An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (waiting period and maximum special benefits)

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


Denis Coderre  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Defeated, as of Feb. 15, 2012
(This bill did not become law.)


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

This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act to extend the maximum period for which special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. It also eliminates the two-week waiting period when special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine are paid.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Feb. 15, 2012 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

December 12th, 2022 / 11:30 a.m.
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Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am privileged once again to reiterate the importance of extending special EI sickness benefits to 52 weeks, as proposed in my colleague from Lévis—Lotbinière's Bill C‑215. I salute the Conservative Party for taking this stand.

This bill is the eleventh such bill introduced in the House in over a decade. The Bloc Québécois alone has introduced three of them, the most recent one being my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît's Bill C‑265, the Émilie Sansfaçon act.

I do not know what it will take to convince the Liberal government to really hear the unanimous voices of those who have stood up to say that sickness benefits must be increased to 50 weeks. When the party currently in power was on the opposition benches, it was in favour of the 50-weeks idea.

Perhaps it is time for that party to spend a little time on the other side. Perhaps that would serve as a salutary reminder that, back when the Liberal Party was an opposition party, Denis Coderre, the member for Bourassa at the time, introduced Bill C‑291, which would have increased sickness benefits to 50 weeks. The current Prime Minister was a strong advocate of the idea. How crazy is that? It boggles the mind.

However, research and studies on gravely ill workers should easily persuade us of the need for action, and non-partisan action. Sick workers have been waiting for 50 years to get an adequate number of weeks. It is about time this issue was addressed once and for all.

This was done and continues to be done in the case of the dying with dignity legislation. We should be guided in much the same way and be equally motivated when it comes to sick workers, so they can care for themselves with dignity.

There is only one thing left for the government to do today, and that is to give royal recommendation to this bill. It can and must do so. It has the power to improve things for all those workers whose only insurance is the EI system, an outdated system that requires urgent reform, despite the many broken promises.

I heard my colleague say in his 10-minute speech that this was part of an EI strategy. That is nonsense. What strategy? The system has not been reformed for 15 years. The Liberals promised to do so in 2019, in 2021 and again now, but nothing has been done.

Coluche said, “The doors of the future are open to those who know how to push them.” It is true that it takes courage, and although all too often this government has shown the opposite, let us hope that, in this case, reason and ambition will be able to convince it.

Let us remember that we have a minority government and that the opposition parties voted unanimously several times in favour of 50 weeks of sickness benefits. In 2019, the following Bloc Québécois motion was passed by a majority:

That the House call on the government to increase the special Employment Insurance sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks in the upcoming budget in order to support people with serious illnesses, such as cancer.

In 2020, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C‑265, known as the Émilie Sansfaçon act. On June 15, 2021, Bill C‑265 was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, which adopted it unanimously on June 17, 2021, and reported it back to the House. We should note that, in committee, Liberal MPs voted in favour of this bill. Unfortunately, it died on the Order Paper when an election was called.

On December 15, 2021, Bill C‑215 was introduced. On October 17, 2022, it was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. This bill was once again adopted unanimously by the committee members on October 19, 2022.

Notably, all parties voted unanimously in favour of these motions. We are now at report stage. Parliamentary democracy demands that we act accordingly and consider the views of members. Hiding behind the fact that these are private member's bills that require a royal recommendation would indisputably be a power play by the government that is disrespectful and abusive of the will of the majority of elected members of the House who, on behalf of the people they represent, want this change. It would be undemocratic and cowardly. As my colleague from Lévis—Lotbinière said, let us hope that the Liberals do not hide behind the need for a royal recommendation.

The government will surely argue that it heard the request, which it did when it quietly announced on a Friday afternoon, away from the bright lights of the TV cameras, that the number of weeks of EI sickness benefits would be increased to 26 as of December 18, and only for new claimants. This announcement shows that the government did not listen. That is not what anyone has been asking for. The inter-union alliance made up of the FTQ, the CSN, the CSD and the CSQ, which represents over two million workers in Quebec, the Mouvement autonome et solidaire des sans-emploi, the Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses, the Conseil d'intervention pour l'accès des femmes au travail, Unifor and the Canadian Labour Congress were all calling for 50 weeks.

Nobody asked the government to stop halfway. This is a half-measure that solves nothing for seriously ill workers. With it, the government is abandoning thousands of them who will not be able to take the time they need to recover without worrying about their finances and hoping to be able to return to work. It shows a complete lack of compassion and humanity.

Are half-measures what the government is striving for in its social approach to illness? I hope not.

To save a few dollars in the short term, the government is prepared to let thousands of families slide into poverty, which will cost the community much more in the long run. Is that the government's economic approach? I should hope not.

Sick workers who pay into EI have a fair right to a maximum of 50 or 52 weeks of special sickness benefits. Remember, workers are the ones paying into EI. I just want to reiterate that employment insurance, in its current form, is not like winning the jackpot. It takes 600 hours to qualify, and eligible workers get only 55% of their earned income.

Currently, studies show that it can take up to 41 weeks for seriously ill workers to recover. The number of weeks of EI sickness benefits has been stuck at 15 for 50 years. It will increase to 26 weeks as of December 18, but that will not be enough. Given today's labour shortage, what workers want most is to have the time and means to get well and return to work. The current 15 weeks was not nearly enough, and the planned 26 weeks will not allow for that either.

Our society wants a strong social safety net and believes in its workers, so the Liberal government should logically give this bill a royal recommendation. It takes heart. Above all, it takes vision.

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance sickness benefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 18th, 2020 / 4:55 p.m.
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Luc Desilets Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, it is my colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

The Bloc Québécois has raised today's issue many times. We have made it our priority for debate on this opposition motion day, and with good reason.

The motion reads as follows:

That the House call on the government to increase the special Employment Insurance sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks in the upcoming budget in order to support people with serious illnesses, such as cancer.

We say “such as cancer” because, according to the figures that were circulated earlier, it is a significant target. However, we are not just talking about cancer. We want the act to be amended to increase benefits for adults with a serious illness from 15 weeks to 50 weeks, or more, if the government wishes.

As members can see, we are deeply committed to this issue, as are many members of other political parties and a majority of the public. Most of us are moving in that direction.

For the past three months, the current government has been saying that it wants to compromise and work with the opposition. In good faith, we in the Bloc Québécois are inclined to believe it. For the government, improving employment insurance presents a wonderful opportunity to act on this desire for partnership and to show that we are capable of working in a non-partisan way for the benefit of all our constituents.

During the last election campaign, the government said that it was in favour of increasing employment insurance benefits from 15 to 26 weeks. We said this before, but we will say it again: kudos. It is a step in the right direction, but it is clearly not enough for us.

Why do we need to amend this legislation?

First of all, it is completely outdated. It came into force in 1971, and there have been no major adjustments since. That was 50 years ago, and a lot has happened in the past 50 years. Society has evolved, and, more importantly, needs have changed. In fact, over the past 50 years, there have been many employment insurance bills aimed specifically at amending the 15 weeks of sickness benefits, but none of them passed.

