An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (waiting period and maximum special benefits)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Denis Coderre  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of Feb. 15, 2012
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act to extend the maximum period for which special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. It also eliminates the two-week waiting period when special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine are paid.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • Feb. 15, 2012 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members’ Business

February 13th, 2012 / 11 a.m.
See context

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak today about Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act , which was introduced a few weeks ago by the hon. member for Bourassa. This bill is extremely important since it is designed to change the way the current employment insurance system works, particularly for people with serious illnesses.

Sadly, in the past, the Liberals were not shy about dipping into the employment insurance fund, which, at that time, had a surplus of $54 billion—money that belonged to Canadian workers. During the 12 years that they were in power, they could have padded the coffers, but they did not. On several occasions, they were also in a position to modernize the Employment Insurance Act, but unfortunately, they did not do that either. Nevertheless, today, I am very pleased to see that the Liberal members are finally joining the NDP in order to modernize the Employment Insurance Act once and for all. This bill has been introduced in the House a number of times.

Since coming to power, the Conservatives have been unable to remedy the situation. Rather than helping workers, the Conservatives are giving billions of dollars in gifts to large corporations, which, in return, are closing their Canadian branches and exporting our good-quality jobs abroad. It is time to stop playing politics and do something to resolve the real problems affecting our society. It is time for all the parties to join together to help Canadians who are suffering from serious illnesses. It is time to forget the mistakes of the past and focus on viable, long-term solutions in order to help workers and their families. Most of all, it is time for all members of the House to unite and work together.

Unfortunately, Canada's Employment Insurance Act has remained unchanged for 40 years, since 1971. It does not meet the current needs of Canadians. What is more, Canada is one of the worst G8 countries when it comes to employment insurance coverage. Some G8 countries are much more progressive, and Canada is the only one that does not offer at least one year of benefits to those with serious illnesses.

As all of my colleagues know, coverage in cases of serious illness is currently 15 weeks. Employment insurance exists to help Canadian workers, and our society is changing. The population is aging, and the types of illnesses affecting people are changing. Employment insurance must be updated to adapt to Canadians' new needs.

My colleague from Bourassa introduced a bill that is in line with employment insurance changes the NDP would like to see. This bill would eliminate the mandatory two-week waiting period for employment insurance benefits and would increase the benefit period from 15 to 50 weeks.

There are many diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and especially cancer, that are very serious and that take longer than 15 weeks to treat. Unfortunately, the current Employment Insurance Act provides just 15 weeks of benefits.

We have a lot of facts about cancer. I would like to take a moment to talk about one of my constituents who cares very much about this bill. Her name is Marie-Hélène Dubé. My colleagues have probably heard about her. She is battling thyroid cancer for the third time in five years. She is a young mother in her forties. Instead of feeling sorry for herself and battling the disease alone, Marie-Hélène Dubé decided to help all Canadians who, like her, have a serious disease. She circulated a petition calling on the government to modernize the Employment Insurance Act by introducing the very changes reflected in Bill C-291. To date, Marie-Hélène has collected over 430,000 signatures from across Canada. Four hundred and thirty thousand Canadians agree that the Employment Insurance Act is outdated and should be changed.

I would like to point out that this is the largest petition presented in the House of Commons since 1992. In order to recuperate from a serious illness, one must rest. That is extremely important. One must avoid all stress and take time to recover. The last thing people need when sick is to worry about paying their bills, like the mortgage, the electricity bill or anything like that. They need to have peace of mind in order to focus all of their energy on fighting the illness. Offering the possibility of receiving up to 50 weeks of special benefits for illness does not mean that all beneficiaries will use all of those weeks. At present, only 31% of beneficiaries collect the maximum 15 weeks of benefits. The goal is to extend the benefit period for those who truly need it, in other words, Canadians with serious illnesses.

I find it interesting that my Liberal colleague from Bourassa is the one who introduced this bill. As I said a little earlier, this bill has been introduced many times in the House. It was part of our 2011 election platform. The NDP has been fighting for this for several years.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, nearly 50% of the population will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. In Quebec alone, there are currently over 44,000 people fighting some form of the disease. It causes tremendous stress, and the treatment and remission period is typically a lot longer than 15 weeks. On average, cancer treatment lasts about 38 weeks. Thus, 15 weeks is not even half as long as people with cancer need for treatment. Many people who have cancer are forced to return to work before their treatment is complete. Also, the waiting period before they can collect their first payment is so long that some people are forced to go back to work after the first treatment. Cancer treatment is extremely difficult. Even people being treated with small doses of radiation therapy, which is the mildest form of cancer treatment, are seriously affected. Other forms of treatment are even more difficult.

The current employment insurance sickness benefits simply are not adapted to the reality of Canadians, especially when, on average, those benefits run out seven weeks before cancer patients begin to receive treatment under Quebec's public health system. Asking a person to fight a serious illness in only two months is just not right.

A study showed that on average, patients go through 23 weeks of treatment with no income. Earlier I talked about 38 weeks in total, on average. Most patients see a significant drop in their income, to the tune of roughly $12,000 per household. Some 80% of the participants in the study suffered a significant financial impact. Some 44% of the respondents had to dip into their own savings and 27% went into debt. One person in five went back to work before having fully recovered from their illness, for financial reasons. The proportion of patients with a full-time job goes from 61% before treatment to 45% after treatment. Some 16% lost their job and some did not return to work because of the effects of the treatment or the lack of accommodation in the workplace. It is therefore important to accommodate people who are not lucky enough to have private insurance or the possibility to take extended leave for financial reasons.

We have to look at this bill humanely in order to help all Canadians deal with serious illnesses in the future.

Employment Insurance Act

February 13th, 2012 / 11:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-291. I congratulate the member for Bourassa for putting the bill forward.

