Bill C-206 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (persons who leave employment to be care-givers to family members)
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.
This bill was previously introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session.
Peter Stoffer NDP
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Not active, as of Oct. 3, 2002
(This bill did not become law.)
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
March 20th, 2003 / 6:45 p.m.
Rex Barnes Gander—Grand Falls, NL
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me tonight to speak on Bill C-206. Of course my learned friend who brought it forward is a very kind and compassionate person. He cares about what happens to individuals all over the country.
People have to forget the fact that it is going to cost money. It will cost money up front, but we will save money in the long haul. We could sit down and talk about all the bills that come through the House, and when all is said and done, there is no bill that will affect people as much as this bill will. Bill C-206 is a bill for the people. It is an excellent, caring, compassionate bill, which we sometimes do not see from politicians. Today we have a chance as a country and as politicians to stand up and say that we care for the working people of this country in a way that we have never cared before.
We all know that the workplace is very stressful. For 22 years I worked as a front line worker in health care. That is a long time. I have seen a lot in 22 years. I have been with family members who cried, who had stress and who did not know where their next dollar would come from because they were too emotionally upset to work. They had no plan so that they could go off work and have some income. They did not know where their next dollar was coming from.
This bill gives them hope. Bill C-206 gives them some type of peace of mind for the future and the people they love and will care for.
Bill C-206 raises legitimate points. Certainly all members sympathize with and respect those who are left with no other choice but to leave their employment due to the illness of a family member. Whether it is a parent, a sibling or a child, it does not matter.
The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada certainly believes in assisting Canadians who are in need of help. Bill C-206 will bring a great sense of peace of mind to people who are in need. The government gives parental leave and maternity leave, so what is wrong with the government giving compassionate leave to the people who need it the most? Bill C-206 gives it to the people.
I know that the hon. member is looking for 52 weeks and I know that the Liberal government put 6 weeks in the budget. I commend the government for that. Six weeks is a good starting point. This is a good start to move forward to make the bill better than ever before.
I am sure we all know people who have been in situations where they could not go to work because of stress and because they wanted to take care of a loved one on the last leg of the journey. As a result, they did not know where they were going or if they would have any money.
Bill C-206 gives them hope. I could tell story after story of people whose lives have been torn apart, but unless people go through it themselves they do not really understand it. I have been through this experience with my father-in-law who had cancer. He was diagnosed in December and before the trout season began he passed away. The only reason the family had peace of mind was that there were family members in the house. One could afford to take time from work and there were two family members who were not working at the time and they spent every day and rotated shifts.
The bill would give those family members a chance to say, “I can take legitimate leave from work, stay off and take care of our loved ones”. The hon. member should be congratulated. We have an old saying: the people in this country should be kissing his feet, because we have a kind politician, a politician who means a lot to this country. We as politicians can change the time and change the image of politicians if we do things right. This is what it is all about.
All of us should vote in favour of the bill. No one should object to the bill. We should unanimously support the bill, give the people something that they rightly deserve and give them hope for the future.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
March 20th, 2003 / 6:35 p.m.
Raymonde Folco Laval West, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would also like to speak on Bill C-206. It is legislation that certainly seeks to assist those who need help to be able to provide care to a close relative, father, daughter or son who is seriously ill.
However, with respect to this bill, the funds allocated under the 2003 budget deal specifically with this problem.
I can well understand the thinking of our hon. colleague, the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore who has worked so hard to advance Bill C-206. However, while I fully share the values of compassion, caring and dedication that lie behind his bill, I believe it has some serious shortcomings.
Our government has pledged in the Speech from the Throne to find a way so that workers will not have to choose between taking care of a family member and their job.
As usual, we were quick to deliver on our commitments. Actually, the government has announced in the 2003 budget the establishment of a six week leave with employment insurance benefits. This initiative seeks to ensure that Canadians can provide compassionate care for a seriously ill or dying child, parent or spouse without putting their job or income at risk.
Beginning in January 2004, six weeks of compassionate care benefits, along with eight weeks of Canada Labour Code job protection, will be available so eligible workers may take a temporary absence from work without fear of sudden income or job loss when a parent, spouse or child is dying or falls gravely ill.
Of course, at first glance, this leave may appear inadequate to my colleague, who is suggesting leave of up to 52 weeks. However, several analyses we conducted in the medical world showed that the average absence of a relative taking care of a seriously ill family member was six weeks. This is why the government suggested a six week leave paid by employment insurance.
Contrary to what my colleague from Vancouver East said, when she was drafting her bill, I am not so sure that our hon. colleague carefully researched the financial impact of her proposal on workers, employers and society as a whole.
Her bill includes not only close relatives such as children, parents, spouses, as does the government proposal, but also brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, as well as in-laws and step family members. This definition of family will be very costly for our society.
It gets worse when we consider the idea of impairment involved in the bill that applies to a wide range of care services entailing significant costs for Canadians.
I have noticed that no one here has mentioned any numbers. Let us talk numbers. Just to give members an idea, our compassionate care plan should cost the public purse approximately $86 million in 2003-04, and $221 million in 2004-05 and subsequent years. Clearly, Bill C-206, which would entitle more Canadians to this kind of leave and would make the leave almost nine times as long, would be very costly.
I do not believe that we as a country can afford this measure. The idea behind the measure is an idea that the government has already put forward and the government's position is one where we acknowledge the need, we try to answer the need, but there is certain limit to which we can go and this is a financial limit.
Bill C-206 runs contrary to the very principles on which we laid the new foundations of the employment insurance system, since it requires those who want to take care of their relatives to quit their job or be fired to be entitled to support.
The government proposal stresses that it is important for individuals to keep their jobs as long as possible. Unfortunately, I am out of time but, believe me, it is important to have a balanced approach.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
March 20th, 2003 / 6:20 p.m.
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-206, an act that would amend the Employment Insurance Act concerning persons who leave their employment in order to look after their loved ones at home.
I agree with the previous speaker that this legislation is very important. This opens up the debate on exploring some of the new alternatives that must be looked at as we move forward into the 21st century if we are to protect our health care system.
I wish to commend my colleague from Nova Scotia for bringing forward the bill before the House at this time so that we can at least begin debating it. I also wish to commend my colleague from Medicine Hat who led our party's response to this piece of legislation.
As senior health critic of the Canadian Alliance I would like to look at this issue primarily from a health perspective.