Since 2002 alone, there was Bill C-442 to improve the employment insurance system, introduced by Yvon Godin, a former NDP member for Bathurst. That was followed in 2004 by Bill C-278, introduced by Paule Brunelle, a former Bloc Québécois member for Trois-Rivières.

In 2006, Mr. Godin reintroduced his bill, this time as Bill C-406. That same year, there was Bill C-269, introduced by former Bloc Québécois member Johanne Deschamps with the same objectives. In 2011, as we mentioned a couple of times this morning, there was also Bill C-291, which was introduced by Denis Coderre, the former Liberal member for Bourassa.

In short, bill after bill has tried and failed to amend the sickness provisions of this EI legislation or to bring them in line with a reality that, over time, had become quite different from what it was in 1971. Given that this issue has been dragging on for all these years, is it not time to settle it once and for all? Is it not time to stop dithering and take action?

Here is another reason we need to change this legislation. Statistics show that one out of every two claimants does not return to work after 15 weeks off. In other words, one out of every two people dealing with a serious illness needs much more time for treatment or recovery than the 15 weeks that are currently provided.

There is another reason to make this change. In a 2008 ruling, the Supreme Court said that the employment insurance power must be interpreted generously.

What is more, let us not forget that, when it comes to employment insurance, Canada is the least generous country in the G7, with the exception of the United States, which is a completely different context. If we look at the percentage of GDP that is spent by each country, we see that Belgium devotes 3.6% of its GDP to employment insurance, while Canada devotes only 0.65%.

Portugal devotes 3.5% of its GDP to employment insurance. Ireland and Spain devote 2.7% of their GDP to employment insurance, and Denmark devotes 2.2%. I would remind members that Canada devotes only 0.65% of its GDP to employment insurance.

On top of that, employment insurance in many of these countries does not last a mere 15 or 26 weeks as the Liberals are proposing. People in these countries can receive employment insurance benefits for one to three years. That is a far cry from our 15 weeks.

Common sense, compassion, equity and social justice are some other reasons to amend this outdated act. The government needs to treat its people right. Treating people right means recognizing the importance of workers, respecting them and making up for the injustices of life. Getting sick and having to take months and months off work is not a choice, it is an injustice of life. We have the duty and power in the House to take quick action to correct this long-standing injustice.

In closing, as an old Tuareg proverb says, in the desert of life, the strong must help the weak because those who are strong today may be weak tomorrow.

Employment InsurancePrivate Members' Business

February 7th, 2019 / 6:15 p.m.
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Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to this motion this evening. I appreciate the opportunity to comment on Motion No. 201, which seeks to extend the EI benefits for those experiencing sickness and disability caused by sickness.

The motion proposes a valuable examination of a program that many Canadians rely on during very challenging times. As members of the House will know, the employment insurance program was initiated to offer temporary financial assistance to unemployed workers. It helps workers to bridge the financial gap between jobs and ensures that people are able to stand on their own two feet during seasons of transition or change.

One of the special benefits that the EI program provided was the sickness benefit, and it does still provide it. Those who are unable to work due to sickness or injury can turn to EI when their circumstances keep them from working. As it stands now, individuals unable to work because of sickness or injury who would otherwise be available to work could be eligible to receive a maximum of 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits. The purpose of this is to give people time to get better, making sure that they are able to restore their health so that they can go back to work healthy.

It makes sense to have a safety net in place for Canadians who are sick and injured. Even when we have not experienced long-term illness or injury ourselves, chances are we know someone, whether a family member, friend or co-worker, who has. Missing work as a result of situations like this can be taxing and take a personal toll. Beyond that, it can leave individuals in a financial lurch too. I have experienced sickness both in my family and in my circle of friendship.

I was recently reading a Global News report which said that half of all Canadians are $200 away from not being able to pay their bills. Part of what the motion proposes is to also eliminate the two-week waiting period for those experiencing sickness or injury. I think that is a tremendous measure. When I think of the statistic that half of Canadians are $200 away from not being able to pay their hydro bill or buy groceries or prescription drugs, that is a very sobering thought.

Illness and injury do not respect anyone. They can happen at any time. When something like that happens, I think we have to have measures in place that people can depend on to get them through that difficult time. We know that if people have to worry about their finances when they are sick, it adds to the sickness and injury. It actually decreases their chance for a speedier recovery. It adds that extra stress, which sometimes the body just cannot handle. This is precisely why EI programs exist: to help lessen the toll on our fellow citizens who are facing tough times.

As policy-makers, it is up to us to make sure that this system serves Canadians the way it was intended to and that it is sustainable for future generations of workers. This means finding exactly the right balance between the needs of employees and employers. It means ensuring responsible government management of the program today and also down the road.

In 2006, the member for Sydney—Victoria introduced Bill C-288, an act to amend the employment insurance act regarding benefits for illness, injury or quarantine. His legislation proposed to extend the maximum period for benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. In 2011, a former member of the House introduced Bill C-291, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act regarding the waiting period and maximum special benefits. This legislation also proposed to extend the maximum duration of employment insurance for sickness to 50 weeks from 15 weeks, as well as to eliminate the requirement of the two-week waiting period prior to receiving sickness benefits.

It was during the more recent iteration, known as Bill C-291, that the Parliamentary Budget Officer took a look at what this new maximum would mean in terms of dollars. The PBO determined that the estimated cost would have been up to $1.1 billion for the year 2009-10. Broken down, there was about $200 million for the elimination of the two-week waiting period and around $900 million for the extension of benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. This figure was a static cost estimate, and so potential behavioural responses to these changes were not factored in.

The PBO's report further noted that if the bill had been implemented in 2009-10, total sickness benefit payments would have been approximately 100% higher than they were at the time. As stated in the report, given the fact that the “Employment Insurance program is financed by the collection of EI premiums from employers and employees...any increase in EI expenditures would require an equivalent increase in EI premium insurance revenues.” This would be in order for the program to remain self-funding.

This is, of course, an important consideration for the long-term sustainability of the EI program that we must keep in mind as we proceed with this study.

In the June 2016 report of HUMA entitled “Exploring the Impact of Recent Changes to Employment Insurance and Ways to Improve Access to the Program”, recommendation number 7 states:

The Committee recommends that the federal government explore increasing the maximum number of weeks of employment insurance sickness benefits.

While the official opposition wrote a dissenting report to address some important concerns with the contents of the main report, the fact of the matter is that the key idea behind Motion No. 201 has been laid out previously. Several times parliamentarians have seen the need to address this issue in the EI program.

Sickness benefits cost the EI system $1.6 billion in 2017. We have also seen a trend since 2015 of a greater demand for sickness benefits.