I would also like to recognize the work of Jean-Claude D'Amours and Mike Savage, who in past Parliaments tried to move this serious issue forward.

I would like to provide some background on this issue.

Bill C-291 would amend the Employment Insurance Act by amending the waiting period and maximum special benefits. In summary, the bill states that enactment would amend the Employment Insurance Act to extend the maximum period for which special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. It would also eliminate the two week waiting period when special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine are paid.

Bill C-291 is an important bill. It would bring the system up to date. It would make us more comparable with many other countries.

The EI act in this regard has not been amended since 1971. This is really a matter of social justice. This is about instilling a better social safety net for people affected by health issues due to factors beyond their control. These changes would improve the lives of workers and their families affected by sudden health issues.

These two improvements follow on two improvements that were made by previous Liberal governments: compassionate care and maternity leave. Those two improvements are widely accepted by the population. They are seen as important aspects of the employment insurance system and Canada's social safety net.

There is an opportunity here for the government to step up to the plate and do the right thing for those people affected by health problems. Even though the private member's bill came from the third party on this side of the House, there is a real opportunity for the government to seize the moment and ensure that this legislation is carried through Parliament because it would improve our social safety net.

I want to talk a bit about the reality of what this amendment to the EI act would do.

I expect every member of Parliament has probably had many constituents in their constituency office talking about the fact that 15 weeks of sick leave under the present legislation is woefully inadequate in terms of assisting those people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves out of the workforce and more than likely in treatment. Cancer is one of the most prominent causes.

One of the most difficult conversations that I have with constituents is when the partner and/or the affected individual tells me that the affected individual has just started chemo or radiation treatment, is out of income and has nowhere to turn. We have to tell those individuals that the reality is the legislation specifies 15 weeks. We all know that 15 weeks is not long enough. What happens to those individuals? Some of them can go into the system within the province.

In our community there are all kinds of fundraisers to assist these people. In fact, we had a benefit for my cousin's son a week ago Friday night. He is 44 years old and has cancer in three spots. The community comes together and raises funds to help these individuals.

We all know in the House that the system is not meeting the need. Going from 15 weeks to 50 weeks is the right thing to do.

If we were to put ourselves in the place of those individuals who are perhaps the breadwinners of the family, starting perhaps their third chemo treatment, now knowing they are out of money, the mortgage has to be paid, food has to be put on the table, the car payment has to be paid and they have to pay for some of their drugs, we can only imagine what that stress does to them. What is the cost of that stress on their ability to get better? What is the stress on that family? It is so unnecessary. This small change could alleviate that concern.

I really think everyone in the House has faced those moments. There is enough on the individual's mind who is taking the treatment. Fifteen weeks is not enough. The EI system itself, as it currently stands, is cruel in its denial. The government, if it would see the way, could overcome that problem. The bottom line is 15 weeks of sick leave is just plain unacceptable.

To improve it would not be really costly. It would bring us up to where many other nations are at the moment. Such a step would improve the ability for an individual to regain his or her health by eliminating that stress and concentrating on health improvement. It would also lessen the burden on provincial resources. It would allow that person to get back into the workforce faster so that that individual could contribute to the economy and provide for his or her family.

Here is a specific example of why I think the EI system in this regard is cruel. I had an individual come into the office in early December. He had Crohn's disease and so had applied for employment insurance. In part, because of the way the Minister of Human Resources has undermined the system by taking away the ability for people to do claims by closing down many of the offices, this person's file had not even been processed yet. It had been eight weeks. The individual firmly believed that as a result of that additional stress of wondering where the dollars were going to come from, he ended up in the hospital for a longer period of time. Part of the reason was that, before he went to hospital, he had cut back on his drugs. It became a problem of whether he would provide food for the table or buy the drugs.

That ends up costing the whole system, including the individual. It is just wrong. Therefore, not only is it the weeks, it is that fact that the minister has undermined the system in terms of its ability to function.

What concerns me is the fact that the spokesmen for the government thus far in this debate, the Conservatives, seem to have stopped speaking. Perhaps they are ashamed of the government's position. I wish some of the backbenchers over there would stand and speak up. The government's excuse is that we are in a time of fiscal restraint. That is an excuse. This would be good for the economy and it would be good for individuals. The government has an opportunity to do something right to support the EI system and make it better. I ask the government to seize this opportunity and support the bill.

Employment Insurance Act

February 13th, 2012 / 11:25 a.m.
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NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

I am rising to speak to Bill C-291. It is a good bill that everyone is asking us to pass. All members of the House, no matter what their political affiliation, have had to face the same situation: people are knocking at our doors asking for this help. It would be interesting, for once, to set aside all partisanship and really tackle the problem. It is important for the House to pause and study employment insurance and benefits for those suffering from a serious illness or injury.

We are still dealing with the economic distress resulting from the 2008 recession. It is not over. We are not yet out of the economic downturn. We have never had such high unemployment. After four years of economic difficulties, Canadian households have exhausted their savings and maxed out their lines of credit. In such conditions, it is understandable that if one family member becomes seriously ill, the family cannot cope financially. The income is gone and there is absolutely nothing to fill the gap.

There is a reason why food banks have never been so busy. There is a reason why the demand for meals-on-wheels services has spiked. People have no more money. They do not have the financial means to meet their daily needs. Just imagine if, in addition, they cannot earn a living because of a serious illness or injury.

Employment insurance is the best tool for dealing with this type of situation. In fact, 66% of Canadians do not have income protection insurance and 66% of Canadians are not covered by collective agreements. In addition, private or group income protection insurance is often not enough even if people do have it. There are limits and constraints, which means that, even with some type of insurance, people do not have what they need. This is what Bill C-291 will address.

