Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to bill C-278.
Clause 1 of this bill states:
1. Paragraph 12(3)(c) of the Employment Insurance Act is replaced by the following:
(c) because of a prescribed illness, injury or quarantine is 50;
I congratulate the member for Sydney—Victoria for tabling this bill in the House of Commons.
We should also mention the integrity of certain members who made some regrettable comments. There is no way around it, I am obliged to say it.
In the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, recommendations were made concerning employment insurance. Some Liberals were present—when they were in power—and recommended certain motions. I remember one motion. The chair of the committee was the member for Cape Breton—Canso. Then the time came to present the motion to the House of Commons.
In June of last year, I presented a motion regarding the 12 weeks. I recall that the member for Cape Breton—Canso, who had recommended the changes to employment insurance, voted in favour of the change. However, two other Liberals, who had recommended changes to employment insurance, voted against their own recommendation when the motion was presented to the House of Commons. It is disgraceful. I am speaking of the member for Beauséjour and the member for Madawaska—Restigouche.
We could have made changes to employment insurance but we did not get them. I have to say it. I will keep saying it as long as I am a member of the House of Commons.
I heard the Parliamentary Secretary for Human Resources and Social Development say that his government does not wish to make changes to employment insurance because he is concerned that it would affect private companies and insurance companies. That is unbelievable. The government is afraid that it could affect working people and the companies, because there would no be enough workers.
With all due respect, we are talking about people with cancer who have to undergo chemotherapy. It is not their choice. Their doctor tells them they cannot work for 12 months. As if that were not bad enough, their income is cut off after 15 weeks.
I find that position inhumane. These are human beings, workers who pay into a system. That system has a $50 billion surplus. We want the money deducted from our paycheques back. We want that money so we can buy an employment insurance system.
The Liberal member from Prince Edward Island should not be laughing. His party voted against the motion.
I also think it is important to look closely at what the government said. It said there are other avenues, such as the Canada pension fund. I am sorry, but Canadian workers who fall ill cannot benefit from the Canada pension fund unless they have already been sick for a year. One has to have been sick for nearly two years before becoming eligible for the Canada pension fund.
If we are prepared to consider the possibility of using the Canada pension fund, why not use it when the doctor says the worker cannot return to work for 12 months? At that point, the worker should automatically be eligible for Canada pension fund benefits. That might be a solution.
But that is not what we are debating right now. We do not have the right to use the Canada pension fund. People do not have the right to employment insurance. The only thing they can get is welfare, and that is certainly not good for their health.
I listened to what the government members said a few minutes ago. Why do they not look at this issue regarding employment insurance? We are talking about people who are sick and the doctors say they cannot go back to work for one year. We are not talking about individuals who just have a cold. We are not talking about people who break their legs and 16 weeks later they could be on the job.
We are not talking about someone who has broken his arm. We are talking about someone who has cancer and whose doctors say he cannot go back to work for 12 months because he must have cancer treatment. And with $50 billion in the employment insurance account, do we not have the humanity to say yes, we will give it to him? This is a program that belongs to the working people and the businesses. Why do we not let them make the decision, not the government?
If the Conservatives go with the royal recommendation, I think it is totally unfair. It is inhuman and the government should not be in power. I hope Canadians see that. I hope every worker listening to me tonight will never give a vote to the Conservative Party when the Conservatives cannot have even a little bit of compassion for a person who is sick.
As for coming into the House and saying they do not want to hurt the private business of insurance companies, I will tell members something. The fish plant workers in my riding do not have a private plan. The fish plant workers in Newfoundland and Labrador do not have any private plans. The fish plant workers from P.E.I., even if the member from P.E.I. was laughing, do not have those plans. I say we have the responsibility as legislators here to give that plan back to the working people and to help the people who are sick.
The Liberals had the chance to do it when they were in power and they did not do it. Now they are in opposition--and I have said this before--and it seems that when members are in opposition they believe all things are good, but when they get into government they must get a needle somewhere that makes them change their minds.
I listened to what the government said tonight. To use computer language, it was a cut-and-paste. It is the same language we have heard before. I have been here for nine years. Tonight's is the same language I have heard for nine years.
However, at the end of this, we have human beings. We have people who are left with no earnings. It is bad enough that the men or the women have cancer, but at the end of that, we have the children. We have families. We have kids who need to go to school.
We have the responsibility to help them, to give them an insurance plan, one that we can afford because we have a $50 billion surplus. Just this year, a $2 billion surplus went to the debt, and it came from the working people. It is a shame.
Honestly, I hope that the Conservative government members have a conscience. I hope they will think about this, change their minds, and give the workers what they deserve. I hope they will give the person who is sick and needs cancer treatment a longer period of EI.
Give it to them, I say. It will be good for society if we do it. It will be good for our working people. It will not affect the company involved because the person has been removed from the job already, by the doctor. That person needs to have those chemo treatments and cannot be on the job, but one thing this EI would do is help the family. It would help the kids. It would help that family to buy groceries, feed the kids and buy the clothes they need. This way, they would not have that worry. It would help people to heal.
That is why it is important. I am happy to see changes to the EI program being requested just one at a time. No one will be able to come and tell us that too many changes are being requested or that the bill is too voluminous.
If we say no to this change, we will have to say no to any change. If we cannot have compassion for someone who is sick with cancer, this means that no changes can be made to the EI program and that the government will just go on taking the money of workers and companies to pay off its own debts and achieve zero deficit. That is being done not only on the backs of workers, but on the backs of the sick as well.
That would be a terrible and totally inhumane thing to do. The government still has a chance to act. This evening, the Conservatives asked that this bill require a royal recommendation. I think they should come back before the House to ask that their point of order be withdrawn. That would become the most humane thing this Parliament has done.
Let us imagine that this bill is adopted. Just think what it would do for our workers who are ill. When SARS hit Toronto, the government turned around and got rid of the two-week waiting period, because it was Toronto. It seems that the rest of Canada does not count. I remember that event and I would never have voted against eliminating the two-week waiting period in Toronto. I understood that it was a good thing and I agreed with it.
Today, we are asking for a good thing that I agree with and I ask the government to change its mind and to vote in favour of Bill C-278 to assist those individuals suffering from long-term afflictions, to give them dignity and to help their families.