The government noted in its response to the HUMA June 2016 report:

The EI sickness benefit is designed to provide temporary income support for short-term absences from the labour force due to illness, injury or quarantine. While the 15 weeks of benefits appear adequate for the majority of workers, some claimants do exhaust their sickness benefits and stakeholders often request an extension in the case of more serious illnesses. In 2014/2015, on average, claimants of the EI sickness benefit collected 10 weeks of benefits and 34.8% used all of the 15 weeks available to them. The EI sickness benefit complements a range of other supports that are available for workers with longer-term illnesses, including benefits offered through employer-sponsored group insurance plans, private coverage held by individuals and long-term disability benefits available under the Canada Pension Plan and provincial and territorial programs. Improvements to the sickness benefit including potential extension of the maximum duration would require careful consideration of the interactions with other supports, impacts on employers, and would be expected to have a significant cost implication, with resulting premium rate increases.

With these realities before us, there is ample reason to take stock of the situation and lay out recommendations for the best path forward. There are many moving parts when it comes to EI sickness benefits that we ought to take note of throughout our work.

I appreciate the work of the member for Sydney—Victoria for facilitating this conversation with this motion. We have certainly seen this issue considered in various forms over the past years, but when we are talking about a program that supports Canadians, it is important for all of us to be engaged in these discussions. I will be supporting this motion because this is a conversation worth having, recognizing that we must be responsible stewards of the EI program to make sure it continues to serve Canadians well now and into the future. Conservatives understand that when individuals are facing challenges like longer-term illness or injury, they need support.

On this side of the House, I know members are always open to exploring ways that government programming puts people first. That is why members of our Conservative caucus have been championing initiatives that focus on government being more compassionate and responsive to the needs of Canadians.

In our 2015 economic action plan, our previous Conservative government extended compassionate care for the care of terminally ill loved ones from six weeks to six months. These benefits, provided through the EI program, help support individuals temporarily away from work to care for a sick family member with a significant risk of death. Our party has always been committed to helping families receive the support they need as they care for loved ones, especially at end of life, and we backed that up with meaningful action.

Now in opposition, Conservatives continue to champion initiatives such as the opportunity for workers with disabilities act, introduced by the member for Carleton, to ensure that disabled Canadians never lose more in benefits and taxation than they gain as a result of work. Unfortunately, a majority of Liberal MPs voted against this bill before it was even studied.

The member for Calgary Shepard has brought forward Bill C-399 to improve access to the disability tax credit to help ensure that all Canadians living with a disability receive the benefits they deserve and are entitled to. I hope all members of this House will support that common-sense initiative as well.

The member for Banff—Airdrie brought forward Motion No. 110 to determine ways for government to be more sensitive to parents who have suffered the loss of an infant child and to improve the level of support for grieving parents. I was pleased to see this motion considered in-depth by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities and I look forward to the committee's report.

These are examples that reflect the passion of our official opposition benches for putting people before government. It is why we are open to studying how we can better a key government program in a way that meets Canadians' needs. I hope all members here will agree that the conversation that Motion No. 201 proposes is one worth having.

I know that as opposition members we are always very sensitive about cost implications and further taxation. This could incur another payroll tax, but it could be one that is worth incurring.

Budget Implementation Act, 2018, No. 2Government Orders

November 26th, 2018 / 4:25 p.m.
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Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-86, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 27, 2018 and other measures.

The bill has made it to report stage. This is a mammoth bill that is more than 851 pages long. It is truly a massive omnibus bill.

If we combine this bill with the 2008 budget, that makes more than 1,400 pages of legislative changes that all members of the House have to study.

We have said many times that bills like Bill C-86 should be split so that all members of the House have enough time to debate and study them. When bills are this big, it is easy to hide things in them.

In 2015, the Liberals promised to do things differently. When the Conservatives were in power, they had a habit of introducing mammoth omnibus bills. During the election campaign, the Liberals said they would be different and everyone could trust them. However, right after they were elected, back in 2015, they started introducing omnibus bills.

When a government drafts a budget, it makes choices and sets priorities. We are really very disappointed with Bill C-86. More and more, people are hoping the government will enact measures to change their lives for the better. As the NDP sees it, the Liberals have missed that opportunity.

As everyone knows, Canada is a rich country. The gap between Canada's richest people and the rest of the population has never been wider. We believe that that is utterly unacceptable in 2018. Two Canadian billionaires own as much as 11 million Canadians.

Oxfam released a report revealing that the eight richest men own the same wealth as half of humanity.

About 4 million Canadians, including 1.15 million children, live in homes that struggle to put food on the table. Last week, following our weekly caucus meeting, I was able to go back to my riding of Berthier—Maskinongé to attend a Noël du pauvre fundraising dinner in Yamachiche. Volunteers work throughout the year to raise money so that families and children get Christmas hampers.

I would like to recognize the work of organizing committee chair Pierrette Plante and honorary chair Father Julio César Duran. A total of 550 people attended this dinner, which raised nearly $16,000 to help local residents in need.

We are pleased to see that Bill C-86 contains poverty reduction targets. Unfortunately, those targets are not accompanied by appropriate measures or funding so that they can be met.

The Liberals have ideas and targets, but they are not making any new investments to meet those targets. There is a poverty crisis in Canada. People are living in hardship and misery. There are still people struggling to make ends meet at the end of the month.

The important thing in this bill is pay equity. Women have been waiting for pay equity for over 42 years. It is a promise that was made by the Liberals. However, once again, we are waiting. The Liberals like to consult, but what it really boils down to is that they are buying time. They are still consulting about pay equity, when we really need it today.

Another thing we were hoping to find in the bill was a federal measure to tax web giants, but the bill contains no such measure. We are also calling on the government to put an end to pension theft and to give Canada a national child care strategy.

I had my son when I was a teenager, and at the time, it cost me $55 a day to send him to daycare. I had to take out additional loans so I could continue my studies and send my son to daycare. We need a Canada-wide child care system to help families, especially single parents.

Furthermore, we want stronger action to address tax havens, and we also want EI sickness benefits to be extended from 15 weeks to 50. There is a good public awareness campaign on that topic. I will come back to that. We also want a universal pharmacare system.

In addition, we want the needs of indigenous communities to be met, particularly with regard to access to safe drinking water and funding for educational institutions in their communities, which receive less funding than other institutions in the country. Lastly, we want assistance for rural regions.

Regarding the duration of EI sickness benefits, which we want to be extended from 15 weeks to 50, it is important to highlight the work of Marie-Hélène Dubé, who launched a petition called “15 weeks to heal is not enough!”. Half a million Canadians signed that petition calling on the federal government to take action, but we have heard nothing but radio silence so far in response. It is very frustrating.

In 2016, the Prime Minister himself and the Minister of Social Development promised to take action and extend the benefit period. In 2014, the Prime Minister even voted in favour of Bill C-291, which would have extended EI sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50.

The government needs to walk the talk. Sick people need time to take care of themselves. They do not have time to fight. That is why we continue to pressure the federal government to extend EI sickness benefits.

