Helping Families in Need Act

An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations

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

Sponsor

Diane Finley  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Canada Labour Code to provide an employee with the right to take leave when a child of the employee is critically ill or dies or disappears as the probable result of a crime. It also makes technical amendments to that Act.

Furthermore, the enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act to provide benefits to claimants who are providing care or support to their critically ill child and to facilitate access to sickness benefits for claimants who are in receipt of parental benefits.

Lastly, the enactment makes consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations.

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

  • Nov. 20, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
  • Oct. 2, 2012 Passed 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.

Helping Families in Need Act
Government Orders

November 19th, 2012 / noon
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Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thought for sure the NDP members would finish their debate first, but you are the person in charge so I will go on your advice.

It is a great pleasure to join the debate on Bill C-44. It is important and worthwhile legislation. The committee has been somewhat seized by it the last number of meetings and by very compelling testimony, which I will refer to as I make my remarks.

At the outset, the Liberal Party believes in the spirit and intent of the legislation. Since the bill was brought forward by the government, It has supported the legislation throughout the process.

The essence of bill is to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act, to make consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and the income tax regulations that will offer support to families facing unthinkable and traumatic sad events.

Over the past month, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities has heard from medical experts, social service experts, charities, not-for-profit groups and others that are doing good work to help families through incredibly difficult times, trying to care for a critically ill, missing or murdered child.

Most important, we heard from the families. I want to thank them first and foremost for the strength and courage they brought to these meetings and for their ability to advocate for the types of support that would have helped them through times of unfathomable grief.

As I look around at the members in the House today, I think we can all agree that regardless of what the legislation might be, when the bill goes to committee, we have access to people, experts in the field. Many times we are inundated with numbers in the millions and billions. The testimony through these hearings and through the review of the bill was not about millions or billions; it was about the one child who had gone missing or the one child who was lost because of a critical illness. The testimony was about knowing that this was more important than anything else in the lives of people.

It was a very emotional time for those witnesses who came to our committee and shared their stories. I know they hold the appreciation, the thanks and the respect of our entire committee.

Some who gave testimony said that this was a first good step, but there was more that could be done. I will speak about that a little later on when I talk about some of the amendments put forward.

Bill C-44 could have been improved. Many of the witnesses made some very concrete and positive recommendations to strengthen the bill. I had hoped that those recommendations would not have fallen on deaf ears, but unfortunately the government did not feel changes had to be made. The way that the bill was presented certainly took a couple of those amendments off the table. In fact, none of the amendments offered either by the NDP or by the Liberal Party made it through.

We based our amendments around the testimony we heard. We went through the process of gathering that information, and we made the amendments according to the facts that were established during the course of the hearings. We certainly put our amendments forward in the spirit of making the bill better for Canadians.

A number of amendments were declared out of order on the grounds they were beyond the scope of Bill C-44. It was disappointing they were not implemented and the opportunity to strengthen the bill was overruled by the government.

I would like to talk about a couple of the amendments. On behalf of our party, I raised two categories of amendments to Bill C-44. These would have made changes to the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code.

The first one was to extend the leave of absence for a parent of a critically ill child from 37 weeks to 52 weeks. We heard from parents and other stakeholders that 52 weeks would be an absolutely reasonable period of time. Critically ill children are often struggling for their lives well beyond 37 weeks and it seemed unfair and unreasonable to restrict the period to 36 weeks, especially when the legislation would provide for 52 weeks for parents of a missing or murdered children.

As a person, not even a member of Parliament, how do we quantify the amount of pain and grief that one experiences when one has a missing and/or murdered child? What that would take from a person, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, would be enormous. However, if parents have to watch their sons or daughters battle with a critical illness, are we in a position to judge which is more distressing or more hurtful? We thought we could apply the same grace to parents of critically ill children by increasing the employment insurance benefit to 52 weeks from 37.

The other amendment was to extend the unpaid leave in EI benefits to 14 days after the day on which a recipient's child died, instead of the last day of the week, to provide parents with additional support during a period of grief.

Both of these amendments asked that the parents of children who died from a critical illness be afforded two additional weeks to grieve. As it stands in Bill C-44, special benefits for parents of a critical ill child would expire on the last day of the week in which the child died. This means that if a child passes away on a Thursday, the child's mother or father would be required to return to work that following Monday. Therefore, the parent loses a child on Thursday and has to return to work on Monday.