The money is there to cover the benefits. Contributors pay into the employment insurance system and their money is managed. Paying into the system fosters a sense of solidarity. Contributors pay into the system to protect themselves against the risk of unemployment or sickness. Yet, they are being told that their money will be managed differently. They have been gouged to the tune of $54 billion. This is extremely sad and serious. If the money was still there, there would be no problem with the employment insurance system. The money would be there to pay for claims to be processed. There would be enough money to pay more public servants to deal with the massive influx of claims. There would be enough money to cover the needs of people who want one year, that is 50 weeks of sickness benefits. The money would be there. Corrective measures have been undertaken. This is not easy in the midst of an economic recession. However, it is because we are in the midst of an economic recession and people have exhausted all other means at their disposal, all other sources of income, that we must support them. This is where we are at.

There have been delays in processing. And yet people already face a two-week waiting period. We want this two-week waiting period to be a thing of the past. People do not ask to be sick. They do not ask for permission to be injured. They just are. As the luck of the draw would have it, they are no longer able to work. Employment insurance is probably the only tool that can guarantee all these people that falling ill will not necessarily result in poverty.

The time is ripe for debate. How many of us have seen people who are still unwell after 15 weeks? A chemotherapy treatment can last for six months. If the treatment period is doubled to ensure that there is no relapse, that makes a year. I can guarantee that after one year of chemotherapy, you lose a lot of weight. Fifteen weeks does not give people ample opportunity to get the proper care they need. It certainly does not make their treatment experience peaceful.

People are faced with a major void after only 15 weeks. Too often, collective agreements rely on employment insurance. Employment insurance plans are excluded from collective agreements because there is government-sponsored employment insurance. In that it is our duty to bridge the gaps, we must do so effectively.

I call on my colleagues opposite, many of whom have medical training. I can see one such member right now. She could convince her colleagues that 15 weeks for a chemotherapy treatment is quite unreasonable. The people telling the Conservatives this are not only experts, but also their constituents. My constituents come to me asking for help out of their own contributions to employment insurance. People pay into the system, so they are entitled to receive benefits. Everyone wants this guarantee, this protection against poverty.

This amendment to the law addresses a major shortcoming, which explains why too many people become poor following an accident or illness. Being sick is already frightening enough, but because of the employment insurance waiting period, Canadians are also faced with the prospect of poverty.

The NDP has always supported this bill, even before the Liberals did. It is not a problem for me that this bill has come from the Liberal Party. It does not matter who is introducing the bill; what matters is who it is protecting. That is what is important. It protects my constituents in the same way as it protects theirs. I would call on all members to join us in backing this essential protection.

In closing, I would like to mention an important fact. In Canada, given our good social safety net, the main cause of personal bankruptcy is divorce. In the United States, the main cause of personal bankruptcy is illness, and the other causes lag far behind. In Canada, sickness is much further down the list. It needs to be even further down the list, and we must combat poverty.

Employment Insurance Act

February 13th, 2012 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-291, which would amend the Employment Insurance Act to extend the maximum period for which special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. It also eliminates the two-week waiting period when special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine are paid.

I would like to congratulate the member for Bourassa on his employment insurance bill. As my colleague just said, all members, regardless of which party they belong to, must examine this bill and decide whether or not to support it. This is a very important bill. Our party has raised the matter a number of times. Former NDP member Dawn Black introduced Bill C-420 in the first and second sessions of the 39th Parliament. Ms. Black reintroduced the same bill as Bill C-316 during the second session of the 40th Parliament. The bill would have extended the maximum period for which benefits for illness, serious injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 to 30 weeks.

During the third session of the 40th Parliament, the NDP member for New Westminster—Coquitlam introduced a similar bill to extend the maximum period for which special benefits for illness may be paid from 15 to 52 weeks. He introduced that bill again on November 15.

I truly believe that it is time for this bill to move forward. Earlier, one of my colleagues mentioned Marie-Hélène Dubé, a Quebec woman with cancer. I remember seeing her on the current affairs program Tout le monde en parle, where she spoke candidly about her disease. Ms. Dubé discovered that, after having worked her whole life, she would receive just 15 weeks of employment insurance sickness benefits. She made it her mission to circulate a petition. She asked several members to present it. The member for Bourassa, several Bloc Québécois members and I have presented the petition, which has raised awareness among MPs not only of Ms. Dubé's case, but of the consequences such a loss of earnings can have for a person with cancer or a long-term illness.

I wish to congratulate Ms. Dubé. After what she went through, she could have easily told herself she would never again need these benefits and done nothing. Instead, she thought of other people and gathered 430,000 signatures from across Canada. If people had been more informed about her efforts, I am sure she could have doubled or tripled that number.

Employment insurance exists in order to help people who have lost their jobs and are looking for a new one. Over the years, EI has expanded to provide income for individuals in special circumstances. One example is parental benefits. So, employment insurance can take many forms. The system is meant to protect people's incomes.

It is important to remember that workers and employers are the ones who pay into the EI system; it is not the government. EI is an insurance system that allows people to look after their colleagues, those who suddenly learn that they have the misfortune of having developed cancer after working their entire lives. Has any family not been affected by cancer? It could be a brother, sister, cousin, uncle, aunt, father or mother. In my case, my mother died of cancer.

No one is exempt from this. Let us think about someone who has cancer. In most cases, treatment is absolutely necessary and, in the case of chemotherapy, for instance, can last up to one year. Someone who has a heart attack usually needs some time to rest. Whether someone has a heart attack, heart disease or a long-term illness, the last thing they need is a financial burden on top of their illness. That is the worst thing that could happen. That could prolong the healing process and have a very negative effect on their health.