I represent the riding of Berthier—Maskinongé, which includes the RCMs of Maskinongé and Berthier, as well as three municipalities in the RCM of Matawinie. I travel quite a bit across my riding, and people stop me to talk about the importance of having a national connectivity strategy, which is something we do not currently have at the federal level.

Access to high-speed broadband Internet is vital to strengthening Canada's social and economic fabric. Some businesses really struggle with connectivity issues. I know a business owner in Maskinongé who pays two ISPs and never knows which of the two will work when he needs it. When one does not work, he tries the other.

We have long called for a national connectivity strategy. Although the government offers programs and money from time to time, this is not enough. We need a Canada-wide strategy to connect Canada and Quebec to the Internet.

I should point out that a cell network strategy is needed as well. In my riding of Berthier—Maskinongé, people from Saint-Mathieu-du-Parc to Saint-Édouard-de-Maskinongé tell me how important cell coverage is. The mayor of Saint-Édouard-de-Maskinongé, Réal Normandin, has spoken to me about this, because people in his village have a hard time getting cell reception. The community of Saint-Élie-de-Caxton, the hometown of Fred Pellerin, is in the same boat.

At a coffee meeting last week in Lavaltrie, Sylvie Legault and Gilles Auclair collected signatures for a petition about the 34 homes on the Point-du-Jour concession that have no Internet access and limited cell network access. Lavaltrie is not far from Montreal. These people are calling for a national Internet access and cell network strategy.

We had hoped to find all kinds of good things in Bill C-89, but the NDP will have to oppose this bill, since it does not do enough to address pay equality. Women have been fighting for far too long for the right to equal pay for equal work.

This bill also does not do enough to help rural areas get access to the Internet and the cell network. We also need to improve the pharmacare system. In short, there are many reasons why we will be voting against Bill C-86.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

February 15th, 2012 / 6:20 p.m.
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The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-291 under private members' business.

The House resumed from February 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (waiting period and maximum special benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance Act

February 13th, 2012 / 11:30 a.m.
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Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-291, which would amend the Employment Insurance Act to extend the maximum period for which special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. It also eliminates the two-week waiting period when special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine are paid.

I would like to congratulate the member for Bourassa on his employment insurance bill. As my colleague just said, all members, regardless of which party they belong to, must examine this bill and decide whether or not to support it. This is a very important bill. Our party has raised the matter a number of times. Former NDP member Dawn Black introduced Bill C-420 in the first and second sessions of the 39th Parliament. Ms. Black reintroduced the same bill as Bill C-316 during the second session of the 40th Parliament. The bill would have extended the maximum period for which benefits for illness, serious injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 to 30 weeks.

During the third session of the 40th Parliament, the NDP member for New Westminster—Coquitlam introduced a similar bill to extend the maximum period for which special benefits for illness may be paid from 15 to 52 weeks. He introduced that bill again on November 15.

I truly believe that it is time for this bill to move forward. Earlier, one of my colleagues mentioned Marie-Hélène Dubé, a Quebec woman with cancer. I remember seeing her on the current affairs program Tout le monde en parle, where she spoke candidly about her disease. Ms. Dubé discovered that, after having worked her whole life, she would receive just 15 weeks of employment insurance sickness benefits. She made it her mission to circulate a petition. She asked several members to present it. The member for Bourassa, several Bloc Québécois members and I have presented the petition, which has raised awareness among MPs not only of Ms. Dubé's case, but of the consequences such a loss of earnings can have for a person with cancer or a long-term illness.

I wish to congratulate Ms. Dubé. After what she went through, she could have easily told herself she would never again need these benefits and done nothing. Instead, she thought of other people and gathered 430,000 signatures from across Canada. If people had been more informed about her efforts, I am sure she could have doubled or tripled that number.

Employment insurance exists in order to help people who have lost their jobs and are looking for a new one. Over the years, EI has expanded to provide income for individuals in special circumstances. One example is parental benefits. So, employment insurance can take many forms. The system is meant to protect people's incomes.

It is important to remember that workers and employers are the ones who pay into the EI system; it is not the government. EI is an insurance system that allows people to look after their colleagues, those who suddenly learn that they have the misfortune of having developed cancer after working their entire lives. Has any family not been affected by cancer? It could be a brother, sister, cousin, uncle, aunt, father or mother. In my case, my mother died of cancer.

No one is exempt from this. Let us think about someone who has cancer. In most cases, treatment is absolutely necessary and, in the case of chemotherapy, for instance, can last up to one year. Someone who has a heart attack usually needs some time to rest. Whether someone has a heart attack, heart disease or a long-term illness, the last thing they need is a financial burden on top of their illness. That is the worst thing that could happen. That could prolong the healing process and have a very negative effect on their health.

The least we can do for colleagues, workers and employers, is examine the issue, especially the case of prolonged illness. Doctors and specialists can provide a medical certificate enabling the person to be on leave for 50 weeks. I do not know whether the member for Bourassa was thinking of this type of illness, but I do not believe that he was talking about people with the flu or a cold. It is not about that. We are talking about long-term illnesses, those that force people to stay home for a number of months, or more than 15 weeks.

For example, consider someone who has worked their entire life and contributed to employment insurance. They were lucky because they were able to work all their life. All of a sudden, they come down with a dreaded illness. We do not wish it on them. We do not even wish it on our worst enemy. We tell such people that if they need employment insurance, they can have it, and at least get through their treatments. That would be the right thing to do.

I must say something about the Liberals. They had the opportunity to take action. They were in power for 13 years. They could have done it. We asked for it. We introduced bills for 50 weeks and 30 weeks of benefits. We asked that the two-week waiting period be eliminated. This waiting period should not even exist. People should not be without income. They have payments to make. The Liberals could have done it.

I find it sad—and I think the public needs to know, if it has not already noticed—that the Conservatives did not even rise today to give their opinions, to say whether they are for or against this bill, which is good for our society and all people—the workers. I get the impression that they will be against it. They have not even given their opinion on a bill introduced in the House of Commons. Normally, members from all parties speak. They give their opinion. Today, we are having a one-hour debate. Unless it is to impose closure in the House of Commons or to say that certain bills have to be debated in less than two days, they do not even bother to rise when a bill they are against is introduced. I find that sad for our MPs. I do not know whether the government told them not to rise. This is a fine example of the Prime Minister's “my way or the highway” iron grip.

This is a very important bill for workers and the government members are not even bothering to stand up and state their opinions. Are they ashamed? Is the Conservative government too ashamed to rise and tell our workers that it will not give them their employment insurance benefits when they become ill? These people have worked hard; they receive employment insurance benefits for 15 weeks and then nothing. I can see it coming. They work their entire lives and help build this country only to end up on social assistance. I bet there is not a single worker in Canada who would not be willing to help his or her colleagues get employment insurance benefits. I would have a hard time believing that.

It would not cost so much. Maybe the Conservatives do not want to speak today because they have their own bill to introduce. Their bill would pass because it needs a royal recommendation. Maybe that is it. We might be getting a big surprise in 2012.

