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Results: 1 - 15 of 119
View Sylvie Bérubé Profile
Madam Speaker, I want to let you know that, with the consent of the House, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Laurentides—Labelle.
View Carol Hughes Profile
Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to share her time?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
View Todd Doherty Profile
View Todd Doherty Profile
2020-02-20 10:14 [p.1289]
That the House stand in solidarity with every elected band council on the Coastal GasLink route, the majority of hereditary chiefs, and the vast majority of the Wet’suwet’en people, who support the Coastal GasLink project, and condemn the radical activists who are exploiting divisions within the Wet’suwet’en community, holding the Canadian economy hostage, and threatening jobs and opportunities in Indigenous communities.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Chilliwack—Hope.
Today is about the voices of the Wet'suwet'en. Over the last 14 days, we have heard that a lot of people are standing in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en. Today we are bringing the real voices of the Wet'suwet'en to the floor of Parliament to ensure that the other side of the story is being told.
I could stand here and talk about the 900,000 tonnes of product that is shipped every day on our railways or the 88.1 million passengers who are moved annually on our railways. I could talk about the fact that Canada is a trading nation and our economic prosperity is predicated on our ability to produce good products and get them to market.
I could mention that over the last 14 days we have seen a lack of leadership. We have seen zero leadership from the Prime Minister. I could talk about how this has damaged our economic standing in the global market.
However, today I am going to focus on the voices of the Wet'suwet'en, the voices of the 20 first nations, the elected bands and the hereditary chiefs. Over 85% of the Wet'suwet'en voted in favour of the Coastal GasLink project, voted in favour of economic prosperity.
I live in northern British Columbia adjacent to the territories that the Coastal GasLink project is going through. I have many friends who are Wet'suwet'en. I have many friends who are Tsilhqot'in. My family is from the Tsilhqot'in First Nation. We are in northern British Columbia, where our economic opportunities are few and far between. Our forestry industry is in dire straits. We have seen job losses in the tens of thousands and 25 mill closures in the last year. When we see groups sign on to hope and economic prosperity, we want to make sure their voices are heard.
The Wet'suwet'en, whose voices have not been heard so far, are being vandalized and harassed. As a matter of fact, three of the hereditary chiefs were kicked out because they supported the Coastal GasLink project.
Today is about the 875 million dollars' worth of contracts that have been let on this project so far. Many of them are joint ventures between first nations and non-first nations. Today is about the 400 indigenous and first nations people who are employed by the Coastal GasLink project. That is over one-third of the employees. Today is about the over $1 billion of economic opportunity and partnerships the first nations have signed on for with the Coastal GasLink project.
I know that my colleagues across the way will say that we do not stand with hereditary chiefs and that we are failing to recognize the hereditary chiefs who voted against this. I will remind the House that all 20 elected bands signed up for the Coastal GasLink project. Eight of the 13 hereditary chiefs signed up for the Coastal GasLink project. There were five hereditary chiefs and their families who said no to the project.
This is a Wet'suwet'en issue. It has been said before by members on all sides of the House and by the media that this is a Wet'suwet'en issue. I agree with that. The Wet'suwet'en have to sort their house out; they have to figure this out.
What is the result of inaction? The result of no action is exactly what we are seeing today. The Prime Minister jetted all over the world for 14 days, 13 days or nine days, however long it was, and hid overseas. He is refusing to acknowledge that we are in a crisis.
If the blockades were removed today and our goods and services all of a sudden opened up, it would take not days, not weeks, but months upon months for us to recover. We are already seeing job losses with CN and VIA Rail. Yesterday VIA Rail announced 1,000 job losses, layoffs. In making that announcement, the CEO said that in its 42 years of existence she had never seen a service disruption of this magnitude.
Those lost jobs are not just non-first nation jobs. They are first nation jobs too. These workers are employed as truck drivers. They are the folks laying pipe. They are working to do whatever they can to make a better living for their families and put a roof over their heads.
In the three minutes I have left, I want to bring forward the voices of the Wet'suwet'en.
Robert Skin, who was elected to the council of the Skin Tyee First Nation, said, “With the benefit agreement that [the Skin Tyee] did sign, I see us being in a better place even within the next five years.”
He also said:
These protesters are getting one side of the story. They want to stand up with their fists in the air, but I say come and listen to us and get the other side of the story before you go out there and stop traffic and stop the railroad. All you are doing is alienating our people who are trying to put a roof over their heads and food on the table.
This is a voice I want to bring to the floor today.