Canadians are a caring people. It is a value that we have as Canadians. In fact, as Canadians, we see our identity sometimes being wrapped around our health care system and the value of it. The value that we applaud and appreciate is the value that says that we will not lose our life savings because of an illness later in life, or at any time in our life. Because of that we collectively would like to pick up those costs for health care and have the one tier system. That is a value that we share.
Our American friends to the south have a different value. I am not here to judge their value. I am here to say that is not our value and we do not appreciate it. However, their value is a little different. They say they will look after people's health needs, in fact, they have terrific health care, but they have a terrible health care system, in the sense that they will take people's life savings before they give them treatment. Because of that, we do not share that value system and do not want that system. Nor do I hear any political party or hear any voices calling for that.
The value system that we have is saying that we should look after our people, regardless of their financial means. The Canadian Alliance will stand firmly behind those values.
We also have another problem; it is our aging population. An aging population means many of those who are facing the challenges later in life of becoming ill, as this bill will speak to, are having to be looked after by an institution, or by home care, or perhaps by a solution that is brought forward in this piece of legislation.
I am not here to say that the idea is wrong; the idea is right. We must explore all the ideas that we can possibly come up if we are to sustain the health care system as this aging population moves into the 21st century. It is important to take a little bit of time and describe exactly what we are facing in Canada as a health care system. We must realize that between the ages of 45 and 65 the average cost to the health care system in Canada right now is about $4,400 per person. However, between the ages of 65 to 75 that cost almost doubles, to over $7,000. And between the ages of 75 to 85 it doubles again, to almost $14,000. Those are just the bare facts of the dollars that go into health care right now without any of the exponential costs that we have seen. However, these costs are continuing to grow and becoming a real concern.
We can say that is fine, as people get older they access more dollars for health care. However, what we must put into that formula is an understanding of the demographics.
People who were born after the second world war are now reaching the age where they are getting into those high dollar costs of health care. As they hit our health care system we will have to come up with ideas that would have to go far beyond what this piece of legislation is proposing to be able to sustain our health care system. The numbers will keep increasing, until the year 2041, before we start breaking over the bubble where it starts relieving the demographic curve and we will have fewer people age 65 and over. From now until then we will have more individuals in Canada who are reaching the age of 65 and beyond. Therein lies a dilemma in our health care system and because of that we must start looking at it.
That draws me to the bill itself, the idea of compassionate leave for individuals to look after their loved ones at home.
Most Canadians want to be there for their loved ones, at the time of their greatest need. I also believe that those who have a terminal illness would prefer to live at home. They would prefer to be in their own environment where they would be the most comfortable with the least stress, have an easier time of it, and be looked after by those who love them the most rather than be in an institution where they would feel alienated.
From that perspective, I believe it is important that we look at this proposed legislation. As I said before, I applaud the member for bringing it forward.
Indeed many Canadians are already providing formal care in their homes. Most families are looking after their aged individuals. In fact a study has been done in Ontario by the Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens' Organization. It estimates that 85% to 90% of the home care is provided by family and friends. That means there are a great many individuals who are looking after those they love dearly. I salute each one of them who dedicates and sacrifices himself or herself for Canadians. It is very important that happens.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that care at home is actually more beneficial for the patient than care in institutions. It is also more cost effective.
When it comes to care at home, the care from family members is much more cost effective than formal care. I think that is very easy to understand. In fact my colleague from Medicine Hat, when he made his first comments on this proposed legislation, said that a constituent of his came to his office to talk to him about the bill. He said that the home care cost for his loved one per month would be $2,500. He said he could do that same job for $700.
When we look at Canadians, we can understand why this could be duplicated many times over which would relieve a lot of the costs.
However is it the right vehicle? Is it the right place from which we should be getting the money to deal with this? I would suggest that probably not. It may contribute to better health outcomes and enhance human dignity, and it is possibly less expensive. That is true when we look at the bill.
However should we be drawing the money from the EI program? That is where the bill and I differ. I do not believe EI was set up for that purpose. EI was set up for the purpose of employment insurance, which insures people for the times they are out of work. Individuals as well as corporations have paid into that program. In fact that program is in some ways an over taxation because of the amount of money brought in through that program and yet is not paid out through that program.
In fact the Auditor General has repeatedly criticized the government for pouring the EI funds into the consolidated revenue fund rather than establishing a separate self-sustaining EI account. I believe the Auditor General is right because the numbers are significantly more and it really amounts a higher tax than what it should be in the program.
Under the bill, it calls for 52 weeks on EI with a potential extension. We have to understand that the government's own pledge is only for a six week program. That would still add some further dimensions to the program.
We need further study to see if that is appropriate, with the right numbers and if it is flexible enough. All that needs to be taken into consideration. Because the compassionate leave is a health issue and because such leave is intended to address human health needs and would allegedly result in cost savings to the health care system, consideration should be given to the funding for compassionate leave being provided through federal and provincial health budgets and not employment insurance.
There is another example recommended in the Kirby report suggesting that perhaps the money should come from tax credits for supporting individuals at home. That is another way of accomplishing the same thing only in a little different way.
It is very important that we understand that this is perhaps an important bill. However even under the bill and even under the government's six weeks plan, we can see it would cost $86 million for the first year and $221 million for the second year. Therefore it is a very costly program.
If we are to sustain our health care system into the future, we will have to come up with ideas like this, not as expenses, but ideas that will drive efficiencies into the system or we will lose our health care system. It is very important that we open our eyes and examine all areas and ways to deal with our elderly and with the people who are ill in Canada.
I applaud the member for bringing forward this bill, but I would challenge him on using EI as the vehicle to pay for it.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
March 20th, 2003 / 6:15 p.m.
Dennis Mills Toronto—Danforth, ON
Mr. Speaker, I wish to compliment the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. This bill represents a piece of public policy whose time has come.