I sincerely hope that Bill C-291 passes and that the government, having failed to rise today, will rise on the day of the vote to vote in favour of the bill.

Employment Insurance Act

February 13th, 2012 / 11:25 a.m.
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Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

I am rising to speak to Bill C-291. It is a good bill that everyone is asking us to pass. All members of the House, no matter what their political affiliation, have had to face the same situation: people are knocking at our doors asking for this help. It would be interesting, for once, to set aside all partisanship and really tackle the problem. It is important for the House to pause and study employment insurance and benefits for those suffering from a serious illness or injury.

We are still dealing with the economic distress resulting from the 2008 recession. It is not over. We are not yet out of the economic downturn. We have never had such high unemployment. After four years of economic difficulties, Canadian households have exhausted their savings and maxed out their lines of credit. In such conditions, it is understandable that if one family member becomes seriously ill, the family cannot cope financially. The income is gone and there is absolutely nothing to fill the gap.

There is a reason why food banks have never been so busy. There is a reason why the demand for meals-on-wheels services has spiked. People have no more money. They do not have the financial means to meet their daily needs. Just imagine if, in addition, they cannot earn a living because of a serious illness or injury.

Employment insurance is the best tool for dealing with this type of situation. In fact, 66% of Canadians do not have income protection insurance and 66% of Canadians are not covered by collective agreements. In addition, private or group income protection insurance is often not enough even if people do have it. There are limits and constraints, which means that, even with some type of insurance, people do not have what they need. This is what Bill C-291 will address.

The money is there to cover the benefits. Contributors pay into the employment insurance system and their money is managed. Paying into the system fosters a sense of solidarity. Contributors pay into the system to protect themselves against the risk of unemployment or sickness. Yet, they are being told that their money will be managed differently. They have been gouged to the tune of $54 billion. This is extremely sad and serious. If the money was still there, there would be no problem with the employment insurance system. The money would be there to pay for claims to be processed. There would be enough money to pay more public servants to deal with the massive influx of claims. There would be enough money to cover the needs of people who want one year, that is 50 weeks of sickness benefits. The money would be there. Corrective measures have been undertaken. This is not easy in the midst of an economic recession. However, it is because we are in the midst of an economic recession and people have exhausted all other means at their disposal, all other sources of income, that we must support them. This is where we are at.

There have been delays in processing. And yet people already face a two-week waiting period. We want this two-week waiting period to be a thing of the past. People do not ask to be sick. They do not ask for permission to be injured. They just are. As the luck of the draw would have it, they are no longer able to work. Employment insurance is probably the only tool that can guarantee all these people that falling ill will not necessarily result in poverty.

The time is ripe for debate. How many of us have seen people who are still unwell after 15 weeks? A chemotherapy treatment can last for six months. If the treatment period is doubled to ensure that there is no relapse, that makes a year. I can guarantee that after one year of chemotherapy, you lose a lot of weight. Fifteen weeks does not give people ample opportunity to get the proper care they need. It certainly does not make their treatment experience peaceful.

People are faced with a major void after only 15 weeks. Too often, collective agreements rely on employment insurance. Employment insurance plans are excluded from collective agreements because there is government-sponsored employment insurance. In that it is our duty to bridge the gaps, we must do so effectively.

I call on my colleagues opposite, many of whom have medical training. I can see one such member right now. She could convince her colleagues that 15 weeks for a chemotherapy treatment is quite unreasonable. The people telling the Conservatives this are not only experts, but also their constituents. My constituents come to me asking for help out of their own contributions to employment insurance. People pay into the system, so they are entitled to receive benefits. Everyone wants this guarantee, this protection against poverty.

This amendment to the law addresses a major shortcoming, which explains why too many people become poor following an accident or illness. Being sick is already frightening enough, but because of the employment insurance waiting period, Canadians are also faced with the prospect of poverty.

The NDP has always supported this bill, even before the Liberals did. It is not a problem for me that this bill has come from the Liberal Party. It does not matter who is introducing the bill; what matters is who it is protecting. That is what is important. It protects my constituents in the same way as it protects theirs. I would call on all members to join us in backing this essential protection.

In closing, I would like to mention an important fact. In Canada, given our good social safety net, the main cause of personal bankruptcy is divorce. In the United States, the main cause of personal bankruptcy is illness, and the other causes lag far behind. In Canada, sickness is much further down the list. It needs to be even further down the list, and we must combat poverty.

Employment Insurance Act

February 13th, 2012 / 11:15 a.m.
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Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-291. I congratulate the member for Bourassa for putting the bill forward.

I would also like to recognize the work of Jean-Claude D'Amours and Mike Savage, who in past Parliaments tried to move this serious issue forward.

I would like to provide some background on this issue.

Bill C-291 would amend the Employment Insurance Act by amending the waiting period and maximum special benefits. In summary, the bill states that enactment would amend the Employment Insurance Act to extend the maximum period for which special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. It would also eliminate the two week waiting period when special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine are paid.

Bill C-291 is an important bill. It would bring the system up to date. It would make us more comparable with many other countries.

The EI act in this regard has not been amended since 1971. This is really a matter of social justice. This is about instilling a better social safety net for people affected by health issues due to factors beyond their control. These changes would improve the lives of workers and their families affected by sudden health issues.

These two improvements follow on two improvements that were made by previous Liberal governments: compassionate care and maternity leave. Those two improvements are widely accepted by the population. They are seen as important aspects of the employment insurance system and Canada's social safety net.

There is an opportunity here for the government to step up to the plate and do the right thing for those people affected by health problems. Even though the private member's bill came from the third party on this side of the House, there is a real opportunity for the government to seize the moment and ensure that this legislation is carried through Parliament because it would improve our social safety net.

I want to talk a bit about the reality of what this amendment to the EI act would do.

I expect every member of Parliament has probably had many constituents in their constituency office talking about the fact that 15 weeks of sick leave under the present legislation is woefully inadequate in terms of assisting those people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves out of the workforce and more than likely in treatment. Cancer is one of the most prominent causes.

One of the most difficult conversations that I have with constituents is when the partner and/or the affected individual tells me that the affected individual has just started chemo or radiation treatment, is out of income and has nowhere to turn. We have to tell those individuals that the reality is the legislation specifies 15 weeks. We all know that 15 weeks is not long enough. What happens to those individuals? Some of them can go into the system within the province.

In our community there are all kinds of fundraisers to assist these people. In fact, we had a benefit for my cousin's son a week ago Friday night. He is 44 years old and has cancer in three spots. The community comes together and raises funds to help these individuals.

We all know in the House that the system is not meeting the need. Going from 15 weeks to 50 weeks is the right thing to do.

If we were to put ourselves in the place of those individuals who are perhaps the breadwinners of the family, starting perhaps their third chemo treatment, now knowing they are out of money, the mortgage has to be paid, food has to be put on the table, the car payment has to be paid and they have to pay for some of their drugs, we can only imagine what that stress does to them. What is the cost of that stress on their ability to get better? What is the stress on that family? It is so unnecessary. This small change could alleviate that concern.

