 weeks of sickness benefits under the employment insurance program. Afterwards, I go back to my job and there's a fire at my place of work. I heard of a similar case recently. There was a fire in the workplace and the person should have received regular employment insurance benefits, which replace normal wages when someone loses their job. However, because that person had already received sickness benefits, they were not entitled to regular benefits due to of section 12(6).
Whichever way you look at it, if you do not amend section 12(6), unemployed workers will not be entitled to wage replacement benefits, whether it be sickness benefits or regular benefits. We really have to proceed with caution here, and that's the reason I would ask the committee to amend Bill , so that section 12(6) does not cancel out the amendment to section 12(3)(c).