I must go back to an experience that I had in my own riding approximately one year ago where I put out a request to my constituents asking them what they believed some of the priority issues would be, should be, that I would take to our Liberal policy convention which was to happen in June of last year. One of the top three messages that came to our policy team was the whole issue of compassionate leave of absence for respite caregivers. We developed a resolution in the community and I would like to read it into the record:
Whereas the Government of Canada provides for parental leave of absence of up to one year, which allows a parent to nurture and care for a new member of the family and our Canadian society without jeopardizing employment status or career opportunities as an employee;
Whereas the Government of Canada does not formally recognize the importance or impact of family members or guardians providing respite care without jeopardizing employment status or career opportunities;
Whereas current and future generations of Canadians will require the Government of Canada to hold dear an individual's quality of life until the point of death and for caregivers to provide comfort and support to that point;
Be it resolved that the Government of Canada review compassionate leave of absence to employees or guardians providing respite care to family members as a mandate for review. The review period should not exceed two years for the purpose of establishing criteria, standards and timeframes for leave of absence.
The people of my community are 100% behind the member from Sackville on Bill C-206. In June 2001, of the 400 policy resolutions that were tabled for the Liberal Party of Ontario policy convention this resolution was accepted as one of the top 10 as a priority resolution. There is a will emerging within the Ontario wing of the Liberal Party that this issue be dealt with.
We must also acknowledge that in the last budget the Minister of Finance did put this issue on the radar screen. He made a great first step with six weeks. It is a start.
The House of Commons must really press the finance officials and the will of all members in the House, especially the ones who are obsessed with the fiscal framework. What they do not understand is that when we have to work to make a living and our parents or a family member is dying, if we cannot look after them what happens is that most often we put them into the hospital system. That is a heck of a lot more expensive.
First of all, we cannot even compare the quality of care to a loved one looking after us. But the cost to the health care system, when people are just put into a hospital because they have no alternative, is really a heck of a lot more expensive than what the member is proposing in Bill C-206.
I wish to congratulate the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. Let us continue to press the will of the House to ensure that in this term, before we go back to the people, within the next two years that this becomes one of those pieces of legislation that is a fond memory of all of us collectively doing something special in this Parliament.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
March 20th, 2003 / 6:05 p.m.
Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House tonight to support this private member's bill.
I congratulate my hon. colleague, the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. Having read his bill and having been present in earlier hours of debate, I want to say that this is one of the most important pieces of private members' business that has come before the House. It deals with an issue that affects Canadians right across the country, no matter where they live, no matter what their background, no matter what socio-economic class they come from. It is a private member's bill that deals with a very grave and important issue.
To refresh people's memories, Bill C-206 would provide employment insurance benefits to people who leave employment to be caregivers to family members who are seriously ill or undergoing severe rehabilitation. It is modelled on the EI parental benefits program. The bill simply and straightforwardly would enable Canadians to leave their workplace to care for a family member, knowing that their job and income would be protected for the designated period.
I cannot think of an issue that is more important to so many people across the country. That is one reason the bill has received tremendous support.
In my own province the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities is probably the major organization that deals with issues around disabilities and deals with this issue of caregiving. This is a major issue that faces that organization and their members. I am very glad that the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities is supporting my colleague on this bill, as are many other organizations across the country. These include the Alzheimer's Society of Sudbury-Manitoulin, the Alzheimer Society of Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma District, the Alzheimer Association of Saskatchewan, the Alzheimer Society of Ontario, Muskoka and Kingston, VON Canada, Hospice Huronia, the Canadian Mental Health Association in Ottawa, the Canadian Caregiver Coalition in Ottawa, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the list goes on. It is a very strong indication that people understand the importance of this bill and why it needs to be supported.
In speaking to the bill today, like many people, I have had personal experience about what it means to be a caregiver when a family member is sick, or in my case, in palliative care. In my situation, my partner of 24 years, Bruce, was dying of cancer. Like many family members in other situations, I faced very difficult choices about what to do. One struggles to keep commitments at work and at home to care for the family member. There are very difficult choices. My colleague has outlined many stories from Canadians and the struggles they faced.
In my own situation, in 1997 I was very lucky that I worked for the Hospital Employees' Union in British Columbia, which was very sensitive and understanding of its employees. It was willing to give me time away from work so that I could participate in the care of my partner when he needed it, in the most critical time when he left the hospital and came home, basically to die. If I had been in a work situation where I had not had an employer that was willing to provide that kind of compassion and support to me as an employee of that union, I would have been in a very difficult situation.
I did not have savings that I could have used to stay home. I did not have family members who could provide income support. I recognize that in my situation I was able to cope, as difficult as it was.
We have to recognize that in most situations across Canada, when one member of a family unit is working but is also placed in the position of trying to care for another member of the family unit, and it might be a child, a sister, a spouse or partner, or a parent, employers often are not able to make arrangements. People may not work in a situation where there is a collective agreement that has some sort of provision. They may actually be in a situation where their employer just does not give a damn about the situation.
The bill says that under the employment insurance program we should be entitled to receive the kind of benefits, just as we would when our employment is terminated. We can use EI now for parental leave. It seems to me that this would be the most logical expansion of the program, especially when we consider that the EI fund has now accumulated a huge surplus. It is over $40 billion. This is money that is paid into the fund by employers and employees. Government money is not involved in the fund. It is a very legitimate use of the insurance program, to extend it for caregiving purposes.
I have had a lot of feedback in my riding about this bill. One person in particular, a member of an aboriginal family, described to me the circumstances they found themselves in of having to care for family members not just once but on several occasions, where family members were terminally ill.
As a result of losing employment, one of the real tragedies of the status quo is that people lose their pension benefits. They actually lose pensionable earnings because they have to quit work.
The bill is important. I want to address some of the concerns and myths the government has put forward in debating the bill. It has suggested that it would be very expensive, that it would cost a huge amount of money to do this, yet there is no evidence to suggest that.
What the government fails to take into account is that not having this kind of provision through EI actually costs our health care system a huge amount of money. For every dollar that would be spent on this kind of caregiver program, we would actually save $4 to $6 in health care costs. We would be creating a supportive environment, with support programs, palliative care programs and programs for sick children. This would actually save dollars in the health care system. I would also note that Mr. Romanow in his report strongly recommended that a caregiver program be approved.
One of the other myths the government puts forward is that somehow if a program did exist, a person would only need about six weeks. In my own situation a minimum of 10 weeks was what I required to be at home in order to care for my partner. To suggest that the period could be limited to six weeks, I do not think is any kind of representation in terms of the realities that are out there.
In closing, I congratulate my colleague from Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. He has produced a fine piece of legislation that is not only worthy of debate, but is worthy of support. I hope very much that members from all sides of the House will agree that the bill should now go to committee where we can get into detailed examination of it and debate the issues in it. It is very worthy of that support. I urge members to agree to support it and to send it to committee.