I have a constituent who works at CN as a locomotive engineer. He was the first to go west from Smithers out to Prince George on a 12,000-foot coal train last Friday when the blockade came down. He asked me a question: If all these other groups are supporting the Wet'suwet'en and the Wet'suwet'en have agreed to remove the blockade to facilitate the dialogue, why did the federal government not do the same thing as the B.C. government and agree to have dialogue but only if the illegal blockades were removed first?
Chief Larry Nooski, of the Nadleh Whut'en, said:
Coastal GasLink represents a once in a generation economic development opportunity for Nadleh Whut'en First Nation. We negotiated hard...to guarantee that Nadleh people, including youth, have the opportunity to benefit directly and indirectly from the project, while at the same time, ensuring that the land and the water is protected.
First nations chiefs and leaders are on record saying that during the six years of consultation, they would go to Coastal GasLink if they had questions. They walked the lands and decided together what this project meant. Their concerns were met with answers and the company listened. These are the stories that are not being told, which is what today is all about.
Hereditary Chief Helen Michelle of Skin Tyee First Nation of the Wet'suwet'en has stated, “A lot of the protesters are not even Wet'suwet'en.... Our own people said go ahead” to Coastal GasLink. She also said, “We talked with the elders.... We talked and talked, and we kept bringing them back.... We walked the very territory where CGL is going.... We are going to give it the go-ahead.”
Hereditary Chief Theresa Tait-Day of the Wet'suwet'en nation said, “In the case of Coastal GasLink, 85% of our people said yes, we want this project.”
Marion Tiljoe Shepherd, the descendant of a hereditary chief, said, “All of these protesters don't have the right to close down railways and ships. It's not right. Go away. I want them to leave.”
Shepherd also stated:
People are starting to speak the truth about what they feel. People want to work. The chiefs are supposed to talk to the clans and the clans are supposed to make the decisions. It's not going that way.
Those are the voices of the Wet'suwet'en and they are the reason we are here today.
View Philip Lawrence Profile
Madam Speaker, I would like to inform the House that I will take the unusual step of sharing my time in this early round. I believe all the parties have been surveyed and all are on board. I wish to seek unanimous consent to split my time with the member for Calgary Skyview.
View Carol Hughes Profile
Does the hon. member have unanimous consent to share his time?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
View Alistair MacGregor Profile
Madam Speaker, before I begin I wonder if I could seek the unanimous consent of the House to split my time with the hon. member for Victoria.
View Dan Albas Profile
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 an 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.
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.
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.
View Heather McPherson Profile
View Heather McPherson Profile
2020-02-18 12:36 [p.1139]
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.
View Louise Chabot Profile
View Louise Chabot Profile
2020-02-18 13:03 [p.1143]
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.
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.
View Darrell Samson Profile
Lib. (NS)
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Niagara Centre.
I am pleased to participate in the debate on the opposition motion on employment insurance and sick benefits.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One example is the creation of the new employment insurance family care benefit for adults.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
View Paul Lefebvre Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Paul Lefebvre Profile
2020-02-18 15:39 [p.1168]
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak about the employment insurance program.
I will be splitting my time with the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
View Julie Vignola Profile
View Julie Vignola Profile
2020-02-18 16:05 [p.1172]
Madam Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Shefford.
The issue we are debating is a delicate one, especially for me. Yesterday, at 1:30 a.m., a close friend of the Fermont community passed away after a long struggle with illness. Her struggle was made easier because the entire community was behind her. I do not just mean the residents of Fermont, but people from Fermont who have moved all over the province and across Canada as well.
We were all behind her. Some offered their time, while others quietly paid for her groceries or heating oil. She had a community to support and help her, but we did not talk to her about it, because she had too much pride and strength of character to accept that kind of help. That is often the case. Please forgive me if I am particularly emotional today. The ordeal this woman went through is something that my mother-in-law, my grandmother and my father went through as well. I would not wish it on anyone.
Roughly 23% of sick people have access to these 15 weeks of benefits, so already, not many people have access to employment insurance even though this is supposed to be a universal measure. With only 23% of sick people getting better within the 15-week period, it is no longer universal, it is discriminatory.
Illness, whether it be cancer or any other form of illness, is an ordeal for the person who is sick and for that person's friends and family. However, it is also a financial hardship. Perhaps some members have never been unemployed even once in their lives, so for those who do not know, employment insurance benefits are equal to 55% of the person's income. That is hardly a gold mine.