I really think everyone in the House has faced those moments. There is enough on the individual's mind who is taking the treatment. Fifteen weeks is not enough. The EI system itself, as it currently stands, is cruel in its denial. The government, if it would see the way, could overcome that problem. The bottom line is 15 weeks of sick leave is just plain unacceptable.

To improve it would not be really costly. It would bring us up to where many other nations are at the moment. Such a step would improve the ability for an individual to regain his or her health by eliminating that stress and concentrating on health improvement. It would also lessen the burden on provincial resources. It would allow that person to get back into the workforce faster so that that individual could contribute to the economy and provide for his or her family.

Here is a specific example of why I think the EI system in this regard is cruel. I had an individual come into the office in early December. He had Crohn's disease and so had applied for employment insurance. In part, because of the way the Minister of Human Resources has undermined the system by taking away the ability for people to do claims by closing down many of the offices, this person's file had not even been processed yet. It had been eight weeks. The individual firmly believed that as a result of that additional stress of wondering where the dollars were going to come from, he ended up in the hospital for a longer period of time. Part of the reason was that, before he went to hospital, he had cut back on his drugs. It became a problem of whether he would provide food for the table or buy the drugs.

That ends up costing the whole system, including the individual. It is just wrong. Therefore, not only is it the weeks, it is that fact that the minister has undermined the system in terms of its ability to function.

What concerns me is the fact that the spokesmen for the government thus far in this debate, the Conservatives, seem to have stopped speaking. Perhaps they are ashamed of the government's position. I wish some of the backbenchers over there would stand and speak up. The government's excuse is that we are in a time of fiscal restraint. That is an excuse. This would be good for the economy and it would be good for individuals. The government has an opportunity to do something right to support the EI system and make it better. I ask the government to seize this opportunity and support the bill.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (waiting period and maximum special benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members’ Business

February 13th, 2012 / 11 a.m.
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Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak today about Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act , which was introduced a few weeks ago by the hon. member for Bourassa. This bill is extremely important since it is designed to change the way the current employment insurance system works, particularly for people with serious illnesses.

Sadly, in the past, the Liberals were not shy about dipping into the employment insurance fund, which, at that time, had a surplus of $54 billion—money that belonged to Canadian workers. During the 12 years that they were in power, they could have padded the coffers, but they did not. On several occasions, they were also in a position to modernize the Employment Insurance Act, but unfortunately, they did not do that either. Nevertheless, today, I am very pleased to see that the Liberal members are finally joining the NDP in order to modernize the Employment Insurance Act once and for all. This bill has been introduced in the House a number of times.

Since coming to power, the Conservatives have been unable to remedy the situation. Rather than helping workers, the Conservatives are giving billions of dollars in gifts to large corporations, which, in return, are closing their Canadian branches and exporting our good-quality jobs abroad. It is time to stop playing politics and do something to resolve the real problems affecting our society. It is time for all the parties to join together to help Canadians who are suffering from serious illnesses. It is time to forget the mistakes of the past and focus on viable, long-term solutions in order to help workers and their families. Most of all, it is time for all members of the House to unite and work together.

Unfortunately, Canada's Employment Insurance Act has remained unchanged for 40 years, since 1971. It does not meet the current needs of Canadians. What is more, Canada is one of the worst G8 countries when it comes to employment insurance coverage. Some G8 countries are much more progressive, and Canada is the only one that does not offer at least one year of benefits to those with serious illnesses.

As all of my colleagues know, coverage in cases of serious illness is currently 15 weeks. Employment insurance exists to help Canadian workers, and our society is changing. The population is aging, and the types of illnesses affecting people are changing. Employment insurance must be updated to adapt to Canadians' new needs.

My colleague from Bourassa introduced a bill that is in line with employment insurance changes the NDP would like to see. This bill would eliminate the mandatory two-week waiting period for employment insurance benefits and would increase the benefit period from 15 to 50 weeks.

There are many diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and especially cancer, that are very serious and that take longer than 15 weeks to treat. Unfortunately, the current Employment Insurance Act provides just 15 weeks of benefits.

We have a lot of facts about cancer. I would like to take a moment to talk about one of my constituents who cares very much about this bill. Her name is Marie-Hélène Dubé. My colleagues have probably heard about her. She is battling thyroid cancer for the third time in five years. She is a young mother in her forties. Instead of feeling sorry for herself and battling the disease alone, Marie-Hélène Dubé decided to help all Canadians who, like her, have a serious disease. She circulated a petition calling on the government to modernize the Employment Insurance Act by introducing the very changes reflected in Bill C-291. To date, Marie-Hélène has collected over 430,000 signatures from across Canada. Four hundred and thirty thousand Canadians agree that the Employment Insurance Act is outdated and should be changed.

I would like to point out that this is the largest petition presented in the House of Commons since 1992. In order to recuperate from a serious illness, one must rest. That is extremely important. One must avoid all stress and take time to recover. The last thing people need when sick is to worry about paying their bills, like the mortgage, the electricity bill or anything like that. They need to have peace of mind in order to focus all of their energy on fighting the illness. Offering the possibility of receiving up to 50 weeks of special benefits for illness does not mean that all beneficiaries will use all of those weeks. At present, only 31% of beneficiaries collect the maximum 15 weeks of benefits. The goal is to extend the benefit period for those who truly need it, in other words, Canadians with serious illnesses.

I find it interesting that my Liberal colleague from Bourassa is the one who introduced this bill. As I said a little earlier, this bill has been introduced many times in the House. It was part of our 2011 election platform. The NDP has been fighting for this for several years.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, nearly 50% of the population will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. In Quebec alone, there are currently over 44,000 people fighting some form of the disease. It causes tremendous stress, and the treatment and remission period is typically a lot longer than 15 weeks. On average, cancer treatment lasts about 38 weeks. Thus, 15 weeks is not even half as long as people with cancer need for treatment. Many people who have cancer are forced to return to work before their treatment is complete. Also, the waiting period before they can collect their first payment is so long that some people are forced to go back to work after the first treatment. Cancer treatment is extremely difficult. Even people being treated with small doses of radiation therapy, which is the mildest form of cancer treatment, are seriously affected. Other forms of treatment are even more difficult.

The current employment insurance sickness benefits simply are not adapted to the reality of Canadians, especially when, on average, those benefits run out seven weeks before cancer patients begin to receive treatment under Quebec's public health system. Asking a person to fight a serious illness in only two months is just not right.

A study showed that on average, patients go through 23 weeks of treatment with no income. Earlier I talked about 38 weeks in total, on average. Most patients see a significant drop in their income, to the tune of roughly $12,000 per household. Some 80% of the participants in the study suffered a significant financial impact. Some 44% of the respondents had to dip into their own savings and 27% went into debt. One person in five went back to work before having fully recovered from their illness, for financial reasons. The proportion of patients with a full-time job goes from 61% before treatment to 45% after treatment. Some 16% lost their job and some did not return to work because of the effects of the treatment or the lack of accommodation in the workplace. It is therefore important to accommodate people who are not lucky enough to have private insurance or the possibility to take extended leave for financial reasons.