Business of the House
March 20th, 2003 / 5 p.m.
Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Madam Speaker, discussions have taken place between all the parties as well as with the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, concerning the taking of the division on Bill C-206, scheduled at the conclusion of private members' business later this day. I believe you would find consent that at the conclusion of today's debate on Bill C-206, all questions necessary to disposed of the motion be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to Tuesday, March 25 at the end of government orders.
March 17th, 2003 / 5:15 p.m.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Palliser for his comments on education and agriculture but I would like to zero in on a couple of issues which the budget ignored.
A budget should reflect today's reality of the present as well as the future. Unfortunately, in my riding, and I am sure clear across the country, the budget has ignored completely the concerns of people on fixed and low incomes, those who are seniors and who are struggling to pay their heating bills. We certainly cannot say that it has been an exceptionally cold winter and that is why the prices of home oil and gas have gone up. This is consistent.
These people are suffering under the weight of heavy oil and gas prices. They are having to make some very tough choices. Those are choices that we as parliamentarians should not allow them to face alone. We as a government and as members of Parliament should be able to reflect their concerns and address their daily needs.
Another issue is the airport security tax. Even with a 40% reduction in the airport security tax, about $42 million will be taken out of the Atlantic economy. That is at the maximum. It will be up to $42 million. However the government is only putting back in anywhere from $6 million to $10 million for airport security. Where is the other $30 million to $34 million going? It is going into general revenues. That was a tax put on after 9/11 to convince Canadians that air travellers would have to pay more, even though it affected airport travel and the profits of airlines, to have enhanced security.
We agree with the fact that there should be enhanced security at the airports but the amount of money still being taken from consumers is affecting not only consumer travel but the profits of airlines as well. We are saying that the government should lower it even further. If a user fee has to be charged in that regard, a $5 charge, similar to that in the United States, will be much more acceptable and reflective of what is put back into security, rather than it going into general revenue which is meant for other areas.
Another concern that the government has completely forgotten about is a shipbuilding policy for Canada. We have tried and tried. I know my colleagues from Halifax, Dartmouth, Acadie—Bathurst and my former colleagues Gordon Earle, Michelle Dockrill and Peter Mancini, have been trying very hard to get the government to focus its attention on the need for a national shipbuilding policy.
I know the former minister of industry, Mr. Tobin, set up a committee which came up with a report called “Breaking Through: The Canadian Shipbuilding Industry”. It is a very good report but so far it has fallen upon deaf ears. We are not surprised by that because we have a finance minister who is quoted as saying that the shipbuilding industry in this country is a sunset industry. We could not disagree with him more. We are asking the government to refocus its energies and to put in a shipbuilding policy to keep our shipyards of Saint John, New Brunswick, Halifax, Marystown, Lévis, Quebec, Welland, Ontario and in Vancouver alive and well. These are very good paying jobs and the budget unfortunately has neglected that very important industry.
Regarding the military, unfortunately the $800 million that has been allocated to it will go to pay the credit card and current operations overseas. It does not address the structural concerns within the military of acquiring new ships, Sea King replacement helicopters and other aircraft for that matter. We are telling the government that if it built those ships in Canada, it could have a naval shipbuilding policy which would then spawn a very good domestic shipbuilding policy. We believe that would be the way to go.
It is interesting in 1993, when the Liberals came to power, there was a $42 billion deficit, yet they announced a $45 billion infrastructure program over four years. By the way, I give them credit for the $45 billion infrastructure program because infrastructure programs are very important for the country. However now in 2003, with an $11 billion forecast, they can only come up with $3 billion over 10 years.
I do not understand how on one hand the government can have a huge deficit and come out with more money over a shorter period of time, and have a huge surplus and come up with less money over a longer period of time. I do not understand that and that is why many cities are concerned about what is going on with the infrastructure program.
On the issue of national parks, a lot of people who work in the parks associations across the country were virtually assured that there would be at least $200 million in this budget, not only to preserve the ecological integrity of our national parks and wilderness areas, but also to include the 10 new national terrestrial parks and the five new marine parks.
Unfortunately, the budget was seriously lacking in sufficient funds for that. We can only hope that the government will realize the error of its ways and will understand that a good thing to do would be to get rid of the gun legislation, in my opinion, and use that money to fund national parks. That would be a very good legacy for the Prime Minister.
I know the Prime Minister has taken a special interest in parks. He has done it his whole life. I hope that before he leaves, he ensures that there is adequate funding to not only maintain the ecological integrity of the current parks that we have, but also the 10 new ones and the five marine protected areas.
One of the most important organizations in our country, especially where I come from on the east coast, is the Coast Guard. The budget announced $75 million over two years for the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, that would not even buy a brand new icebreaker, let alone meet the needs of our Coast Guard men and women. We must address this issue a lot more positively than we have been doing in this particular budget.
We need to have clear indications from the government that again with a proper shipbuilding policy we could build new Coast Guard vessels and icebreakers here in the country. We could put people to work and give them the enhanced security training that we require for the protection of our east coast in terms of fisheries violations, environmental violations, illegal immigrants and drug detection as well. I believe that would not be a liability to the government but an asset if it invested in that particular way.
I will give the government credit because for five years I have been working on a bill called compassionate care leave. Finally, after two throne speeches, after the Kirby report, and after the Romanow report--and I give the hon. Minister of Human Resources Development top notch credit for at least getting the finance minister to announce it in the budget--effective January 2004 there will be a six week program for compassionate care leave. Unfortunately, although it is a toe in the door--I would have preferred that it was a whole foot through the door--it simply is not enough.
We have the funding in the EI program to meet these needs. Bill C-206 which I introduced over five years ago, and which is being debated for third hour debate on Thursday, will be votable next Monday or Tuesday. It states that any couple, parent or relative who has a child or a relative under a palliative care situation can prevent them from going into an institution. For example, currently a husband and wife who have a child through natural birth or adoption, one of them can take a year off for either paternity of maternity leave. They have job protection and are able to care for that child in their home.
What happens if a couple has a child that is diagnosed with cancer and has six to eight months to live? What do they do then? Bill C-206 would offer that one of those parents, or any other relative, should be allowed to stay home with that child, have job security, and be with that child in the last days of its life. It would prevent the child from becoming institutionalized. It would offer job security to the family member. It would also give a little income to them as well because we all know the EI fund has quite a surplus in it. For every dollar that we would use on the EI fund to offset the lost wages of a particular individual, we would save $4 to $6 on the health care system because we would prevent that individual from becoming institutionalized.
