Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak on this bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act with respect to benefits for illness, injury or quarantine. The bill was put before this House by the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria under private members' business.
In summary, this bill extends the period for which benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. I want to commend the member for his bill, which humanizes the EI program and takes into account the needs of those whose illness lasts longer than the prescribed period of 15 weeks.
I cannot help, however, but express surprise, surprise and joy, over the fact that such a bill was introduced by the member for Sydney—Victoria, when it is a well-known fact that, in May of 2005, at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, the Liberals, who were in government at the time, opposed a motion of that committee which was relatively similar to what the member is proposing today.
The hon. member for Sydney—Victoria was asked to explain this about face. I must admit that I find the hon. member's explanation for this somewhat amusing. Truly, his words should be quoted. However I also find his comments reassuring. It goes to show there is always hope. It is always possible, when faced with an obvious injustice, that reason and common sense will prevail.
Let us come back to the comments by the hon. member who said the following in response to his about face and that of the Liberals, “The reality is that our society is changing. At one time people who got cancer died. Now they get cancer and they come back to society and they are also working.”
Between the position of the Liberals forming the government in May 2005 and their position today, in November 2006, in the span of a year and a half, I would say that the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria, once in opposition, opened his heart and mind to understand the situation of workers in difficult situations following a prolonged illness, despite their desire to go back to work.
To the Bloc Québécois it is clear. Our party always strived to propose improvements to the employment insurance program and changes we deem necessary. We have always been in favour of substantial improvements to the employment insurance program.
In fact, the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle, from the Bloc Québécois, introduced, in May 2006, Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system). This bill received support from the House in October to be referred for consideration by the standing committee.
We are confident that all the opposition parties will support Bill C-269 and we strongly encourage the Conservative minority government to support it as well.
The Bloc Québécois also introduced, in October, Bill C-344, sponsored by my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, entitled An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting).
Previously there was Bill C-280 from the hon. member for Manicouagan, on creating an independent employment insurance fund. It was passed at second reading on April 13, 2005. Unfortunately, there was no vote at third reading.
Thus the House has paid particular attention to employment insurance in the last year is thanks in part to the efforts of the Bloc Québécois.
With regard to the bill before us, without getting into the actuarial and statistical details, it must be understood that it would help first and foremost workers suffering from the most serious illnesses, the oldest workers and mostly women.
I wonder how can anyone be opposed to that. I am convinced though that the Conservatives will find a way. Claims for sickness benefits have decreased among young people aged 15 to 24 and among workers aged 25 to 44 while they have increased among workers aged 45 to 54 and among older workers aged 55 and over.
Also, during the reference period, claims for sickness benefits decreased among men and increased among women. Even though the proportion of women who filed claims for sickness benefits remained relatively stable in 2004-05, women continued to file the majority of claims for this type of benefits, with 59%.
The last monitoring and assessment report of the Canada Employment Insurance Commission stated, and I quote:
About 32% of sickness beneficiaries in 2004/05 used the entire 15 weeks of benefits to which they were entitled. This proportion has been relatively stable in recent years, suggesting that for some types of claimants or illnesses, 15 weeks of EI benefits may not be sufficient.
I may have already mentioned that I was trained as a social worker. During my professional career, I often had to deal with workers who had left their job, because they were sick. Take cancer, a disease that is really wreaking havoc these days. One Canadian in three may be struck by cancer. A person who undergoes chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments over a number of long weeks goes through a painful experience that leaves him exhausted for a period longer than the 15 weeks covered by employment insurance.
In other words, the 15 weeks currently provided under the employment insurance program are not enough to ensure a full recovery for the person who gets these treatments and who manages to get cured. We often talk about these people, but we should not forget that caregivers—and the bill may be silent on this—who support cancer patients, because they are spouses, children or family members, also get exhausted in the process. Unfortunately, these caregivers must, at the end of the process, leave their job, for reasons of sickness and exhaustion, because they supported that relative or friend throughout his battle with cancer.
I am asking our governments to also reflect on the situation of caregivers who, in my opinion, are not getting much support from them.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois intends to support this bill, which reminds us of the importance of reforming the employment insurance program. I wish to point out that Bill C-269, sponsored by the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle, is more complete than that of the Liberals, which still does not propose an in-depth reform of a program that is ill-suited and unavailable to over 50% of those who should be covered by it.
This is why we hope that parliamentarians in this House will support real improvements, such as those presented in Bill C-269.