Sick people who are fighting for their health and their lives on 55% of their income are being told that they can have 15 weeks of benefits. What if they need 26 weeks to recover? Too bad.
However, healing requires not only family, friends, the community and money, but also good morale. It undermines people's chances of recovering when the morale is not there and when they are constantly stressed and do not know whether they will be able to put food on the table for their children the next day. That gives cancer or any other illness more power over the person's system. It has been shown that stress can have an irreparable effect on the immune system. If the immune system is already compromised and continues to grow weaker, there is less chance that the person will be able to recover from the illness or at least keep it in check. This may be difficult to understand for someone who has never been unemployed, who has never been sick or who has been lucky enough to have help. The purpose of my comments is to make members think. I am a teacher, as members know.
I was saying earlier that 23% of sick people will get better within 15 weeks. Most take 30 weeks to recover. That is probably why the Liberal government has suddenly agreed to increase the number of weeks of sickness benefits to 26.
However, that still leaves 20% to 25% of people who will need 50 weeks or even more. That is a significant percentage. We are talking about human beings. I am not talking about 1% or 2% or even 0.5%. I am talking about 20% to 25%, or one-quarter of the population.
There are 338 MPs in the House. If we all became sick tomorrow, one-quarter of us would need 50 weeks. How many of us would want to be without any income from the 26th week to the final week of recovery? How many of us?
This is a matter of compassion, but also common sense. We have a duty to our constituents, and this is their own money. Workers and employers contribute to the fund. This is not the government's money.
When the employment insurance fund gets above a certain amount, the government starts dipping into it. The government needs to stop doing that. This fund exists for the future and for hard times. It is our nest egg. When the nest egg is full because regular contributions have been made day after day, year after year, we are able to provide adequate, caring and compassionate support to those around us.
It is unacceptable that a person without group or private insurance ends up without money at week 16, unable to pay for rent, groceries or socks in the winter. It is unacceptable that the person is unable to support themselves or others. Worse yet, that person is getting poorer. Their morale is low, and the money is no longer there. If they are lucky, they have a nest egg. If they are luckier still, they have a network to help them, and they start a fundraiser.
Is that what Canada is? Is that the Canada we want for our people? Is that the Canada we want for the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society?
Surviving cancer is one of the biggest victories a person can have. Even more extraordinary is that all those who win their battle go on to get involved in society, volunteering in their own community.
How much is this help worth? How much is a life worth? How much is it worth for a person to be able to return to work and get their confidence, their honour and their pride back?
We are talking about $1.1 billion if every sick person who is entitled to EI sickness benefits takes the full 50 weeks. When a person manages to heal and recover, they are eager to get back to work, because 55% of their salary is no gold mine, as I was saying. It is our duty to help our constituents, especially those who need it most.
I am calling on all hon. members to fulfill not only a duty of compassion, but also a duty of conscience and an economic duty.
View Mark Gerretsen Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Gerretsen Profile
2020-02-18 16:31 [p.1176]
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Surrey Centre today.
I was really happy to hear the last exchange between the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, on maternity assistance in particular, because this is exactly where I was going to start my discussion today to highlight something that happened in the previous session of Parliament that perhaps a lot of the new Bloc Québécois members are not informed about.
I was very lucky to be chosen as one of the first members to have a private member's bill. I brought forward a private member's bill in 2016 that specifically dealt with women who work in hazardous jobs and the hardships they were put through as a result of the employment insurance system when they were told they could not continue working in those hazardous conditions.
This bill called for a couple of things. It called for an increase in sick time. It called for a national maternity assistance program to look at the various ways that we could help women in hazardous working conditions, given that the labour force is changing.
I will say that the bill went through a lot of ups and downs. There were some discussions along the way. It did not receive unanimous support at the beginning, but it did make its way to committee. It was discussed at committee, where ideas were brought forward. It finally came back to the House, and this House almost unanimously voted in favour of it. All the Conservatives voted for it. All the NDP voted for it. All the Liberals voted for it. The Green Party member voted for it.
Who did not vote for it? The 10 Bloc Québécois members in the House did not vote for it. They were the only members who did not support this private member's bill that was specifically about employment insurance sick leave for women who were working in hazardous jobs. I do not know why. For a while I thought they did not support it because the word “national” was in the title of the bill. I was not sure, but at the end of the day, we did not end up getting unanimous support.
I respect the fact that a lot of the current members of the Bloc Québécois were not here then. However, I am really glad to see that this is one of the issues that they are so focused on this time around, because it is critically important. For that matter, I want to give them credit for bringing forward this very important discussion today.