This is one of the best programs that we could ever do in this country and I thank the government for doing that, initially at a very snail-like pace. I hope that all members of Parliament will support the bill and allow it to go to committee to have further clarification and discussion. If indeed that were happen, then the budget in that regard would be a good thing.
In closing, all of us should pray for peace in Iraq and pray for the people in the Middle East.
March 17th, 2003 / 4:55 p.m.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Yukon on his remarks regarding national parks and the child tax benefit.
I am pleased to see that he is one of the few Liberals who actually recognizes that although there is money going to national parks, it is simply not enough and he is hoping there will be more in the future. I congratulate him for that statement.
As he also knows, the major flaw of the child tax benefit program, which I think is a very good program, is that it still allows the provinces to claw back dollar for dollar. In Nova Scotia for example, the poorest people still do not have access to it because the province claws it back.
One of the good things, and I give the hon. Minister of Human Resources Development credit, is the compassionate care leave for palliative and serious rehabilitative care for only six weeks.
The member knows that on Thursday we will be debating Bill C-206, which is votable, which expands that particular initiative to the same benefits as that of maternity leave. This means if a couple has a child through natural birth or adoption, one partner can take a year of maternity leave to care for the child. On the other hand, if a couple has a child who is diagnosed with cancer and only has six to eight months to live, six weeks of this program simply will not be enough.
The bill that we introduced over five years ago would allow a parent to stay home with an ill child, for example, for the same duration as provided for maternity leave. I am wondering if he would support that type of initiative. We will vote in the House of Commons to move that bill to committee. I am wondering if the hon. member for Yukon, who is a fine member of the House of Commons, would actually support that type of initiative.
February 24th, 2003 / 6:25 p.m.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. Speaker and the House for the opportunity to again speak on a private member's bill that we brought forth back in 1998 and have reintroduced four different times, Bill C-206. Before I begin, I wish to thank the government very much for the recent budget in that it actually mentioned compassionate care leave. What it has announced is compassionate care leave of six weeks, starting on January 4, 2004. Although that is a great start, it is simply nowhere near enough to meet the needs of Canadians.
We all know that Bill C-206, if enacted, would allow people who leave work to care for a dying relative or a relative under severe rehabilitation the opportunity to leave their place of employment and collect employment insurance; it is the exact same benefits as if they were to have a baby. We have programs for maternity leave and paternity leave at the beginning of someone's life, but we have no program at the end of someone's life. Although the government did announce a program for six weeks, the unfortunate part is that it is simply not enough, not even close.
We have proven this. The provinces have proven it. As well, the Canadian Caregiver Coalition, which is across the country, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, the AIDS coalitions and many other groups, including CARP, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, with 4,000 members, all have proven that for every dollar spent on employment insurance, thus offsetting someone's salary, we would save $4 to $6 on the health care system. The winner would be the provinces in terms of financial costs, because it is the provinces that have the responsibility to deliver health care.
This is a program that we know the government is working on. We know that the hon. Minister of Human Resources and the hon. Leader in the Senate, Sharon Carstairs, have mentioned it on many occasions. We are appreciative of that effort, Mr. Speaker, do not get me wrong. We are not condemning the government for it. We appreciate the fact that the government has taken on the issue and started to move with it, but my bill would actually move it a little more quickly.
What we are hoping for is that after March 19, after third reading, of course, the government and other opposition members actually will vote to move the bill to committee. Thousands and thousands of e-mails, petitions and letters have been sent from across the country, from coast to coast to coast, in support of the bill. In a recent CTV poll for Canada AM , with over 2,000 people polled over 24 hours, the number one concern was home care.
I just want to say to all Canadians and all parliamentarians that this is not a question of if someone will become a caregiver but of when someone will become a caregiver. Those who are passing on have a right to die in the surroundings of their choice, to be surrounded by their loved ones and also to be free of pain.
I believe that this bill deserves a lot of support. It is a non-political bill and we believe it should move forward.
Statutory Instruments Act
Private Members' Business
January 31st, 2003 / 2:10 p.m.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the federal NDP to acknowledge the hon. member for Surrey Central for his persistence in bringing the bill before the House of Commons and his outreach across the country to get broad support for this bill. I am sure he can also add the federal NDP and provincial NDPs from across the country in this particular area.
A lot of the folks watching probably do not fully understand exactly what this bill would mean. I would like to go into it in brief detail so I myself can fully comprehend it as well.
The status quo ad hoc disallowance procedure applies only in the House of Commons and not the Senate. Second, disallowance is limited to statutory instruments made by the governor in council or by ministers of the crown.
Moreover, the SJCSOR disallowance report is not binding. It is left to the discretion of the minister of the crown or the governor in council to revoke or amend the regulations identified in the reports. Further, and this is very important, our courts are unable to enforce it. This creates a potential conflict between Parliament and the executive.
Amending the scope of the disallowance procedure and providing statutory footing will remedy these defects, making the procedure more transparent and effective. Even advocates for better parliamentary control of delegated legislation recommend that these two defects be remedied.
The purpose of Bill C-205 is to update the Statutory Instruments Act to afford the disallowance procedure legal statutory footing and to establish a disallowance procedure. Bill C-205 provides parliamentarians with an opportunity to strengthen, and this is something I really appreciate, our democratic process by establishing a procedure for disallowance and affording its legal footing in the House of Commons.
Parliamentarians must have the opportunity to reject a subordinate law made by a delegate of Parliament. The governor in council or a minister must act in the sense ordered by the House. While I say that, we had a motion in 1989 to eradicate child poverty by the year 2000. That was a motion and direction by Parliament, but still has not happened.
We had motions passed in the House regarding retrofitting of buildings and regarding businesses giving transit passes to their employees to reduce car traffic in the cities. These were motions passed by the House and directed at government to enforce, but it still has not been done.
Parliamentarians must protect democracy and therefore make the disallowance procedure more transparent, effective and enforceable. After 15 years, putting the present procedure on a statutory footing would not only ensure Parliament's effective control of the delegated legislation it authorizes, it would also authorize simplification of the current procedure.