We have to look at this bill humanely in order to help all Canadians deal with serious illnesses in the future.

The House resumed from November 22, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (waiting period and maximum special benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

November 22nd, 2011 / 6:25 p.m.
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Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to talk about Bill C-291. I appreciate the bill from the hon. member from the opposite side. For myself, there have been severe cancer issues in my own family. I have a family member with lung cancer. It has made it very difficult for that person to work and so on. Also, in my little block alone in Burlington, Ontario, there are three women with MS. The issues are very familiar to me, not just as a member of Parliament, but to me personally.

My issue with the bill is one that I have with a large number of private members' bills. It is asking us to invest past the 15 weeks, but a proper financial analysis has not been done. I would have preferred if the mover of the motion had moved not a private member's bill, because private members' bills are making law, but a motion for the House to consider. The government could then consider the issues and the financial implications.

There are no financial implications in many private members' bills, but I challenge the members to look at the private members' bills that have financial implications. In this one, we are not sure what they are.

We have a Parliamentary Budget Officer from the Library of the Parliament who could do a review of what the financial results would be if the bill passes. I think the bill should be brought there to have a review of what it actually is so we could have an intelligent--

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

November 22nd, 2011 / 6:15 p.m.
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Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-291. The member for Bourassa acknowledged, in presenting this bill, that New Democrats have been at this for a number of years. I know New Democrats have presented this bill in various forms, whether it was the member for Acadie—Bathurst or the former member, Dawn Black, from British Columbia.

I also want to acknowledge the member for Jonquière—Alma who ably outlined why the House should support the bill.

I feel quite fortunate to follow the Conservative member across the way in speaking because I feel I have an opportunity to set the record straight about some of the claims that were made.

The employment insurance fund is funded by employers and employees. It is their money. This does not come out of the general revenue fund. Employers and employees pay this money for just the kinds of circumstances the member for Bourassa outlined.

We have people who are ill. We have their families often in crisis. I heard the member say that if their EI ran out after 15 weeks, they could apply for welfare. I do not know what province he is from, but in the province I come from, British Columbia, welfare rates are not enough to pay bills. In many provinces across the country, before going on income assistance, people have to liquidate all their assets. For those suffering from cancer or some other disease that they are struggling to recover from, the member says that we will pay them for 15 weeks and then they must liquidate their assets in the middle of their chemo, radiation or whatever other treatments they are undergoing, so they can go on income assistance. That does not sound like a compassionate society to me.

I need to put a few facts on record.

First, under regular employment insurance, under the so-called progressive rules we have before us, less than 50% of Canadians now qualify, despite the fact that they may pay into employment insurance.

Second, Statistics Canada's studies show that 20% of sick leave lasts 17 months or more. They also show that 60% of these sick leaves are from 17 to 28 weeks and 40% are 29 weeks or more. Currently, only 31% of beneficiaries collect the maximum 15 weeks of sick benefits.

Despite what the government claims, we do not have massive numbers of people that will collect long-term sick benefits. Therefore, if we were to be a compassionate society, all members of the House would support the bill.

I heard the member talk about the NDP-Bloc-Liberal coalition as if that would be something scary for Canadians. The New Democrats would bring to the table the kinds of changes that have been proposed for a number of years to employment insurance funded by employers and employees, to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are well looked after instead of saying, “Suck it up, you get 15 weeks and forget it”.

A recent study called Making It Work: Final Recommendations of the Mowat Centre Employment Insurance Task Force made a number of recommendations. I want to touch on a couple of those recommendations because they relate directly to the bill proposed by the member for Bourassa. The task force talks about the two-week waiting period and how it applies to all employment insurance claims, whether regular or special benefits claims. The task force makes the recommendation that the two-week benefit period should be eliminated for special benefits. It says:

After eligibility is established, applicants must wait two weeks for payments to begin. The two-week waiting period applies to special beneficiaries just as it does to individuals...

It goes on to say:

Other than cost containment, there is no clear justification for the waiting period for special benefits, and it may cause inconvenience or hardship for individuals.

Eliminating the waiting period for special benefits would have a relatively small impact on program costs. As most recipients of special benefits exhaust them, eliminating the waiting period for these beneficiaries would in most cases imply providing the same total benefits earlier.

Eliminating the two-week waiting period for special beneficiaries is an easy and affordable way to enhance support for new parents and caregivers. It would also support the reforms to sickness benefits discussed below.

I want to talk a bit about the proposed changes to sickness benefits. I think a number of us in the House have had meetings with people with episodic disabilities and the severe impact it has their ability to stay in the workforce because of the way sickness benefits are currently set up.

Under recommendation 17, the task force states:


To support the labour market participation of persons with disabilities, periodic use of sickness benefits should be tested. This would allow individuals to qualify for benefits once, and with medical certification take benefits periodically throughout the year without having to re-qualify.

It goes on to say:

There is currently no income support available to help individuals with sporadic or episodic illnesses or disabilities to remain in the workforce or to avoid other forms of assistance, such as provincial social assistance for persons with disabilities or Canada Pension Plan-Disability.

Of course even when people go on some of these other systems, there is a problem for them if they want to rejoin the workforce.

To give a rationale for this change, it states:

In coming decades, Canada will experience labour shortages and an aging population. More Canadians are finding themselves on long-term provincial disability programs. This is not an efficient use of our human capital. Canadian social programs should not create barriers to labour market participation or disincentives to work for those who would like to.

In some ways, Canada's income security framework currently categorizes individuals as either able-bodied and employable or disabled and unemployable. This blunt categorization can be demoralizing for individuals who have the capacity to work part-time and can discourage self-sufficiency. It may also place unnecessary pressure on disability support programs.

It goes on to say:

The OECD recognizes the lack of supports for employment as a primary weakness in Canada's approach to income security for persons with disabilities. “Similar to a number of other OECD countries, Canadian disability benefit systems still too often appear geared to steer people into welfare dependency and labour market exclusion rather than participation”...

Moreover, “the 'all-or-nothing' nature of most disability income supports leaves these individuals with no realistic alternative to long-term dependence on disability income programs, and no realistic opportunity to contribute to society”....

That is an important point to raise. We often hear issues around Canada's productivity, about needing to increase labour force participation. Here we have mechanisms with the employment insurance sickness benefits to encourage that very participation.

I know people in my riding, who have episodic disabilities, have approached me. There are periods of time in their lives where they are very capable of working. Sometimes they are capable of working full time for a number of months and then of course they need to go back on sickness benefits. We need to encourage that participation in the labour market and at the same time provide some income security. That is a valuable resource for employers.

I will touch briefly on the sickness benefit aspect of it.