The least we can do for colleagues, workers and employers, is examine the issue, especially the case of prolonged illness. Doctors and specialists can provide a medical certificate enabling the person to be on leave for 50 weeks. I do not know whether the member for Bourassa was thinking of this type of illness, but I do not believe that he was talking about people with the flu or a cold. It is not about that. We are talking about long-term illnesses, those that force people to stay home for a number of months, or more than 15 weeks.

For example, consider someone who has worked their entire life and contributed to employment insurance. They were lucky because they were able to work all their life. All of a sudden, they come down with a dreaded illness. We do not wish it on them. We do not even wish it on our worst enemy. We tell such people that if they need employment insurance, they can have it, and at least get through their treatments. That would be the right thing to do.

I must say something about the Liberals. They had the opportunity to take action. They were in power for 13 years. They could have done it. We asked for it. We introduced bills for 50 weeks and 30 weeks of benefits. We asked that the two-week waiting period be eliminated. This waiting period should not even exist. People should not be without income. They have payments to make. The Liberals could have done it.

I find it sad—and I think the public needs to know, if it has not already noticed—that the Conservatives did not even rise today to give their opinions, to say whether they are for or against this bill, which is good for our society and all people—the workers. I get the impression that they will be against it. They have not even given their opinion on a bill introduced in the House of Commons. Normally, members from all parties speak. They give their opinion. Today, we are having a one-hour debate. Unless it is to impose closure in the House of Commons or to say that certain bills have to be debated in less than two days, they do not even bother to rise when a bill they are against is introduced. I find that sad for our MPs. I do not know whether the government told them not to rise. This is a fine example of the Prime Minister's “my way or the highway” iron grip.

This is a very important bill for workers and the government members are not even bothering to stand up and state their opinions. Are they ashamed? Is the Conservative government too ashamed to rise and tell our workers that it will not give them their employment insurance benefits when they become ill? These people have worked hard; they receive employment insurance benefits for 15 weeks and then nothing. I can see it coming. They work their entire lives and help build this country only to end up on social assistance. I bet there is not a single worker in Canada who would not be willing to help his or her colleagues get employment insurance benefits. I would have a hard time believing that.

It would not cost so much. Maybe the Conservatives do not want to speak today because they have their own bill to introduce. Their bill would pass because it needs a royal recommendation. Maybe that is it. We might be getting a big surprise in 2012.

I sincerely hope that Bill C-291 passes and that the government, having failed to rise today, will rise on the day of the vote to vote in favour of the bill.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2011 / 5:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

moved that Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (waiting period and maximum special benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, there are times in our lives as parliamentarians when we can and must make a difference. On June 2 of next year, I will celebrate 15 years as the member of Parliament for Bourassa. Every day brings its share of wonderful surprises and small pleasures, and most importantly, we have the opportunity to meet with people who help us do a better job. The person I met with—who is watching us now and to whom I pay tribute—has met most representatives of the political parties. I am talking about Marie-Hélène Dubé.

Unfortunately, following a third relapse of thyroid cancer—she is doing better and we wish her the best—she noticed that there was something unfair about the Employment Insurance Act. Since 1971, there has been no change to the act regarding benefits for persons who have suffered a serious injury, have a serious illness or, due to their individual circumstances, cannot enjoy a normal standard of living. She has cancer, children, and noticed that she was not entitled to the 15 weeks of employment insurance benefits. Obviously, we can always look back and ask what we did when we were in power. We made changes concerning family caregivers, and we did what it took, but it is time in my opinion to play a leading role on this issue.

It is not the first time that this bill has been discussed. We in the Liberal Party have done so, as have we. The NDP and the Bloc Québécois supported it, and members from the Conservative Party did so as the minority government at the time was sympathetic to this cause. It is therefore in a spirit of non-partisanship that I stand before my colleagues and call on them to support my bill, C-291. This will achieve two things. First, it will extend the benefit period from 15 to 50 weeks. Second, there is the infamous two-week waiting period. When you are faced with a major and tragic event in your life, when you are receiving chemotherapy, when you have children to look after, a two-week waiting period is an eternity. It does not make sense. For purely compassionate reasons, I do not see why this person would have to wait two weeks before receiving her first payment.

Honestly, I do not understand the 15-week benefit period. Some have brought forward a petition and have worked with Marie-Hélène in Vancouver. Some people are forced to remortgage their houses, others have to take a part-time job when they are able to work, and then there are those who have to deal with specific family circumstances, and in most cases these are single-parent families. It is not easy.

The role of a government, of a Parliament, is to improve people's quality of life. We do not need to ask 25 questions. It is only logical, since our role is to ensure that our constituents live a decent life. Some of them are terminally ill. The least we can do is tell them that they do not have to worry about other problems. Increasing the benefit period from 15 to 50 weeks would be a good way to tell Marie-Hélène and the 500,000 petitioners that we support them. The NDP has presented a petition. I myself have presented petitions signed by over 75,000 people, and the Bloc Québécois has also done so.

If we turn to our families, if we look at our friends and loved ones, there is not likely one member here who does not know someone who is going through this exact situation right now. Unfortunately, cancer is everywhere. I think it is our role, through this private member's bill, to bring them a little peace of mind. It is called solidarity. It is called dignity. This bill could be called “an act to ensure dignity for those who are suffering”. This is not a partisan issue. This is not to say that some people are better than others. There is no point in talking about what was done in the past. This is to say that, right now, we are looking towards the future and working together to tell Marie-Hélène Dubé and everyone else going through this problem that we support them and we are working with them.

There are other people, like Carlo Pellizzari of Vancouver, who has lymphoma and, at the age of 26, is facing a situation similar to that of Marie-Hélène. Like her, people decided to not only sign the petition but also bring this situation to our attention.

Our role today is to invite everyone who is watching the proceedings of the House to first sign this petition and to then continue to exert pressure. They can sign the petition on Marie-Hélène's website, which is found at http://petitionassuranceemploi.com/en/.

