Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to thank my colleagues for bringing forward this important motion, allowing us to debate this important priority for the NDP. As many people will know, this was an NDP campaign promise in the most recent election. It put this idea forward in a bill in the past two Parliaments and is delighted to do so in the 43rd Parliament as well. However, this has not been the case with the Liberal government.
When they were not in government, the Liberals voted for increases in special employment insurance sickness benefits, but as soon as they were elected, that support vanished. Instead, we were told that they would “revisit” the issue. The flip-flopping at the expense of sick Canadians is unconscionable and I urge my government colleagues to support this important motion.
While I am so proud to be a member of the New Democratic Party and am delighted to stand in support of this motion, I would like to take this opportunity to share a deeply personal story, which I hope will illustrate the need for the House to pass this bill.
On November 26, 2016, my doctor told me that I had a very aggressive form of cancer and would require emergency surgery and the removal of a significant portion of my large intestine. I was the mother of a nine-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter and I have never been more afraid than I was at that point.
My life very quickly changed. I went from being a very busy mother, driving kids to swim practices, hockey games and music lessons, and being the executive director of a non-profit organization, to a cancer patient who had non-stop medical appointments and tests. It took me months to recover from my surgery and cancer treatment. I could not do anything. I could not get groceries. I could not do the laundry. I could not drive or even get out of bed without assistance.
It was a terrible time in my life, but I still recognize how lucky I was. I had access to incredible medical care. I had an incredibly supportive husband and family, and my husband had a good job with benefits. We were able to continue to pay our bills, buy the expensive pain medication and medical supplies and make ends meet. I did not have the added stress of worrying about supporting myself and my family while undergoing medical treatment.
In a country with as much wealth and prosperity as Canada, I hope that no Canadian would have to bear the additional burden of being unable to pay their bills, buy the nourishing food they need to heal or access the medication they need.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer published a report entitled “Cost Estimate of an Increase in the Duration of Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefits” and found that to increase the number of weeks of sickness benefits to 50 would require the employee premium rate to rise by a total of six cents from the baseline rate of $1.62 per $100 of insurable earnings.
The PBO found that 77% of recipients who used this benefit survived following illness, but were not ready to return to work once they had exhausted their 15 weeks. We are letting more than three out of four Canadians with major illnesses like this simply run out of options over an increase of six cents.
Almost one in two people in Canada will develop cancer at some point in their lives, an illness with an average treatment length of 52 weeks. Fifteen weeks of benefits are simply not enough to allow people to heal before returning to work.
With breast cancer, 25 to 36 weeks is the average time for treatment and recovery. For colon cancer, it is 37 weeks. With the benefit currently at 15 weeks, we know that it is not meeting the needs of patients experiencing these cancers. When will the government finally commit to making this change to increase these special benefits to 50 weeks?
We know that 50 weeks is what we give mothers after they give birth. Why would people who have life-threatening diseases not be given the same benefits? The Liberal government has just given $50 million to Mastercard and over $10 million to Loblaws, yet it cannot uphold its own promise to increase El benefits to the sick and injured.
Why is the government rushing to pay $50 million to a big company like Mastercard, but dragging its feet when it comes to helping ill and injured workers?
More than 600,000 people have signed the petition, calling on the government to increase EI sickness benefits from 15 to 50 weeks for workers who are sick. The NDP wants to fix the employment insurance system that many Canadians need to rely on when they are dealing with an illness so it no longer falls short by not providing the flexibility to support those who want to work when they can.
I will be splitting my time, Mr. Speaker.
In addition to an increase in special benefits, the New Democrats would like to see expanded access to retraining and the creation of a pilot project that would allow workers with episodic disabilities to access EI sickness benefits.
We want to prevent the situation that occurred in 2010, when the federal government transferred $57 billion from the employment insurance account into the government's general revenue.
Employment insurance is an important part of the Canadian social safety net. It is intended to assist Canadians who are facing financially challenging events like unemployment, injury and new parenthood. It is also intended to support Canadians who are afflicted with a serious illness like cancer and require lengthy periods of recuperation. They require the support the most.
Consecutive Liberal and Conservative governments have neglected our EI system, allowing it to become decimated and broken, unable to meet the needs of Canadians. It has not been revised since before I was born in 1971. It is time for an upgrade.
I urge all members to support the motion.