If bereaved parents returned to a workplace that required a degree of concentration, maybe it would impact on the safety of others working around them. We would expect people in a position of trust or responsibility to be sound of mind and mentally prepared to perform the duties that are asked of them on a daily basis. I would think if parents are dealing with the death of a child, they would want some time to come to terms with that, to work with their families, their spouses and their other children. We thought it would have been in order to extend that benefit for an additional two weeks. That was ruled out of order as well.

Our amendments would have increased the supports for the parents to receive the same types of benefits through this incredibly dark time.

The other amendment was to eliminate the unequal and unfairness of the labour force attachment by reducing the number of labour force attachment hours required of employment insurance claimants from 600 to 420 that would have to be worked over the six-month period. Reducing the number of hours required would have the effect of extending benefits to part-time workers. We know the number of part-time workers has grown in the country.

In 2004, one in eight jobs were of a part-time nature. Now, one in seven jobs are of a part-time nature. That is fairly significant. It is a big change in the fundamentals of the workforce structure in our country. The amendment we put forward would have addressed the number, especially if a primary caregiver were the mother. The number of women in the workforce who work part-time far exceeds the number of men who work part-time.

We asked the government how it arrived at this number and it could not really provide a legitimate rationale for the 600 hour requirement. We quizzed officials on this and they said that they chose this number because that was what was required to receive special benefits. It was synchronized up like that. There was no other rationale for it. If they had looked at the changing nature of the workforce and the fact that the part-time worker segment had grown so much over the last eight years, they may have been able to alter their perception to improve the legislation.

In analyzing how many parents could potentially qualify, we found a significant percentage would not meet the minimum hourly requirement. In 2011, 25% of parents of children under age 18 worked part-time, a very substantive number, part-time being fewer than 30 hours a week. These parents worked an average of 16.5 hours a week. Had they worked continuously for six months, they would have only worked 430 hours, not enough to qualify for the EI benefit. In fact, 80% of fathers and 75% of mothers who worked part-time, worked fewer than what would be required to reach the 600 hours over the course of 26 weeks. That means 275,000 fathers and 680,000 mothers would not qualify for this new special benefit. It is just wrong to take that number of Canadians and tell them they will be unable to receive the same support as another group of Canadians. It is truly unfortunate and is a missed opportunity.

Had the bill not been introduced so quickly, the opposition may have had time to make improvements at second reading. We heard time after time, almost to a witness, that the age requirement of 18 should be increased. Certainly both opposition parties made a point of this knowing that parents did not stop caring for or trying to support their children just because they turned the magic age of 19. Parents are in it for the long haul. The witnesses believed that the age requirement should be increased.

The bill was brought forward and rushed through second reading. The minister announced the legislation on September 20. The next week, on September 26, the debate at second reading of Bill C-44 began.

However, the technical briefing on the bill, which would amend three pieces of legislation, did not occur until after second reading debate had already begun. We were in the midst of that when the technical briefing took place.

That is the devil in the detail aspect of the way the government has decided it is going to put forward its legislation. We have seen that in the omnibus bill and in a number of other pieces of legislation. Probably the most egregious example would be the budget bill. If they can jam as much as they can in there and run it through as quickly as they can, it would serve some type of purpose. However, if had been given a real opportunity to refine that piece of legislation, we could have put forward the amendments to increase the age and changed the allowable number of hours for part-time workers from 600 down to 420. These changes would have included a greater number of the Canadians who really live on the edges.

However, that is not the way the Conservatives decided to go about it. Indeed, considering the expertise within the public service in the Department of Human Resources, it would have been very useful to have the briefing well before the debate at second reading to provide adequate time to prepare amendments to strengthen this legislation.

I bring members' attention to the fact that in 2002 the Liberal government of the day passed Bill C-49, and I was fortunate to be part of that government. That bill amended the Employment Insurance Act to make the stacking provisions more lenient. The intention of the bill at that time was to ensure that a person who fell ill during a parental leave could also collect EI sickness benefits. What unfortunately happened was that the bureaucracy did not follow the intent of Parliament's legislation and refused perhaps thousands of parents who fell ill during their parental leave.