I asked a few minutes ago about the difference between 50 or 60 weeks and 120 weeks. How did we come to 50 weeks? I did appreciate the answer. I thought I was given a really good answer by the member that specifically touched on the fact that this had to do with employment insurance benefits and what people were getting when they were going off on unemployment. It made a lot of sense to me, and I appreciate the answer.
However, the problem is that we went into this election with a commitment. That commitment was to change from the existing 15 weeks to 26 weeks. We decided that this was the right thing to do. In fact, we saw that it was widely endorsed by various organizations and agencies, in particular those that are advocating on behalf of people who become sick or injured. For example, the Canadian Cancer Society said:
The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) welcomes the Liberal Party of Canada’s commitment to extend the Employment Insurance Sickness Benefit from 15 to 26 weeks if re-elected.
The proposed extension would support Canadians who have been diagnosed with cancer and need to take time away from work to seek treatment.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said:
The federal government’s commitment to extend employment insurance (EI) sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 26 weeks is a welcome and overdue expansion of the Canadian social safety net.
The MS Society at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities was quoted as saying:
Harmonize the EI sickness benefits duration of 15 weeks to match the 26 weeks duration of compassionate care benefits.
I would argue that not only are we doing exactly what people asked for, but we are doing stuff that was reported back through committee and that the committee had studied. There were many witnesses in that open and transparent process who could have been questioned and challenged on certain things they were saying.
If we just focus this debate on talking about the time and whether 26 weeks or 50 weeks is the right number, we are going to pay a huge disservice to a lot of the other work that is going on in our country, particularly as it relates to people who become sick or injured and as a result have to take time off work.
I want to focus a bit of my time on talking about some of that research and some of the work that is being done to help sick people to have better lives and a better quality of life.
The main agency that the government works with by funding its research is the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, in particular to look into things like finding a cure for cancer or giving people who have terminal cancer a better quality of life or making sure that people have the resources that they need.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CIHR, spends $1.2 billion every year. Approximately 13,000 Canadian health researchers and trainees are supported under this program throughout the country. They research health and chronic illnesses, support the development of preventive treatments, and aim to get Canadians healthier and back to their normal lives.
Over the last five years, the institute spent $305 million on mental health, $859 million on cancer research specifically, $522 million on cardiovascular diseases and $94 million on chronic pain. Last year in particular, the CIHR partnered with the Canadian Cancer Society for a joint $10-million investment aimed at improving the lives of those with cancer.
It is important to bring up all of this because the issue we are talking about here is not going to be solved just by giving more time and throwing more money at it. I do recognize that employment insurance has its own fund, but we need to ensure at the same time that we are helping to improve the quality of life for these individuals by making sure that we research these illnesses and chronic illnesses so that we can give people better treatment.
I want to give a couple of examples relating to cancer specifically. The money that is being used through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is working to improve the lives of cancer survivors. Often this includes long-term treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Patients have to go through these treatments for several months, and they involve a lot of hospital visits and sick days. The patient, the family, and the caregiver have to endure a lot of hardship as a result.
We also know the economic impact of living with cancer. We need to pay more attention to the economic effects that cancer has on individuals. I know I am running out of time, but I wanted to highlight what is being done in terms of ensuring that research and resources are put towards cancer specifically.
Research is also being done on chronic pain. One in five Canadians lives with chronic pain. It is one of the most common reasons that people seek health care in Canada. The economic impact of chronic pain on this country is estimated to be $56 billion a year.
In 2019, the government established the Canadian pain task force, which is tasked with better defining the causes of chronic pain and providing recommendations to Health Canada with respect to prevention and management. The objective is to reduce the overall impact of chronic pain. This is where the Canadian Institutes of Health Research comes into play. It funds organizations such as these to make sure that we do the research that we need to do.
As I indicated a few moments ago, it is vitally important that we look not just at EI. Based on the private member's bill that I discussed before, I am always interested in having a discussion about the employment insurance system and how we can improve upon it. However, at the same time, it is important that we look at how we can better the lives of individuals from a research perspective to give them a better quality of life and better care during the time of their illness, whether it is cancer or chronic pain, the two examples that I have used.
I appreciate the time I have had to participate in the debate today.
View Luc Desilets Profile
View Luc Desilets Profile
2020-02-18 16:58 [p.1180]
Madam Speaker, I am going to share my time with my colleague.
In recent months, the Bloc Québécois has raised the issue of sickness benefits many, many times—
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