I know we have had a number of people talk about various cases. I want to talk about the case of Jennifer McCrea. She was about eight months into maternity leave with her second child when her doctor discovered early stage breast cancer. Her doctor told her that she needed six weeks to recover after being on a maternity claim. She went to the employment insurance people and said that she needed sick benefits. She was told that since she was on maternity leave and not available for work she was not eligible for that benefit.

Imagine a young mother struggling with a new child, which can be a challenge at times, and on top of that needing some radical surgery as a result of an early detection of breast cancer being told that because of the way the rules were set up she was not eligible for EI.

Oddly enough, there was another case where Justice Marin ruled that legislative changes to the EI act were intended to give women on maternity leave access to additional sickness benefits immediately before, during and after receiving maternity and parental and that although the regulations required a person to be available for work, it was impossible for a woman on maternity leave to be available for work. Therefore, he said that there needed to be a more liberal interpretation and that the government should change the rules.

The human resources minister agreed, yet we are now in November 2011 and there are still no changes. Women are still losing that ability to have both maternity and sickness benefits where it is required.

We can cite any number of cases where a compassionate, caring, concerned society would say that we need to support people. These are some of the most vulnerable people. When people are sick, they really need that support. If we want to demonstrate that compassion and caring, as the money is there, employers and employees pay for it, members should pass the bill.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

November 22nd, 2011 / 6:05 p.m.
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Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the hon. member for Bourassa on Bill C-291 an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (waiting period and maximum special benefits).

I truly sympathize with those Canadians who are battling cancer or other illnesses, that last longer than 15 weeks. For example, we know that 70 Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer every day and 11 of those 70 men will die from it.

Thousands of Canadians, including my executive assistant, Kenton Dueck, my EDA president, Steven Ladd, my son, Chetan Shory, and members from all sides of the House are fundraising this month to fight prostate cancer and I applaud them for that. These battles have no partisan or political lines.

However, my colleague's bill would cost approximately $730 million a year, which, I am sure most of us would agree is a significant expenditure of public moneys in a time of fiscal restraint. We need to ask whether increasing the maximum for special benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks is necessary or justifies the moneys that would have to be spent. I would respectfully argue that the targeted changes our Conservative government has made to the benefits system is a smarter way to support Canadians facing health and other life challenges.

Our Conservative government has made the employment insurance system more accessible and fair for millions of Canadians, especially in the face of the challenges many of us have experienced during the global economic recession.

There are several ways in which the federal government provides for those facing a long-term disabling illness, particularly through the Canadian pension plan long-term disability pension. This is in addition to provincial social assistance programs and private long-term disability insurance. This benefit is meant to be a temporary measure for temporary illnesses that prevent someone from working.

In a clear majority of cases, the program does meet the needs of individuals, as 70% of individuals do not exhaust the current 15-week sickness provision.

Hard-working Canadians deserve to be able to balance work and family life. Our government believes in a strong EI system, one that delivers fair and equitable benefits for those who need them most.

During the global economic downturn, our government moved quickly to preserve and create jobs and to help families, workers and businesses.

In fact, we have rebounded quite substantially. More than 600,000 new jobs have been recovered since the depths of the recession in July 2009. Our unemployment rate is now down to 7.3%, one of the lowest levels since December 2008.

However, the economic challenges are not behind us. Our Prime Minister has been clear on the direction the government will take on fiscal matters when he said, “We have sought to strike the right balance between supporting jobs and growth, and reducing our deficit in a responsible manner.”

When Canada was hit hardest by the global recession, our government demonstrated its flexibility by putting temporary measures in the employment insurance program to assist Canadians, both workers and employers.

The economic downturn created exceptional circumstances for our government that required an exceptional response, and respond we did.

For example, we temporarily provided an extra five weeks of EI benefits to help those hardest hit by the recession. I am pleased to say that about 1.3 million EI claimants benefited from this initiative.

We have also helped long-tenured workers renew or upgrade their skills under the career transition assistance program. Close to 15,000 long-tenured workers have participated and around $95 million in benefits has been paid.

We further demonstrated our commitment to help workers and employers through temporary work-sharing measures. About 300,000 employees have participated in more than 10,000 work-sharing agreements since 2009.

Work sharing helps employers and workers avoid layoffs, while redistributing the workload when there is a temporary reduction in the normal level of business activity. In fact, Canada has been a world leader in work-sharing agreements and governments around the world are looking to Canada's program as a model.

I should also point out that, through the Minister of Finance, we introduced a bill to support Canadian businesses that included a temporary hiring credit for small business to encourage further hiring.

Economic challenges during the global recession have placed significant pressures on the Canadian labour market and, in turn, the EI program. That is why we took decisive action to freeze premiums for 2010 and to limit the rate increase for subsequent years.

Now, this is the key. In an uncertain economic environment, a balance needs to be struck between supporting the recovery and ensuring that the program can survive over time. I think we can all agree that we want a sound system in place for many generations to come, for our children, our grandchildren and so on. The decisions we make today will affect the future of this program.

Our government has shown fairness by extending access to EI special benefits, including maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits to the self-employed who opt into the EI program. By extending special benefits to the self-employed across Canada, we are supporting them in balancing their work and family responsibilities.

Our government introduced a measure to extend the EI parental benefit window for Canadian Forces members who are ordered either to return to duty while on parental leave or whose parental leave is deferred as a result of a tour of duty. Supporting our men and women in uniform is simply the right thing to do. We all know they have sacrificed and put their lives on the line for Canada, so we must stand up for them when they need us.

Compassionate care benefits are available to persons who have to be away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a family member who is gravely ill with a significant risk of death. The eligibility criteria of the EI compassionate care benefit has been modified by broadening the definition of a family member. Now it can mean a sibling, grandparent, grandchild, in-law, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, foster parent, ward, guardian or someone a gravely ill person considers the claimant to be like a family member. This what we mean when we talk about allowing more flexibility and fairness in the system.

We have taken actions to enhance and expand the EI program to help both workers and employers weather the economic storm. We have also enhanced and expanded the EI program through a number of legislative measures to ensure that it meets the needs of Canadian workers and their families in a fair and flexible way. These are real people we are dealing with, and we can never forget that.

That said, our government has a responsibility to Canadian taxpayers and we take that role very seriously. In Calgary Northeast, for example, if I ask Romi Sidhu and Pawan Sharma, who are self-employed, running small businesses, whether they want their taxes to go up, what are they going to say? Simply, they will say, “No way. You're sounding like a Liberal or an NDP.” During the last election, Canadian voters were given two very distinct visions when it came to our economy. They could opt for the tax and spend Liberals-NDP-Bloc coalition, or they could choose a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government under the leadership of our Prime Minister, a government that would focus on protecting jobs and economic growth during these uncertain times.

We all know that Canadian voters made a clear choice and this bill, as it stands, would require a significant expenditure of public moneys in a time of fiscal restraint. For that reason, despite our greatest sympathies, we cannot support the bill.