Other commonwealth jurisdictions, including the provinces, are way ahead of the federal government on red tape reduction. Who could not use a little less red tape in our government?
Since 80% of the laws that Canadians face are through SI, this bill is of very significant public concern. Businesses, various organizations, stakeholders, the CFIB, Canadian manufacturers and exporters and chambers of commerce support the bill. I would say to the member for Surrey Central that many members of Parliament from various parties also support the bill.
It is very good when a cross-section of political thinking comes together on a particular bill. I only hope that on my own bill, Bill C-206, the caregivers compassionate leave bill, we will have the same consideration.
There is support for Bill C-205 and reduction of red tape is an integral part of the legislation. I thank the hon. member for Surrey Central. It is this type of bill that in many ways has ramifications down the road and a very positive effect. Anything that gives members of Parliament more empowerment to represent their constituents in the manner they choose is good for all of Parliament.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
January 29th, 2003 / 6:40 p.m.
Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise today to speak to the bill from my colleague from Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, and I echo the compliments that have been given to him about his social conscience.
Tonight we are debating private member's Bill C-206 concerning EI benefits for persons who are caregivers for family members. There is no doubt that the issue of compassionate care and the need to find a way to provide support and job protection for workers who have to take time off to care for very ill or infirm family members is a key one for the House to consider. We know that everyone has a stake in workplace issues: employees and unions, employers and governments, and social commentators, for example. Virtually all have identified the need for some kind of compassionate leave program for Canadians who have to be away from work to provide needed care for family members.
We have a lot of evidence to look at. For example, almost one in four Canadian workers say that they or others in their households provide care to an elderly, disabled or seriously ill family member. We also know that almost half of Canadians feel moderate to high work/life stress. This is almost double the rate of a decade ago. We know that women are more than twice as likely to feel the stress of trying to blend work and personal responsibilities. Workers with dependant care responsibilities, such as children or elderly relatives, report even more conflicts between work and life than their fellow employees. The member raises an issue that is of great concern to Canadians and that is already high on the government's priority list.
There are numerous ways to look at this issue. To some it is an issue of work and life balance. To others it is an issue of workers' rights. More recently it was identified as a health care issue. For example, both Romanow and Kirby looked at it in the context of the health care system. Mr. Romanow told us that as much as 85% to 90% of home care is provided by family and friends. His report concludes that home care could not exist in Canada without the support of social networks and informal caregivers. Senator Kirby too recognized the fundamental role played by family caregivers in home care. His report specifically recommends that benefits be provided to employed Canadians who choose to take leave from work to provide palliative care.
The government appreciates the views presented in these reports and accepts that attention to the issue of support for family caregivers is an important element of the overall health care agenda, but we also see this as a key workplace issue, especially in the context of looming skill shortages in many Canadian workplaces.
We have some facts that illustrate the extent of this issue in Canadian workplaces. First, we know that 56% of family caregivers also work full time and another 12% work part time. We also know the following: 69% of women with children under 16 are part of the employed labour force; 75% of males and 62% of females who provide care to seniors are employed; and the proportion of employees caring for both elders and children is going up dramatically, in the past decade increasing by 9.5%, to 15%. One survey showed that 77% of Canadian workers who care for gravely ill family members have had to take some time off to provide compassionate care.
The need to balance caregiving and workplace responsibilities is one that has impacts on many individual Canadian workers and their workplaces and, given the demographics of our population, it seems safe to assume that the extent of the impact on individual workplaces will continue to grow.
The issue of being able to provide compassionate care and still stay attached to the workforce is one that has important implications for the labour market of this country. Our objective must be to make sure that the valuable skills and experience of employees continue to be available to the labour market. At the same time, we should try to support their need to meet vital caregiving responsibilities.
In other words, the government's response to this issue should meet workers' needs for temporary income support while they are away from work but at the same time should allow them to stay attached to the labour market. Governments are not alone in seeing this need. Employers too are recognizing the growing need to provide temporary leave to meet family responsibilities. For example, a survey of medium sized to large businesses showed that 59% offered some kind of family responsibility leave, although only about half had a formal policy. The survey also showed that typical employer workplace supports are largely unpaid, informal and very short term. In other words, there is growing recognition of the need for temporary workplace support for caregivers but not yet a systematic approach.
As we look at the issue from the perspective of the government, some key considerations emerge. First, although representatives of both employers and employees acknowledge the need for some kind of program to allow workers to balance their work and family responsibilities, no systematic response to the problem appears to be forthcoming from the private sector. Second, the typical need is for a temporary form of income support which will ensure that workers can retain their attachment to the labour force. Third, any solution must be affordable. Fourth, a program response from the federal government should involve both the public and the private sectors.
These are the key considerations that are guiding the government as an appropriate response is developed to meet the throne speech commitment to deal with this issue. I once again compliment the member for his work in the social field in raising this important subject for us to deal with in the House.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
January 29th, 2003 / 6:35 p.m.
Judy Sgro Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this issue today. I thank the hon. member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore for raising such an important issue as compassionate care. It is something many of us on both sides of the House are very interested in. I am pleased that members in the opposition party share the same values as our government and support the same issues that concern us.
The very idea that is raised in this bill was broached in the September 2002 Speech from the Throne. In it the government clearly stated its intentions to modify existing programs to ensure that Canadians are able to provide compassionate care for a gravely ill or dying child, parent or spouse without putting their income or jobs at risk.
While we applaud the member's open-hearted desire to extend benefits to cover care not only for immediately family but also for aunts and uncles, brothers, sisters, step relations and inlaws, we as the government must be fiscally responsible. We have to ask the question, has the hon. member tallied the potential costs of implementing the amendments proposed in Bill C-206? It is one thing to have one's heart on an issue but at the same time as one's heart is on an issue, one has to look at what the costs will be to the government and to taxpayers.
These costs would involve not only direct payments to caregivers but also the loss of the labour market of workers. In addition, employers would face added costs in seeking, hiring and training new employees.
Besides Bill C-206's wide scope of both duration of benefits and definition of eligibility, we also have to question the need for a person to quit or to be laid off in order to be eligible for benefits. Is this the way to go? I think it needs more work and more discussion.
Canadians want to work and they do not want to be faced with either of these decisions. It goes directly against the government's continuous efforts to support labour force attachment. In fact, the principle of encouraging Canadians to find and keep work was at the heart of the 1996 reform of the Employment Insurance Act. The working world is perilous enough without encouraging workers to leave it in the hope that when they are able to return, there will be a job waiting for them.
