Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-44, the helping families in need act, which delivers on several of our commitments to support Canadian families as we seek to help them balance work and family responsibilities.
The legislation supports parents of murdered and missing children, and parents of critically ill children. It also provides enhanced access to EI sickness benefits for parents who fall ill while receiving EI parental benefits. The amendments proposed in the helping families in need act will allow us to offer new support measures to Canadian families at a time when they need it the most.
For parents, it means they will not have to quit their jobs to care for critically ill children. For employers, it means retaining valued employees who, otherwise, would have had to give up their jobs to care for a child who is critically ill. For children, it means they can have their parents at their sides during the most difficult times they will ever face in their lives.
Children who are critically ill require not only ongoing care, but they need the love and emotional support of their parents during this time of need. I am extremely pleased to see our government taking action to help the parents of critically ill children. In fact, since I was first elected in 2004, one of my first orders of business was to table a motion calling for just this kind of support.
Before politics and after I was first elected, our neighbours had a son, Jonathan Watson, who was terminally ill with neuroblastoma. We witnessed first-hand his courageous battle, his tremendous spirit and how he was just so loved, not only by his family but by our entire community of Teulon. They farmed just down the road from us. It was an incredible hardship for them to deal with all the emotional stress of caring for their son who for seven years fought this terrible disease, which he finally succumbed to.
Brenda, his mother, had to give up her job to be with him full time. His dad had to take on two jobs just to support the family. They did quite a bit of the surgery and care down in the U.S., because the surgeries were just not available in Canada. It took an incredible toll on the entire family, a family of very dear friends.
Jonathan wanted to raise awareness of the battle he was going through. His parents, Ken and Brenda, wanted to raise awareness of their struggle. Using the Candlelighters organization, which gave them a lot of support, along with the tremendous support they got from the community, there were fundraising events. There was also charitable giving, because we knew of the financial hardship the family was going through. We also witnessed their having to pretty much end their farming careers because they just could not afford to put the time into two jobs and the farm while Jonathan dealt with his reoccurring illness, which finally got the better of him.
One of the things Jonathan did that I was able to participate in a little bit was that he twice participated in a car push. He was the driver of a car and a couple of strong men pushed the car for an entire weekend, ongoing, to break the Guinness world record for the longest car push. It was a fundraising event to raise awareness, as well as to raise support for medical research for children's diseases. It was something he was incredibly proud of and we were all quite proud of his participation in it. It was his idea and he was able get involved with a couple of great big guys and do it over a weekend.
I introduced a motion back in November 2005. Motion No. 309 said:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should provide income support payments, expanded parental leave and tax relief to parents, legal guardians or family members leaving work to provide home care to critically and terminally ill children requiring full-time palliative care as certified in a letter from a medical practitioner.
I called that Jonathan's bill. I was quite pleased that in the following Parliament my seatmate, the member for Leeds—Grenville, brought forward Bill C-542 in the 39th and 40th Parliament, and again in this Parliament, Bill C-371, which called for the exact same types of support for families dealing with children who are critically and terminally ill, and also made sure that we have the EI support and employment protection reforms in place. He carried the ball on that in the Parliaments after I originally tabled the motion. It is something I am very proud of him for doing. He worked very closely with Sharon Ruth of Kemptville, a constituent of his, and she has worked hard on this issue, and I want to congratulate both of them.
Parents of critically ill children face difficult choices. In addition to the emotional and physical stress of caring for a critically ill child, many parents must choose between continuing to work to support their families or incurring financial hardship when they temporarily leave work to care for their child.
Are loving parents willing to take leave from their jobs in order to be with their ill children? Of course they are. Should these parents be provided with as much support as possible so they are not penalized for being with their families in time of need? Most members in the House would believe that is true. I hope all parties would support that and all members would have the same realization as we do on this side of the House. Indeed, in a 2006 study of EI compassionate care benefits, it was found that parents of children receiving curative treatments, such as chemotherapy or having major surgery, are likely to quit their jobs to be with their child regardless of the prognosis. I think all of us as parents would do the same thing.
Between 40% and 63% of families who have children with cancer lose income because they work less while they care for their sick child. Loss of income and out of pocket expenses for travel, accommodation and payment for medical supplies can account for nearly 25% of the total disposable income available to these families. As I mentioned with the Watsons, it was even higher than that because they had to go to the United States for the care, treatment and surgeries for neuroblastoma on Jonathan.
Our government wants to ensure that these parents do not suffer undue financial hardship any longer and that we support them and their families during these difficult times. That is why we have created this new EI benefit that would provide temporary income support for eligible claimants who take leave from work to provide care and support to a critically ill child. These measures would be available to parents of a critically ill child under the age of 18 and would provide support for up to 35 weeks. As I said before, we will also amend the Canada Labour Code to allow for unpaid leave for employees under federal jurisdiction to ensure that their jobs are protected if they take time off to care for a critically ill child.
These changes are not simply worth doing, they are the right thing to do to support Canadian families. I am pleased to hear that the NDP and the Liberals will be supporting the bill. The families that this legislation supports need this help as soon as possible. It is too late for the Watsons, but in talking to Brenda and Ken, they want to see that this help is there for families who are going through the same experience that they went through back in 2005 and the seven years previous to that.
One of the areas that has not received much attention from previous governments is supporting families who have been negatively impacted by crime. This is perplexing because it is quite possibly one of the most difficult experiences a parent could ever go through: the loss or disappearance of a child as a result of a criminal act. That is why parents who work for a federally regulated employer who take a leave of absence from work to cope with such circumstances will also receive job protection under this legislation. We will also be providing financial help to parents through the new federal income support for parents of murdered or missing children. This grant is expected to be available as early as January 1, 2013.
Another portion of the bill that would have a significant economic and labour impact is enhancing the access to EI sickness benefits. Under the bill, the Employment Insurance Act would be amended to allow parents access to EI sickness benefits if they fall ill during the time they are on EI parental leave. If a parent is already on parental leave to care for a newborn and then fall ill with cancer or something that would take them out of the workforce for a lengthy period of time, they could still access those EI sickness benefits after the parental leave.
These combined initiatives, which our government is proposing in the helping families in need act, are just some of the actions taken by our government to help Canadian parents balance work and family responsibilities. The bill is in addition to the measures we have already brought in, such as expanding eligibility for compassionate care, allowing the self-employed to opt into the EI program to access maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits, and improved access to EI parental benefits for military families. The initiatives in the bill underscore our government's commitment to support Canadian families and help them through the times when they are most in need.
I want to thank the Prime Minister for originally introducing the bill and talking about it. I also want to thank the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development for bringing it to the House and, as I said, the member of Parliament for Leeds—Grenville, as well as the families and the non-government agencies such as Candlelighters that have been promoting and lobbying for these changes for so long, families such as the Watsons and the Rudys who have been affected by these unfortunate incidents, as has the hon. member for Brant with his own family.