It was only after one lady appealed the denial of her benefits that the real issue came to light. In 2010, Natalya Rougas, a Toronto mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer while on maternity leave. However, after applying for EI sick benefits her claim was rejected on the grounds that she was on maternity leave and therefore not available for work. She appealed the decision and won her case last year, entitling her to a maximum of 15 weeks of sick benefits in addition to the 50 weeks of maternity and parental benefits that she took after her son was born in January 2009. In his ruling, released in 2011, Justice R.J. Marin said that the legislative changes in 2002 in Bill C-49 were intended to make sick benefits available to women who became ill immediately before, during or after receiving maternity benefits.

Justice Marin later explained that “If the (Employment Insurance) Commission were to give a more liberal interpretation to the provisions of the Act in relation to women who are able to establish a serious illness at the end of their maternal/parental leave, its approach would be consistent with the will of elected officials”. That is a key point, which has been reinforced by a further ruling. Marin also stated that the law was not being interpreted “in the way in which Parliament had intended”.

The lawyer for Ms. Rougas, Mr. Stephen Moreau, expects there are 3,000 or 4,000 such people out there to which this applies. It was funny too that when Bill C-49 was being put forward to make people eligible for those stacking provisions, the Conservatives voted against it. One of their favourite lines is: “These guys voted against it”. Well, they voted against this stacking provision. I do not know where this stands right now and whether these people are being allowed to receive the benefits. However, Judge Marin certainly believes these have always been in order.

I look forward to answering some questions.

Helping Families in Need Act
Government Orders

November 19th, 2012 / 12:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech, in particular for indicating that he would be supporting the bill. I am grateful for that.

I had the privilege of working on a cross-party group that studied the issue of palliative care. The Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care heard from hundreds of Canadians on this issue. I would like to read into the record one the comments we heard. This lady said:

Governments must support and invest in families during these tragically difficult times. The long term socio-economic benefits and returns of supporting families are far greater than the supposed cost savings that result from a politics of inertia. Doing nothing simply raises the toll of broken individuals and families. Colleen [her daughter] is living proof that there are gaps in our social and support systems that need to be updated. I am asking you [the committee] to extend compassionate leave benefits to at least 26 weeks in a 52 week period. I am also asking that you change the qualifying criteria to “gravely ill” as opposed to “significant risk of death”.

Both of these requests were granted. In fact, we went further than that by granting 35 weeks of benefits. Does my colleague not agree that this is a great step forward on something that has not been addressed by many governments for so long?

Helping Families in Need Act
Government Orders

November 19th, 2012 / 12:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, if we are going to quantify the word “great”, I would say it would mean a very good step forward. I will give the member a “very good” on that.

The member for Kitchener—Conestoga made reference to the palliative care committee and its strong collaborative work. However, I know it could have been better. If the legislation had been brought forward during second reading, I know that we could have made some changes to it to increase the age. We would have been able to deal with the required number of hours to accommodate part-time workers. I know that this could have been better. Therefore, “good” is pretty good, but I think there is the opportunity to be better.

When we talked about the other witnesses, I wanted to recognize as well our colleague from Brant who spoke in the House about his own personal ordeal. It was probably one of the most powerful speeches I have heard from a member in the House. I want to recognize him in my comments.

Helping Families in Need Act
Government Orders

November 19th, 2012 / 12:20 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had the privilege of working with the member on the committee and on the bill. Like him, we too will be supporting the legislation. Like him, we too believe that it is an important first step; but it is just that, a first step in doing right, in particular for parents of murdered and missing children.

I brought up at committee the fact that the government is asking parents to have earned at least $6,500 before they can qualify for a grant supporting them in their time of bereavement. I do not really understand why it should be $6,500, when clearly, if someone is making $10 an hour, they have to work 650 hours to qualify. If the person is making $100 an hour, he or she only has to work 65 hours. Why should that matter if their child is missing or murdered? Surely any parent who is going through that ordeal deserves the government's support without being means tested in such a bizarre way.

My colleague and I from the Liberal Party explored that issue at committee. I think we both agree, but I wonder whether he heard from the minister any explanation at all during the course of this debate about why this kind of means testing is essential in the bill?

Helping Families in Need Act
Government Orders

November 19th, 2012 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, what it comes down to is that the bill is going to help, I think the anticipated number is, about 6,000 to 7,000 Canadians a year. None of us as parents would ever want to go through an ordeal like that, so for the federal government to stand by them in their time of need is very important.