The site provides information and a brief explanation of the situation. Basically, there is a call for an amendment to subsection 12(3) of the Employment Insurance Act, which would provide some relief for people in this situation. Unfortunately, as I said earlier, they are often in the terminal phase of the illness. However, I believe that it is important for us to do this.

We in the Liberal Party have taken similar action in certain cases. Clearly, this is not the first time that we have reviewed matters related to employment insurance. There are precedents in which, as a government, we took certain action. For example, we increased the period for parental benefits from six months to a year.

The Employment Insurance Act is living legislation. It is economic legislation that requires flexibility. Sometimes, we have to help people who are having difficulty. We cannot be perfect and we cannot fix everything at once, but with this ode to tranquility and dignity we are acknowledging that there are times in our lives when we have to take action. We have conducted pilot projects. When it comes to employment insurance, there are realities and situations specific to the regions. That is why I am putting myself in the shoes of these men and women who are going through extremely difficult times. Do we think that—and forget about the lists or documents that the government would have us read—we can in all decency tell a person with cancer or a person who has sustained a serious injury that he or she will receive 15 weeks of benefits?

Some of us here have had cancer or are in remission and we know that it can take 5 to 15 weeks or even more to recover from chemotherapy or radiation. Imagine what it is like for people in this situation. They are being told that they have completed their chemotherapy and that they are still sick but that they will not receive any more benefits. It is not right. It does not make any sense. Let us ask ourselves this question: when someone is in that situation, is it right that they should have to wait for two weeks before they receive their first cheque? There are quick ways to eliminate this waiting period.

I would like to pay tribute to my colleagues who brought this issue before the House before me, namely Jean-Claude D'Amours and Michael Savage. These people from my party moved this forward. The member for Acadie—Bathurst has also worked on this file, and my colleague from Jonquière—Alma will be talking about it shortly. It is truly non-partisan. We need to reach out, show solidarity and work together to make a difference. I did not reinvent the wheel. This is not my work; it is the work of a Parliament that has experienced this sort of situation. I had the opportunity and pleasure to table a bill so that we could find a concrete solution to this situation.

Everybody knows of a friend, a member of his or her family, or a constituent who lives in that situation. Our role is to ensure that those people who have already suffered enough have the capacity at least to take care of their kids, and to ensure they do not have that social pressure.

Some of them lose their jobs. Some of them have to take out another mortgage on their homes. They are suffering enough. The least we could do as parliamentarians is to raise the number from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. Also, instead of waiting for two weeks before getting their first cheque I think those people should get them right away.

In a non-partisan way, I am asking all my colleagues to make that gesture of solidarity and support my bill.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2011 / 5:45 p.m.
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NDP

Claude Patry Jonquière—Alma, QC

Madam Speaker, I am addressing my dear colleagues today to urge them to support Bill C-291, which would create an employment insurance system that is fairer and more just for Canadian workers.

This bill would amend the Employment Insurance Act to extend the maximum period for which special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. It would also eliminate the two-week waiting period in these specific cases.

As members of Parliament, we all aspire to improve the economic situation of workers, and as we work to that end we are confronted every day with new and bigger challenges in the House of Commons and in committee. However, before we look at new issues or new studies, is it not time we reviewed what is no longer working and what should be modernized? Before offering generous tax cuts to the richest among us, is it not time we took care of families, workers with no job security and the disadvantaged members of society?

When it comes to special illness benefits, the Employment Insurance Act has not been amended since 1971. So it is not surprising that it no longer meets people's real needs today. It must be amended to adapt to Canadians' realities, which have changed since 1971.

Some members may be having déjà vu with this bill. I will admit that this is not the first time it has been introduced in the House of Commons. The NDP has always called for a fair and modern employment insurance system that is adapted to Canadian workers' needs. Furthermore, we want to abolish the two-week waiting period. I should point out that this measure was in the NDP's platform for the May 2, 2011, election. Eliminating the waiting period in the case of special illness benefits is a step in the right direction.

We cannot simply blame the Liberals for dipping into the employment insurance fund, which had a $57 billion surplus, nor can we fault them for not fixing things when they were in power. What we must do is support what they are currently proposing, since they are actually adopting the NDP's position on employment insurance. Above all, we must think about the most vulnerable members of society and leave partisan politics to our adversaries.

We must not forget that when it comes to employment insurance, we are talking about money that belongs to the workers and the employers and not to the government. We have to remember that the Conservatives refused to return that money to the EI fund and chose instead to create the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, whose objective is to limit the account surplus to $2 billion.

The account is currently running a deficit. The Conservatives should use all or at least most of the surplus to improve special illness benefits. It is time the Conservatives realized that the money in the employment insurance fund does not belong to them. They have to manage that money to meet the needs of the public.

I want to take a minute to talk about the case of Marie-Hélène Dubé, a young, 40-year-old mother dealing with her third bout of cancer in five years. She circulated a petition to extend the period of employment insurance benefits payable in the case of illness. To date, she has collected almost half a million signatures. Ms. Dubé even appeared on the popular television program Tout le monde en parle last March.

What is more, the NDP has publicly supported her initiative on several occasions. It is important to underscore her determination and the strength of her commitment. For this courageous woman and for everyone suffering from a serious illness, I ask that you to vote in favour of the bill, in the name of solidarity and compassion, but especially in the name of common sense.

Only 15 weeks of benefits to recover from an injury or a serious illness is simply not enough. We want to alleviate the financial burden for people affected by an illness or a serious injury so that they can focus on healing without having to worry about how they are going to pay their bills, pay their rent or feed their children.

The Conservatives are quite simply out of touch with reality.