The government is compassionate. We recognize the stress caused by balancing home and work demands. We are constantly seeking ways to lighten this burden.
It was for this reason that we extended maternity and parental benefits from six months to a full year. The temporary support employment insurance provides insures against the risk of losing one's job completely as a result of a family situation.
As the Speech from the Throne indicated in September, we intend to put the same effort into finding solutions for persons caring for a gravely ill close relative as we put into finding appropriate solutions for workers caring for their new children.
It does mean that we must look at the broad spectrum of government programs. It means that we have to look at all of the issues facing Canadians, including family, work and health. It means recognizing that people's lives are not neatly compartmentalized and that the same person is a worker, a parent and very often a caregiver.
We know that nearly three-quarters of the population of Canada who provide care to frail seniors are also employed and that the proportion of employees caring for both elders and children has almost doubled in the last decade. Caregiving is an issue that confronts a large segment of the population. It is also an issue that crosses the boundaries of work, family and health.
Commissioner Romanow in his recent report stated that home care quite simply could not exist in Canada without the support of social networks and informal caregivers. He noted that as much as 85% to 90% of home care is provided by family and friends.
When workers are faced with this degree of home care responsibilities, conflicts between work and care are bound to rise. Both the Kirby and the Romanow reports have raised the issue of income support and job protection for family caregivers.
I ask members to please note that these reports have linked both of those issues. They have not suggested, as Bill C-206 does, that choices should be made between work and caregiving. The government is examining just how to support people caught in this work/care dilemma.
We believe that an appropriate solution would be to design a measure that directly supports family caregivers. This measure would also permit Canadians to take a temporary absence from work to care for gravely ill immediate family members without fear of sudden income loss or job loss.
We welcome this opportunity to debate and explore solutions to the problems faced by employed caregivers. Bill C-206 gives us all the opportunity to enter into this debate and to look for the solutions needed to move it forward. We strongly believe that the federal government has an opportunity to lead by example in providing temporary income support and job security to working caregivers.
We are, of course, very conscious of the costs of such programs. The challenge parliamentarians have is to turn good intentions into good results for Canadians facing family health crises. The government's objective is to design a cost effective initiative that is responsive, flexible and practical.
In regard to the member who introduced Bill C-206, I think it speaks well of just what a caring individual he is. He has put the work into this private member's bill to put it on the floor and to move this debate along. Hopefully in the near future we will be able to have a program that meets the needs of Canadians and recognizes the challenges that many people are facing today.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
January 29th, 2003 / 6:25 p.m.
Norman E. Doyle St. John's East, NL
Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure to say a few words today on Bill C-206, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.
We are told that the purpose of the bill is to allow a person who receives employment insurance to care for a family member with an impairment, or who loses a job because of the conflicting demands of the job in the workplace to get up to 52 weeks of employment insurance.
Many groups across the country, especially in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, would support this bill because it takes a great deal of pressure off the already ailing health care system. Also it gives us an opportunity to see something very rare in this country. It gives us the opportunity to see the provincial government get a break and probably the opportunity to upload onto the federal government for a change. That would be a very positive step indeed.
I was very disappointed to hear that the Alliance will not support this bill. This bill would help out families right across the nation. The Alliance tries to be known as a party of the family, but it has no intention of supporting the bill, which is shameful.
I want to congratulate my colleague, the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, who initiated this bill. I wish I had done it instead of him but I do want to congratulate him for it because it is a very good move indeed.
In general, we can support this initiative as a party. I have always been in favour of laws and policies that respect and enhance the well-being of the family which is one of society's main building blocks.
The bill has some very good points. It restricts the role of caregiver to that of a close family member: a spouse, a common law partner, a child, a grandchild, a sibling. This is very positive. In other words, strangers need not apply. The bill covers family matters. It is not extended to the commercial home care enterprises. That is good because it protects the integrity of the bill itself.
The impairment involved must also meet the requirements of the Income Tax Act. If the government's definition is as strict as what it uses for the disability tax credit, we can be assured that we are not in any danger of having a major run on the EI account.
The caregiver has to have a major attachment to the workforce. In other words, someone who barely or rarely qualifies for EI benefits cannot use the caregiver provisions as a method of getting up to 52 weeks of employment insurance benefits.
The provision is not open-ended. A person cannot draw EI under this provision for more than 52 weeks in total in one or more periods over a two-year period. The bill makes provision for an extension of the 52-week period if a doctor certifies that the care provided is necessary for the health and safety of the person with the impairment or it has made it possible for the person with the impairment to avoid becoming an in patient in a hospital or a long term care facility.
Finally, the bill requires any wages earned during the caregiver period to be deducted from the weekly EI benefits.
This is a good bill. I am hopeful the government will see fit to support it. I understand the bill will go to committee. Who knows, maybe a few changes will be made at that juncture.
In view of the fact that the government has been thinking out loud of late as to the possibility of covering home care under medicare, this bill certainly is in line with that thinking. It has the additional benefit of the home care being given by a close family member, which is very important to the individual receiving the care.
I want to revert to a part of the bill that requires a doctor's certificate for an extension of benefits over and above the 52 weeks stipulated over the two year period. It is not made clear in the bill, and hopefully it will be when it gets to committee, that a doctor's certificate is not required initially for the individual to get home care. That is one little thing we will probably have to look at. Hopefully when it is in committee some adjustment will be made.
It is a very good bill and we have absolutely no hesitation in supporting it. The bill will provide compassionate home care for family members. It will save money in the health care system and it will not be a very serious burden on the EI account. Unless and until home care is covered under medicare, this is a very good first step.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
January 29th, 2003 / 6:20 p.m.
Suzanne Tremblay Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak in the debate on Bill C-206, which seeks to amend the Employment Insurance Act to allow persons qualifying as caregivers to leave their job to care for a family member.
The member's objectives in introducing this bill are highly commendable. For quite some time, we have looked for a way to help caregivers help their family. We know that there is no better caregiver than a family member to help someone who is ill either regain their health or die with dignity.
We also know that a program for caregivers would take a huge load off the health care system, the CLSCs and the clinics providing home care and so forth. Therefore, the principle of the bill is a good one.