Again, the means test is an issue for those who are the most vulnerable. If someone is working a part-time job and only making minimum wage, or working for 450 hours a year in a seasonal industry in a remote community, the person is so exposed when something like this happens. They cannot plan for this. They do not say they are looking forward to the day his or her child gets a terminal illness, that they have money tucked away for that. That is not how people live their lives. These families are just rocked to the core and decimated emotionally and, for many of them, financially as well.

Yes, Bill C-44 will help a number of people, but I know that we could have done more. Had we brought it forward during second reading, I know we could have made it better for many more Canadians.

Helping Families in Need Act
Government Orders

November 19th, 2012 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the most disturbing part of my colleague's speech had to do with the child who dies on a Thursday night and the parents are required to be back at work on Monday morning. However, when he presented an amendment to that effect, it was ruled out of order.

I am curious about the government's rationale in those circumstances. Why would the Conservatives not present their own amendment to such an obvious uncaring and unfeeling response to what is arguably the most significant tragedy in any family, the loss of a child?

Helping Families in Need Act
Government Orders

November 19th, 2012 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, dealing with the death of a child is something we hope not to have to go through. However, of all the shortcomings in the bill, one of the most obvious is not to have addressed the requirement that someone be back to work on Monday after burying their child over the weekend.

Why was that not addressed? This goes back to the genesis of the bill, the way it was presented and rushed through at second reading. The Conservatives are not saying no to this, but because of the procedural approach they took in presenting the bill, if an amendment of ours alters the bill's scope, then they do not have to say no because the amendment would be out of order. They can limit the scope of amendments by altering the process to have second reading before the technical briefing. Then the Conservatives do not have to be the big bad wolf and say they would not support these people. It is truly unfortunate.

This is one provision that I know both opposition parties would have supported. However, it was not forthcoming. Again, it is an opportunity missed.

Helping Families in Need Act
Government Orders

November 19th, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.
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Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the opposition parties for their support of this bill. It is greatly appreciated. However, I want to correct the record so that we are all clear.

The reason we are expediting this bill is so that Canadian families can benefit, full stop. We want them to have access to these opportunities as soon as possible, and I think the opposition completely agrees with that.

Second, with regard to the age of 18, this is a very set criterion in the institutions that I have worked in and, actually, currently work in. Pediatric physicians do not actually take good care of adults.

My question for the member is very open-ended. Could he please tell me the things he liked about the bill and why he thinks it is important for Canadian families?

Helping Families in Need Act
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November 19th, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I'm just going to dig out my PMO talking points for an infomercial.

I thought I said fairly eloquently during my remarks in the House that there are good components of the bill, which we have supported from day one at first reading. However, it would have been better to have had the opportunity to make reasoned amendments to improve the legislation and access for a greater number of Canadians in need.

We know the bill is a positive step for a group of people, but we thought it could have helped even more Canadians who find themselves in pain and turmoil and thrust into a situation the bill addresses.

Helping Families in Need Act
Government Orders

November 19th, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.
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Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Selkirk—Interlake.

I am pleased to rise in this House in support of Bill C-44, the Helping Families in Need Act.

As a pediatric orthopedic surgeon who has worked with many families supporting critically ill children, primarily trauma patients, I can personally attest to the absolute need for this legislation to be passed as quickly as possible. I want to thank the opposition parties for their support of this bill and for the timely passage of it through second reading and committee consideration.

This bill is about supporting families who are going through probably the most difficult times in their lives both emotionally and financially. This legislation introduces new employment insurance benefits for parents of critically ill children, which were announced earlier this summer by the Prime Minister. This new EI benefit would provide 35 weeks of income support to parents who cannot work while caring for their critically ill or injured children under the age of 18. To comment on what the opposition member said earlier, this would then be allowed to be stacked on sickness benefits of 15 weeks, as well as compassionate care benefits of six weeks if families require it.

Children with life-threatening conditions need more than just around-the-clock medical care. They need their parents. This new benefit would help reduce some of the financial pressures that parents experience when they take time away from work while they are caring for their children. Our government recognizes the vital and essential role parents play in both comforting and caring for their children. As a surgeon, I can say that parental support at the bedside is essential for a recovering child. As with EI parental and compassionate care benefits, parents would be able to share these benefits between them. This benefit would also provide support for families in the most tragic and difficult times they may be facing.

Clauses within this bill would also enable the creation of new federal income support for parents of murdered or missing children, as announced by the Prime Minister last spring. Our government has continued to champion the cause of victims of crime. In 2007, we provided $52 million over four years to enhance the federal victims strategy. In 2010, we provided additional funding for child advocacy centres and victim services for families of missing or murdered aboriginal women.