Unfortunately, what they say is not what they do. They say they want to help the economy and cut useless programs, but they are harming families and reducing the present and future purchasing power of workers who are struggling with health problems that are often temporary. I will say it again: taxpayers' money should go back to the people.

In 2008, when the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board was created by the Conservative government, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Institute of Actuaries stated that the employment insurance operating account needed a surplus of at least $15 billion to ensure healthy management of the program.

This surplus would have absorbed the effects of the economic crisis and could have funded the modernization of the system, including extending the number of weeks of special leave. The Conservative government had the opportunity to fix the employment insurance program in 2008 and, against the advice of experts, it chose not to.

The size of Ms. Dubé's petition, which I spoke of earlier, is proof positive that Canadians want a more human employment insurance system. Instead of wasting taxpayers' money as their predecessors did, the Conservative government should bow to the will of the people. If it wants to be seen as a defender of the economy, it needs to start by really looking at the situation and putting the money back into the employment insurance fund so that the system can finally be modernized.

A vote for Bill C-291 is a vote for workers and their families, for the most vulnerable in our society. Please, vote for common sense.

Cancer is not the only disease. There are other long-term illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. Treatment for breast cancer lasts 38 weeks. After 15 weeks, how can anyone be expected to recover and go back to work? I have documents here that prove that people do not have time to heal; they have not finished their treatment and yet they have to go back to work. Some people have even lost their jobs because their employers could not accommodate them. A large portion of workers in Canada are not unionized and the only means they have for getting treatment and having an income is employment insurance benefits. Other workers have collective agreements and disability insurance that can help, but at this time, some people have nothing after 15 weeks. It is ridiculous.

If the $57 billion that was in the EI fund was still there, we could make improvements and help these people. Now we are told that in order to manage the fund, it takes $15 billion. It makes no sense. Just ask any member of this House.

I am proud to rise in this House. I have only seven months of experience and I would like to contribute to society so that these people can get proper treatment.

I would also like to mention that among the G8 countries, Canada does not have the best-paying system. We are not among the top countries; we are among the bottom. Some countries pay up to 12 months of benefits. Generally speaking, Canada pays 15 weeks and the United Kingdom pays 52 weeks. In France, we are talking about 12 to 38 months, depending on the illness. In Germany, it is 78 weeks. In Japan, it is between six months and three years, depending on the category of employment, and in Russia, we are talking about 12 months. We see that we are quite behind the other G8 countries. They could teach us a thing or two.

What I am saying is just common sense. People want change. We are talking about illness, but not everyone needs illness benefits for 38 to 40 weeks. There is a limit. I had this data. For the plan we are talking about, it would cost roughly $1 billion more for 50 weeks. If the $57 billion was in the government's coffers, we would have enough money for this.

Almost 328,000 special illness benefit claims have been filed, but only 31% of the beneficiaries used 15 weeks. That means that not everyone used the maximum benefit. The average amount paid was $334 a week. In 2009-10, the cost for illness was $1,075,200,000.

If we are human here in this House and we think about the public and the people we represent, we should all support this bill, including the Conservatives.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2011 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the hon. member for Bourassa on Bill C-291 an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (waiting period and maximum special benefits).

I truly sympathize with those Canadians who are battling cancer or other illnesses, that last longer than 15 weeks. For example, we know that 70 Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer every day and 11 of those 70 men will die from it.

Thousands of Canadians, including my executive assistant, Kenton Dueck, my EDA president, Steven Ladd, my son, Chetan Shory, and members from all sides of the House are fundraising this month to fight prostate cancer and I applaud them for that. These battles have no partisan or political lines.

However, my colleague's bill would cost approximately $730 million a year, which, I am sure most of us would agree is a significant expenditure of public moneys in a time of fiscal restraint. We need to ask whether increasing the maximum for special benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks is necessary or justifies the moneys that would have to be spent. I would respectfully argue that the targeted changes our Conservative government has made to the benefits system is a smarter way to support Canadians facing health and other life challenges.

Our Conservative government has made the employment insurance system more accessible and fair for millions of Canadians, especially in the face of the challenges many of us have experienced during the global economic recession.

There are several ways in which the federal government provides for those facing a long-term disabling illness, particularly through the Canadian pension plan long-term disability pension. This is in addition to provincial social assistance programs and private long-term disability insurance. This benefit is meant to be a temporary measure for temporary illnesses that prevent someone from working.

In a clear majority of cases, the program does meet the needs of individuals, as 70% of individuals do not exhaust the current 15-week sickness provision.

Hard-working Canadians deserve to be able to balance work and family life. Our government believes in a strong EI system, one that delivers fair and equitable benefits for those who need them most.

During the global economic downturn, our government moved quickly to preserve and create jobs and to help families, workers and businesses.

In fact, we have rebounded quite substantially. More than 600,000 new jobs have been recovered since the depths of the recession in July 2009. Our unemployment rate is now down to 7.3%, one of the lowest levels since December 2008.

However, the economic challenges are not behind us. Our Prime Minister has been clear on the direction the government will take on fiscal matters when he said, “We have sought to strike the right balance between supporting jobs and growth, and reducing our deficit in a responsible manner.”

When Canada was hit hardest by the global recession, our government demonstrated its flexibility by putting temporary measures in the employment insurance program to assist Canadians, both workers and employers.

The economic downturn created exceptional circumstances for our government that required an exceptional response, and respond we did.

For example, we temporarily provided an extra five weeks of EI benefits to help those hardest hit by the recession. I am pleased to say that about 1.3 million EI claimants benefited from this initiative.

We have also helped long-tenured workers renew or upgrade their skills under the career transition assistance program. Close to 15,000 long-tenured workers have participated and around $95 million in benefits has been paid.

