Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to debate Motion No. 110, a motion brought forward by my hon. colleague, the member for Banff—Airdrie. If it were not for his diligent work, this pressing issue might have gone overlooked, and for that I say thank him.
Parenthood is one of life's greatest treasures. Speaking from my own experience as a mother of three and a grandmother of 10, I can certainly say that parenthood is a gift from God. The joy and even the anxiety of being a new parent is an irreplaceable experience. I know that some of the other hon. members in this house are parents as well, and they can also understand what a wonderful moment it is to welcome a child into this world.
Now imagine losing a beautiful baby in just weeks, days, or even minutes after it is born. Unfortunately, in Canada the sudden loss of a child is the tragic reality for some parents. It is a reality I am sure that no member in this House would wish on any parent. It is hard to even think about what one would say to a grieving couple in that situation.
As members, we may not have the ability to legislate away this reality, although we can do a better job in supporting bereaved parents in Canada by assuring them that no government programming will cause them unnecessary or additional stress.
Motion No. 110 is an impactful first step in that direction. It is an opportunity for us, who are so privileged to sit in this House, to rise above partisan politics and to stand united in seeking to provide compassion and support to bereaved parents. This motion is asking the House to have the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities undertake a study on the impacts that parents who suffer the loss of an infant child face, so that they are not subject to any undue financial or emotional hardship because of poor government programming, particularly the employment insurance parental benefits program.
Studying this issue will be beneficial, as the committee will hear officially from parents who have lost infants, organizations who advocate on behalf of bereaved families, experts in the area of grief counselling, and officials responsible for our government programs.
There are numerous cases in which parents have suddenly lost a child. I am familiar with many myself. However, today, I would like to draw attention to Rachel and Rob Samulack's experience, who say:
“Our son Aaron was diagnosed with bilateral renal agenesis, which means he was missing kidneys at 20 weeks gestation. This condition is deemed incompatible with life. Despite pressure to terminate the pregnancy, we decided to continue the pregnancy with the support of the perinatal hospice program at Roger Neilson House. Despite the fact our son was critically ill, I was ineligible to receive compassionate care benefits or benefits to care for a critically ill child, as he was ill in utero. I continued to work full-time hours until 33 weeks gestation while attending numerous medical appointments, because I had no other option.
“Aaron was born on Father's Day, June 19, 2016. We spent 100 precious minutes with Aaron. He had beautiful strawberry blonde hair and looked so much like our older son Gabriel. Gabriel met him, as did his grandparents and aunts and uncles. It was hard, but it was beautiful. Aaron passed away in our arms surrounded by love.
“When Aaron died on the day he was born, my total of 15 weeks of maternity benefits started counting down. I was ineligible for parental leave benefits, as my son had died.
“When I returned to work after 15 weeks, Rob was in nursing school and our other son was two years old at the time. I had to repeatedly tell coworkers why I had returned months earlier than planned. I cried alone daily in the washroom and took a pay cut so I could work four days a week.
“If an infant dies while a parent is on parental leave, the parental benefits stop that day. They are left with three days of bereavement leave, and up to 15 weeks of sickness El benefits—if they are told about them and apply for them. Singing to my dying son, then later putting yellow roses on his tiny casket as we buried him, left me with barely the strength to cry, let alone navigate applying for sickness benefits.
“I was never told about these additional benefits by my employer, which is the federal public service. Despite the recent addition of two more bereavement days through Bill C-63, Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 2, five days of bereavement leave is just not enough. Until you have had to plan a funeral for your child and bury them, it is hard to fathom the extended grief that accompanies this type of loss.
“With the support of our friends and families, Rob and I organized the first charity walk/run for pregnancy and infant loss in Ottawa, called The Butterfly Run Ottawa/Gatineau. The Butterfly Run originally started in Belleville, Ontario, in 2016. The run was created to support individuals and families experiencing infertility or pregnancy and infant loss and to provide a community for those experiencing such losses. On Oct. 14, 2017, exactly one year after I returned to work following Aaron's loss, Aaron's Butterfly Run Ottawa/Gatineau was held. Approximately 400 people participated in the run and more than $30,000 was raised for pregnancy and infant loss programs at Roger Neilson House.”
This is one of the downfalls of government being too big. Looking at Rachel and Rob's experience, we can see that big government programs can sometimes paint broad strokes for people, causing those who need special assistance to be overlooked. Evidently the current system is not designed to serve parents who undergo such a loss. It has a blind spot that we now have all been made aware of, thanks to this motion.
Rachel works for the Government of Canada but was not even made aware of the benefits due to her. If it is like this in the public sector, imagine the difficulties for those in the private sector. Rachel and Rob have stepped up in an incredible way, and it is now on us who sit in the House to do the same. We have an opportunity to stand in the gap on behalf of these families. This is a moment when all parties can come together for the benefit of Canada.
In listening to other hon. members speak to Motion No. 110, I can clearly see that there is a fundamental belief across all party lines that we need to support those families who suffer from such a loss. We should not have to debate whether or not we should study this issue. Therefore, I invite all members to join me in support of Motion No. 110 so that we can move forward on finding some concrete solutions for these families.