As announced by the Prime Minister in April of this year, we will provide financial support to parents who are coping with the disappearance or death of a child, as a result of a Criminal Code offence. This measure will come into effect in January of 2013.

The measures in this bill demonstrate our government's commitment to providing families with flexibility to balance the obligation of work with the duty to family. I can only imagine the loss or disappearance of a child as a result of a criminal act. It would be one of the most agonizing experiences a parent could ever go through. While there is no way to make this situation right, we as parliamentarians can provide financial support to parents, who then would have the ability to focus on what matters most to them without having to worry about missing a mortgage payment.

To qualify for this grant of $350 for up to 35 weeks, applicants would be required to have a minimum level of income and have taken leave from their work. Income support would continue for two weeks after the missing child is found to allow parents to spend time with their child. Workers who take leaves of absence from federally regulated jobs to cope with such an event would have their jobs protected, as would parents of critically ill children, thanks to amendments to the Canada Labour Code.

The third component of this legislation would provide greater access to sickness benefits for new parents.

With this bill, parents will be able to access sickness benefits if they fall ill while receiving parental benefits.

Currently, EI claimants cannot access sickness benefits during a claim for parental benefits because of the requirement to be otherwise available for work or, for self-employed persons, to be otherwise working and to have stopped working because of illness. There are situations where a parent becomes ill soon after a child is born, while receiving parental benefits. In those cases, parents have been unable to access sickness benefits during or after receiving parental benefits because of the way the Employment Insurance Act is written. This bill would amend the EI Act to waive these requirements for claimants receiving EI parental benefits, allowing parents to focus on their own health and getting well so that they are able to take care of their children at the end of the parental leave.

The combination of these new measures in Bill C-44 is proof that our government is taking action to help parents balance work and family responsibilities. We are fortunate to have a Prime Minister who understands the importance of families. As he has stated previously, families are the building blocks of our society.

It is time to stand together and support families in this country when they need it the most.

I thank the opposition parties again for agreeing to support our Conservative government with this bill, so that at a time when parents need it most they would receive support from our government while facing those challenging circumstances.

Helping Families in Need Act
Government Orders

November 19th, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the Conservative member who just spoke.

In her view, why does Bill C-44 only apply to special benefits? For example, why does it not allow women returning from parental or maternity leave to receive regular benefits if they return to work and discover that they have been laid off or that their job has been eliminated?

Helping Families in Need Act
Government Orders

November 19th, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the changes that are being made, the Canada Labour Code would actually protect the jobs of federally regulated employees in these circumstances. The intent of the bill is to make sure those issues that had arisen before are dealt with in an effective way to protect employees. Whether they be changes to the Canada Labour Code or extensions on the ability to apply for EI in the case of critically ill children or the new grant for murdered or missing children, these are all measures to ensure families are supported in their most significant time of need.

Helping Families in Need Act
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November 19th, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her great speech and the good work the Conservatives are doing on this file. The improvements in the bill certainly mirror many of the comments we have heard at our committee on palliative and compassionate care.

At different times today we have heard from opposition members who are negative with respect to the fact that there are so many measures that are not in the bill.

My colleague, the parliamentary secretary, served on the committee that studied this bill. I am wondering if she could help us understand how, time and time again, the stakeholders were urging our government to get on with the bill and get it into place so that families could in fact be helped, which is the primary focus of the bill.

Helping Families in Need Act
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November 19th, 2012 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, everyone on our committee appreciated the stakeholders who came to present. Whether it was a mom who had a critically ill child or someone who had been ill and then had a child and required support, they were all recognized. That is why all parties in the House are supporting the bill.

The most important action we can take here is to support families so that they can stay together in their greatest time of need. I have seen that again and again at bedsides at the Hospital for Sick Children and here at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Children require their parents there when they are becoming well. They need them there. That is why I am delighted that all members in the House will be supporting Bill C-44.

Helping Families in Need Act
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November 19th, 2012 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, we definitely always have questions for the member because her speeches are always very interesting, even though they sometimes lack substance.

With regard to the bill before us, did the Conservatives go to communities and did they hear what changes should be made for children with special needs, which is certainly commendable?

What else did the member hear from Canadian communities as to the changes that must be made to the Employment Insurance Act?