We further demonstrated our commitment to help workers and employers through temporary work-sharing measures. About 300,000 employees have participated in more than 10,000 work-sharing agreements since 2009.

Work sharing helps employers and workers avoid layoffs, while redistributing the workload when there is a temporary reduction in the normal level of business activity. In fact, Canada has been a world leader in work-sharing agreements and governments around the world are looking to Canada's program as a model.

I should also point out that, through the Minister of Finance, we introduced a bill to support Canadian businesses that included a temporary hiring credit for small business to encourage further hiring.

Economic challenges during the global recession have placed significant pressures on the Canadian labour market and, in turn, the EI program. That is why we took decisive action to freeze premiums for 2010 and to limit the rate increase for subsequent years.

Now, this is the key. In an uncertain economic environment, a balance needs to be struck between supporting the recovery and ensuring that the program can survive over time. I think we can all agree that we want a sound system in place for many generations to come, for our children, our grandchildren and so on. The decisions we make today will affect the future of this program.

Our government has shown fairness by extending access to EI special benefits, including maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits to the self-employed who opt into the EI program. By extending special benefits to the self-employed across Canada, we are supporting them in balancing their work and family responsibilities.

Our government introduced a measure to extend the EI parental benefit window for Canadian Forces members who are ordered either to return to duty while on parental leave or whose parental leave is deferred as a result of a tour of duty. Supporting our men and women in uniform is simply the right thing to do. We all know they have sacrificed and put their lives on the line for Canada, so we must stand up for them when they need us.

Compassionate care benefits are available to persons who have to be away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a family member who is gravely ill with a significant risk of death. The eligibility criteria of the EI compassionate care benefit has been modified by broadening the definition of a family member. Now it can mean a sibling, grandparent, grandchild, in-law, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, foster parent, ward, guardian or someone a gravely ill person considers the claimant to be like a family member. This what we mean when we talk about allowing more flexibility and fairness in the system.

We have taken actions to enhance and expand the EI program to help both workers and employers weather the economic storm. We have also enhanced and expanded the EI program through a number of legislative measures to ensure that it meets the needs of Canadian workers and their families in a fair and flexible way. These are real people we are dealing with, and we can never forget that.

That said, our government has a responsibility to Canadian taxpayers and we take that role very seriously. In Calgary Northeast, for example, if I ask Romi Sidhu and Pawan Sharma, who are self-employed, running small businesses, whether they want their taxes to go up, what are they going to say? Simply, they will say, “No way. You're sounding like a Liberal or an NDP.” During the last election, Canadian voters were given two very distinct visions when it came to our economy. They could opt for the tax and spend Liberals-NDP-Bloc coalition, or they could choose a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government under the leadership of our Prime Minister, a government that would focus on protecting jobs and economic growth during these uncertain times.

We all know that Canadian voters made a clear choice and this bill, as it stands, would require a significant expenditure of public moneys in a time of fiscal restraint. For that reason, despite our greatest sympathies, we cannot support the bill.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2011 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-291. The member for Bourassa acknowledged, in presenting this bill, that New Democrats have been at this for a number of years. I know New Democrats have presented this bill in various forms, whether it was the member for Acadie—Bathurst or the former member, Dawn Black, from British Columbia.

I also want to acknowledge the member for Jonquière—Alma who ably outlined why the House should support the bill.

I feel quite fortunate to follow the Conservative member across the way in speaking because I feel I have an opportunity to set the record straight about some of the claims that were made.

The employment insurance fund is funded by employers and employees. It is their money. This does not come out of the general revenue fund. Employers and employees pay this money for just the kinds of circumstances the member for Bourassa outlined.

We have people who are ill. We have their families often in crisis. I heard the member say that if their EI ran out after 15 weeks, they could apply for welfare. I do not know what province he is from, but in the province I come from, British Columbia, welfare rates are not enough to pay bills. In many provinces across the country, before going on income assistance, people have to liquidate all their assets. For those suffering from cancer or some other disease that they are struggling to recover from, the member says that we will pay them for 15 weeks and then they must liquidate their assets in the middle of their chemo, radiation or whatever other treatments they are undergoing, so they can go on income assistance. That does not sound like a compassionate society to me.

I need to put a few facts on record.

First, under regular employment insurance, under the so-called progressive rules we have before us, less than 50% of Canadians now qualify, despite the fact that they may pay into employment insurance.

Second, Statistics Canada's studies show that 20% of sick leave lasts 17 months or more. They also show that 60% of these sick leaves are from 17 to 28 weeks and 40% are 29 weeks or more. Currently, only 31% of beneficiaries collect the maximum 15 weeks of sick benefits.

Despite what the government claims, we do not have massive numbers of people that will collect long-term sick benefits. Therefore, if we were to be a compassionate society, all members of the House would support the bill.

I heard the member talk about the NDP-Bloc-Liberal coalition as if that would be something scary for Canadians. The New Democrats would bring to the table the kinds of changes that have been proposed for a number of years to employment insurance funded by employers and employees, to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are well looked after instead of saying, “Suck it up, you get 15 weeks and forget it”.

A recent study called Making It Work: Final Recommendations of the Mowat Centre Employment Insurance Task Force made a number of recommendations. I want to touch on a couple of those recommendations because they relate directly to the bill proposed by the member for Bourassa. The task force talks about the two-week waiting period and how it applies to all employment insurance claims, whether regular or special benefits claims. The task force makes the recommendation that the two-week benefit period should be eliminated for special benefits. It says:

After eligibility is established, applicants must wait two weeks for payments to begin. The two-week waiting period applies to special beneficiaries just as it does to individuals...

It goes on to say:

Other than cost containment, there is no clear justification for the waiting period for special benefits, and it may cause inconvenience or hardship for individuals.

