Good afternoon, Chair, committee members and fellow witnesses.
My name is Kelly Masotti. I am vice-president of advocacy at the Canadian Cancer Society. Hopefully my colleague Helena will be joining us at some point in time today.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss with you today Bill C-220, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code regarding bereavement leave.
As you study the bill, we are pleased to share with you perspectives on the ways a change in legislation of this kind could have an impact upon the many Canadians who are diagnosed with cancer every year and upon their loved ones.
This legislative change was needed prior to COVID-19. Our health care system is evolving quickly, and elected officials and governments across the country have shown incredible leadership. For that we thank you and encourage your continued response to the evolving needs of Canadians.
The Canadian Cancer Society has long advocated for increased awareness and flexibility concerning the needs of caregivers, and specifically for amending current bereavement legislation and regulation to be more flexible. The proposed bill does just that. It amends the existing framework to better meet the needs of Canadians, to be more practical and to address grief and bereavement.
Prior to a loved one's passing, some caregivers' responsibilities include managing medications, equipment, home care visits and medical appointments; personal care; preparing meals; cleaning; handling banking and financial management; and keeping family members and health care providers up to date.
Many Canadians every day undertake this important, invisible role. While improvements are being made, there is a lack of recognition of the role of caregivers and the role of the formal health care and social services they intersect with every day.
The peripheral role assigned to a caregiver by a health and social service system can often leave caregivers feeling discounted, devalued and not respected. Caregivers are as diverse as the Canadian population, but policies and programs that affect them seldom take into account or address this diversity.
Imagine being a caregiver every day to your loved one, managing their day-to-day care and, following their passing, being expected to return to work immediately afterwards because you have either no or inadequate paid bereavement leave. Family members, potential recipients of compassionate care leave, may need support as they grieve the loss of a loved one and try to manage numerous strains and stresses on their mental health.
According to a recent Statistics Canada report, one-fifth of caregivers provided 20 or more hours of care to an ill family member or friend, most likely an ill spouse or child. Additionally, 68% of the surveyed caregivers said they would have liked to receive greater financial supports.
The economic value of unpaid caregiving in Canada exceeds $25 billion annually. As mentioned previously, the needs of caregivers and bereavement leave are issues that needed to be addressed prior to COVID-19. COVID-19 has had impacts upon caregivers' ability to attend and support their loved ones receiving cancer treatment in a hospital setting and treatment at the end of life, and being able to say goodbye. There is increasing evidence generated by our support services, our patient and caregiver surveys and research by academia suggesting that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic caregivers are feeling increased amounts of burnout, stress, anxiety and frustration. These are having a significant toll on their mental health.
A recent Ipsos poll conducted by CCS at the beginning of February found that approximately eight in 10 Canadians are supportive of providing financial support for a family caregiver of someone facing a progressive, life-altering illness such as cancer. Failure to provide adequate supports and time to grieve can result in negative outcomes for the person and their mental health and increased downstream costs to the health care and employment sectors.
Bereavement programs are often part of the comprehensive care offered as part of palliative care—another gap in the health care system that needs improvement.
By making leave for caregivers more flexible, more Canadians will have access to the time necessary to heal, minimize economic hardships and help take care of some of the most practical business, such as planning a funeral and contacting banks and services providers following a loved one's death.
In summary, the Canadian Cancer Society supports the efforts of MP Jeneroux to highlight the need for greater bereavement support for Canadians, especially caregivers.
Thanks again to the committee for your time and energy today as you consider this practical and positive change to provide people time to grieve for a loved one.