Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion. The employment insurance program is an important part of Canada's social security net. With every paycheque, Canadian workers have spent years paying into the employment insurance program. Whether it is due to job loss, parental leave or sickness, Canadians who have contributed to this program should have confidence that the program benefits are available to them when they need them.
As legislators we owe it to Canadians to ensure that the EI program is not only fair, flexible and supportive, but that it is also a viable program in the long term. The motion before us today calls special attention to the employment insurance sickness benefits. The current structure of this program provides up to 15 weeks of sickness benefits to eligible employees who are unable to work for medical reasons.
I have no doubt in my mind that every member in this chamber understands the value of this benefit. We have all dealt with it personally, or experienced it through a loved one, or at least known someone who was unable to work because of a serious illness or a medical condition.
We can surely find agreement that when someone is faced with serious illness, the person's focus and energy is better spent on recovery and not worrying about making ends meet. As we have heard in this place, the current 15-week benefit threshold was established in 1971 and almost 50 years later there is certainly merit in reviewing the program.
In the previous Parliament and now again in this Parliament, I have had the privilege of being a member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, better known as the HUMA committee. This committee has the latitude to review the EI sickness benefits program.
In the previous Parliament, in its “Supporting Families After the Loss of a Child” report, the HUMA committee recommended that the government gather data specific to employment insurance sickness benefits used to support bereavement and high-risk pregnancy.
Also, in its “Taking Action: Improving the Lives of Canadians Living with Episodic Disabilities” report, the HUMA committee made specific recommendations to improve the EI program's ability to meet the needs of Canadians living with episodic disabilities and their families. Allowing workers to claim benefits in smaller units, such as hours or days, instead of weeks was just one option that was put forward in this report.
This recommendation shows that there is room to modernize and improve the flexibility of the EI sickness benefit to better support Canadians living with an episodic disability. These two studies, as well as other work done by the HUMA committee, demonstrated the merit of a full review of the EI sickness benefit program.
In fact, in the previous Parliament, on multiple occasions, one of my NDP colleagues moved a motion to that effect. That motion specifically called on the HUMA committee to review the employment insurance sickness benefits as it relates to current program outcomes, the impacts of the current structure and its accessibility. The motion had my support and that of my Conservative colleagues, but it was very unfortunate that on every single occasion the motion was moved, the Liberal members of the committee who had the majority shut down the debate.
Understanding the success and the failures of any program is vital in shaping a better program. We do not have a comprehensive study to lean on today in considering this motion, but maybe we would have if in the previous Parliament my NDP colleague's motion had not been shut down time and time again.
That is why I would strongly support the HUMA committee undertaking a comprehensive review of this program. Equipped with a full review of the EI sickness benefit program, we could help ensure that we make the necessary changes to the program so that the program delivered is in the interests of all Canadians.
Today's motion suggests that a new maximum sickness benefit be set to 50 weeks in the upcoming budget, but there are many considerations to be made in changing this program that are not addressed in this motion. I would note the other proposals that have been made to modernize this program from previous committee reports. It is important that we consider the increased cost to employer and employee premiums.
Despite the sunny portrait that is often painted by the current Liberal government, constituents in my riding are faced with a hard reality. We do not even have to look past the two main economic drivers in my region to understand that reality. Our energy sector is being crushed by the Liberal government, and our farmers and agricultural producers are constantly finding themselves on the losing end of the government's failed policies and failed leadership. Layoffs and unemployment are a real possibility for many of my constituents.
It would be wholly irresponsible to not fully evaluate and understand the impact of increased premiums. We also have to consider that not all Canadians are eligible for EI program benefits. In fact, one-fifth of working Canadians do not qualify for the EI program. They would not benefit from this motion that is proposed today.
This, in turn, raises the question of whether the EI program is the best support system to help Canadians dealing with serious illness. Again, as a member of the HUMA committee, I do hope that we can have the opportunity to review this program, an opportunity to hear from the experts and those who are or who work with those directly affected by this program, so that we can ensure that the EI program continues to be there when Canadians need it, that we are not undermining the fiscal viability of that program, that changes to the program do not have other unintended economic impacts, and, of course, that in reforming the program, we are making the program more fair, flexible and supportive.
I appreciate that today's motion highlights these important issues. It gives us an opportunity to evaluate the EI program in the House, but I do hope we have the opportunity for a more thorough evaluation of it, so that any modernizations to the program are quality modernizations and that we ensure that the EI program works effectively for Canada and all Canadians.