Eliminating the waiting period for special benefits would have a relatively small impact on program costs. As most recipients of special benefits exhaust them, eliminating the waiting period for these beneficiaries would in most cases imply providing the same total benefits earlier.

Eliminating the two-week waiting period for special beneficiaries is an easy and affordable way to enhance support for new parents and caregivers. It would also support the reforms to sickness benefits discussed below.

I want to talk a bit about the proposed changes to sickness benefits. I think a number of us in the House have had meetings with people with episodic disabilities and the severe impact it has their ability to stay in the workforce because of the way sickness benefits are currently set up.

Under recommendation 17, the task force states:

TEST A CHANGE TO SICKNESS BENEFITS TO SUPPORT LABOUR MARKET PARTICIPATION OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

To support the labour market participation of persons with disabilities, periodic use of sickness benefits should be tested. This would allow individuals to qualify for benefits once, and with medical certification take benefits periodically throughout the year without having to re-qualify.

It goes on to say:

There is currently no income support available to help individuals with sporadic or episodic illnesses or disabilities to remain in the workforce or to avoid other forms of assistance, such as provincial social assistance for persons with disabilities or Canada Pension Plan-Disability.

Of course even when people go on some of these other systems, there is a problem for them if they want to rejoin the workforce.

To give a rationale for this change, it states:

In coming decades, Canada will experience labour shortages and an aging population. More Canadians are finding themselves on long-term provincial disability programs. This is not an efficient use of our human capital. Canadian social programs should not create barriers to labour market participation or disincentives to work for those who would like to.

In some ways, Canada's income security framework currently categorizes individuals as either able-bodied and employable or disabled and unemployable. This blunt categorization can be demoralizing for individuals who have the capacity to work part-time and can discourage self-sufficiency. It may also place unnecessary pressure on disability support programs.

It goes on to say:

The OECD recognizes the lack of supports for employment as a primary weakness in Canada's approach to income security for persons with disabilities. “Similar to a number of other OECD countries, Canadian disability benefit systems still too often appear geared to steer people into welfare dependency and labour market exclusion rather than participation”...

Moreover, “the 'all-or-nothing' nature of most disability income supports leaves these individuals with no realistic alternative to long-term dependence on disability income programs, and no realistic opportunity to contribute to society”....

That is an important point to raise. We often hear issues around Canada's productivity, about needing to increase labour force participation. Here we have mechanisms with the employment insurance sickness benefits to encourage that very participation.

I know people in my riding, who have episodic disabilities, have approached me. There are periods of time in their lives where they are very capable of working. Sometimes they are capable of working full time for a number of months and then of course they need to go back on sickness benefits. We need to encourage that participation in the labour market and at the same time provide some income security. That is a valuable resource for employers.

I will touch briefly on the sickness benefit aspect of it.

I know we have had a number of people talk about various cases. I want to talk about the case of Jennifer McCrea. She was about eight months into maternity leave with her second child when her doctor discovered early stage breast cancer. Her doctor told her that she needed six weeks to recover after being on a maternity claim. She went to the employment insurance people and said that she needed sick benefits. She was told that since she was on maternity leave and not available for work she was not eligible for that benefit.

Imagine a young mother struggling with a new child, which can be a challenge at times, and on top of that needing some radical surgery as a result of an early detection of breast cancer being told that because of the way the rules were set up she was not eligible for EI.

Oddly enough, there was another case where Justice Marin ruled that legislative changes to the EI act were intended to give women on maternity leave access to additional sickness benefits immediately before, during and after receiving maternity and parental and that although the regulations required a person to be available for work, it was impossible for a woman on maternity leave to be available for work. Therefore, he said that there needed to be a more liberal interpretation and that the government should change the rules.

The human resources minister agreed, yet we are now in November 2011 and there are still no changes. Women are still losing that ability to have both maternity and sickness benefits where it is required.

We can cite any number of cases where a compassionate, caring, concerned society would say that we need to support people. These are some of the most vulnerable people. When people are sick, they really need that support. If we want to demonstrate that compassion and caring, as the money is there, employers and employees pay for it, members should pass the bill.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2011 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to talk about Bill C-291. I appreciate the bill from the hon. member from the opposite side. For myself, there have been severe cancer issues in my own family. I have a family member with lung cancer. It has made it very difficult for that person to work and so on. Also, in my little block alone in Burlington, Ontario, there are three women with MS. The issues are very familiar to me, not just as a member of Parliament, but to me personally.

My issue with the bill is one that I have with a large number of private members' bills. It is asking us to invest past the 15 weeks, but a proper financial analysis has not been done. I would have preferred if the mover of the motion had moved not a private member's bill, because private members' bills are making law, but a motion for the House to consider. The government could then consider the issues and the financial implications.

There are no financial implications in many private members' bills, but I challenge the members to look at the private members' bills that have financial implications. In this one, we are not sure what they are.

We have a Parliamentary Budget Officer from the Library of the Parliament who could do a review of what the financial results would be if the bill passes. I think the bill should be brought there to have a review of what it actually is so we could have an intelligent--

Employment Insurance Act
Routine Proceedings

September 28th, 2011 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (waiting period and maximum special benefits).

Mr. Speaker, we all have family members or close friends who unfortunately have cancer or serious injuries that prevent them from earning an income to support their children or who are in very difficult social situations.

I have presented petitions in this House with thousands of signatures. In response to those petitions and the tireless work of Marie-Hélène Dubé, it is time to make two changes to the Employment Insurance Act.

The bill would extend the maximum period for which special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. More importantly, it would also change the infamous waiting period, which forces individuals to wait two weeks before receiving money.

By resolving this situation, we can provide some relief for these individuals. They are already suffering from their illness; they are already suffering serious social and family problems. It is time for us to fix this for them. Our role as legislators is to improve the quality of life of our constituents.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)