The definitions are set out in section 1. Caregivers, clearly, are persons leaving their job—it says who leave their employment voluntarily or whose employment is terminated—but who want to care for a family member who is ill or who has an impairment as defined in the Income Tax Act.
Next, the bill gives a definition of family. Again, I see no problem with the way family is defined.
But I do see a problem with the fact that families are getting smaller and smaller and, quite often, caregivers have no family ties with the person they are in a position to care for.
There are all sorts of reasons. Perhaps they are neighbours who have become friends, or they are co-workers, one of whom has no family and the other of whom is able to help.
Families are much smaller than they used to be. The bill refers to siblings, uncles, aunts and so on, but nowadays many families are having only one child. We also must consider the fact that family members are not always very close.
There used to be the family unit and everyone lived together. It was not uncommon to see only a handful of surnames in a village. Nowadays, young people often have to leave the region they were born in to look for work elsewhere and they end up very far away. Parents stay all alone. Thought should be given to a mechanism that would allow the concept to be expanded so that someone who is truly close to the person in difficulty could come to their assistance.
There is something else that should be considered. I personally would be very much in favour of this bill being passed by the majority of the members in the House so that we can send the bill back to committee, study it in depth and look at how it could be improved in order to fund this program.
The hon. member from the Canadian Alliance said that it was a problem to take money from the EI fund. Certainly, if this leave were reserved only for people receiving EI benefits, there will be a problem. There are an increasing number of self-employed workers. They need to have access to the necessary funds to be able to become natural caregivers too.
Given that the EI fund has surpluses in the billions, maybe it would be good if the government could come up with a mechanism to transfer part of the EI surplus into a fund to run this program. It would be accessible to all Canadians who may have a certain type of need.
Sometimes a natural caregiver may incur expenses when leaving home to take care of someone else, even if they live close by. Perhaps there could be a way to help the natural caregiver even if he or she is not receiving employment insurance benefits.
The various aspects of this problem need to be looked at. We will most definitely have an increasingly aging population, and will need more help to take care of them. It seems to me important for a mechanism to be found that is adaptable enough to enable everyone to benefit from the program.
For example, we do not want to get into the same bind as with maternity benefits and special sick leave benefits, which are related to workers' accumulated leave, workers who have a job and can draw employment insurance. The program to be developed for natural caregivers must go far beyond that and be capable of encompassing all Canadians.
I am convinced that, if we all support this bill at second reading stage, if we refer it to a committee for consideration and for the necessary hearings to be held so that people can put in their two cents worth, we will really have done something worthwhile. The government will perhaps decide after all that to reverse its position and say to itself, “Now, to move ahead with this bill about caregivers, it strikes us as important to redraft it and produce one that reflects all the comments that have been made”. So, one day, we will truly be able to help out natural caregivers.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
January 29th, 2003 / 6:10 p.m.
Charlie Penson Peace River, AB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-206. My colleague from Medicine Hat has already spoken to the bill. He is the critic for us in this area, but I also want to add my voice.
Bill C-206 is an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act for persons who leave employment to be caregivers for family members. First I want to first congratulate the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore for bringing forward this issue. I believe that every member of the House appreciates the hardship and adversity families face when one of their relatives is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Such families are confronted with very hard choices over how to care for that relative while at the same time providing for themselves and other family members. Those who choose to care for their own relatives are very courageous and deserve support from the state. This was recognized by both Kirby and Romanow in their reports.
Members of the Canadian Alliance strongly believe that the family is the essential building block of society. We therefore find merit in the idea of government assistance to Canadians who choose to leave a paying job to care for a terminally ill family member at home. I must say that this is already done by many people. They may not be leaving a paying job, but this kind of care is done regularly across the country even at this time.
Certainly the proposed legislation would reduce the financial stress for people who find themselves in that situation. In addition, such a program could provide substantial savings for public health care budgets. However, the primary issue is a recognition that the social and emotional benefits of loved ones caring for each other far outweigh placing an individual in institutionalized care.
By tying such assistance to the employment insurance program, however, the bill flies in the face of a Canadian Alliance conviction that the EI system has gone astray from its original objective to be a safety net for laid off workers. When the program was designed, the premiums were supposed to match the payouts. However, since its inception all kinds of new features have been tacked on and the Auditor General has raised objections that the intent of the Employment Insurance Act is no longer respected, particularly in regard to premiums equalling benefits. We in this party believe that EI should be brought back to a true insurance program for job loss.
I understand the desire on the part of some members to attach this initiative to the employment insurance program. The overcharging of employers and employees for this program resulted in a $40 billion surplus at the end of the last fiscal year. This is $25 billion over what is required as a cushion by the chief actuary of Human Resources Development Canada, who says that $15 billion would be adequate to withstand any economic downturn.
Of course we as parliamentarians know that this is a surplus only on paper, because EI funds flow directly into general revenue. The $25 billion extra in surplus has already been spent, mainly to pay off the debt, according to Dale Orr of the economic forecasting firm Global Insight. Even if the EI surplus were just sitting there, the Canadian Alliance believes the solution is not to tack on more spending initiatives to the program. Rather, the federal government should stop overcharging employees and employers and substantially lower premiums to reflect the benefits paid out.
Funding compassionate leave through the EI system has other drawbacks. I think it is important to point them out, because this may be well intended but may not have been thought out by the people proposing the legislation. It arbitrarily screens out those who are ineligible for EI: the self-employed. I do not believe that Canadians would support the disqualification of farmers, small business owners, contractors, consultants and truckers from such a worthy social program. They would be left out in the cold. Also, as the trend in business is toward hiring workers as independent contractors rather than employees, the pool of the excluded would likely increase dramatically over time. The same situation applies to parental leave, frankly, which we in the Canadian Alliance believe should be a separate program and not part of the EI system.
In addition, due to the demographics of an aging population, there is a very real possibility that attaching compassionate leave to EI may in time overburden the system, requiring premium hikes down the road.
In conclusion, I believe the intent behind Bill C-206 is on the mark and I applaud my colleague for his work on this issue. However, the fatal flaw of the legislation before the House today is that it uses the employment insurance system as its funding instrument. This initiative needs to be further studied and debated. In my view, the compassionate leave would be better financed through some joint provincial-federal agreement. I therefore cannot support the bill itself. I certainly believe in the intent, but the bill itself, in attaching it to EI, is not acceptable to the Canadian Alliance.