The bill focuses on EI sickness benefits, which have been capped at 15 weeks since the 1970s, whereas EI regular benefits can last up to 26, or even 50, weeks.
This is not a new issue. I heard about it from Marie-Hélène Dubé, a Rivière-du-Loup resident who contacted me about it. I hear about this issue quite regularly from my constituents. Marie-Hélène Dubé is an acquaintance of mine. Over the years, I have spoken with her several times about the topic we are debating today.
Nearly four years ago, in 2018, I presented a resolution at my party's general council, held in Saint-Hyacinthe, to extend EI benefits in the case of serious illness. This resolution was adopted the members of my party. Last month, I also got this resolution passed by all party members at the Conservative convention, which was held virtually earlier this year.
All parties in the House want to address this issue. The Liberals are sadly the only ones dragging their feet.
I remind members that the Liberal government has been in power since October 2019. It had a majority for the first four years and has remained in power for another year and a half with the help of other opposition parties. So far, the Liberal government has not done anything to extend EI sickness benefits, and I do not see why.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer released a study two years ago in April 2019, estimating the cost of extending sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50. According to this study, it would cost between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion a year. That may seem like a lot, but it is important to know that the EI program is first and foremost supposed to be independent and self-sustaining. It is funded through premiums paid by workers and employers, which are adjusted periodically based on the claim rate.
In 2019, the contribution rate for workers was $1.62 per $100 of insurable earnings to a maximum of $56,300 a year. The employer pays 140% of that amount, or $2.27 per $100 of insurable earnings. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that extending sickness benefits would cost 6¢ more per $100 earned by a worker. For someone who earns $35,000 a year, that is an increase of $21 a year or $1.75 a month. For someone who has reached or exceeded the maximum insurable earnings of $56,300, the proposed change would cost $33.78 a year or $2.81 a month. If we asked people whether they were prepared to pay between $1.75 and $2.81 a month for peace of mind and access to EI sickness benefits if they were to get cancer or need heart surgery, for example, it is very clear that the answer would be yes.
Balance protection insurance for credit cards and credit disability insurance on car loans both cost far more than 0.06%. They usually cost around 1% of the monthly balance. That amount is 20 times higher than the small increase we are talking about here to extend EI sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50.
We might well wonder if that is why the Liberals are reluctant to offer EI sickness benefits for longer than 15 weeks. Have insurance companies lobbied the government because they do not want this safety net to make their financial products less attractive?
Let us remember the incestuous relationship between the Liberal government and major financial institutions, which was an issue when the Liberals introduced Bill C-27 in the previous Parliament. That bill proposed legislative amendments to pension standards that would have benefited Morneau Shepell, the family-owned investment company previously run by Bill Morneau, the former finance minister.
As a Conservative, I am very wary of any new tax or government directive that could make it harder for Canada's small and medium-sized businesses to compete. As the owner of a business with about 30 employees, I am all the more wary considering the especially difficult year all SMEs have had. I am here to help them get through the pandemic that we will have to continue grappling with for the next few months, or maybe even more than a year. However, I do not think that contributing an extra $29 or $47 per year per employee will bankrupt my business.
My employees are important to me, and I would love for them to have this lifeline to count on in case they ever have to face such a difficult struggle.
On this subject, I would not accuse the government of overspending. Why, then, are we still here, six and a half years after the Liberals took office? They still have not addressed this issue. The Liberals had a chance to include parts of Bill C-265 in their own Bill C-24, but they decided against it. To top it all off, we learned last week that the government has decided to refuse royal recommendation for Bill C-265, so its odds of being passed by the next election are slim.
Is this what the Liberals call co-operation with the opposition parties? It sounds more like “my way or the highway”. It appears as though they want to call an election right away, so that the Prime Minister can run as a great saviour and promise, for a third time, to increase the number of weeks of EI benefits for serious illnesses, when he had every opportunity to get it done sooner.
A few weeks ago, I asked the government whether it was going to extend EI sickness benefits from 15 to 50 weeks, as set out in the motion the House of Commons passed in February 2020. The government responded that it would first extend this benefit period to 30 weeks.
That is great, but when? Will it be in the budget? We shall see this afternoon. Can the government tell us the difference in cost between 30 and 50 weeks? I remind the House that the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that extending these benefits from 15 to 50 weeks would cost 6¢ for every $100. This figure is not for 30 weeks, but perhaps the government and the Department of Finance did their own assessment.
What is the difference in cost between 15 and 30 weeks? What would be the difference in cost between 30 and 50 weeks? Is the government seriously obstructing Bill C-265 to save 2¢ or 3¢? The Liberal member who will be speaking next has a few minutes to ask me questions. I would like him to start by answering mine.
Beyond the figures I just cited, Marie-Hélène Dubé and Émilie Sansfaçon were extremely resilient, and in the case of Ms. Sansfaçon, to the very end. Ms. Dubé went through three cancer diagnoses in the last 10 years. Earlier I heard my Liberal colleague note that the government has made changes related to COVID-19. I am glad that it did that, with our support, but here we are talking about a recurring thing and not something sporadic in connection with a pandemic. As mentioned by my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît, these are legislative amendments that do not happen often. The Employment Insurance Act has not changed since the 1970s and is no longer adequate. As my Liberal colleague aptly put it earlier, we must absolutely overhaul this legislation to adapt to today's realities.
I could go on for several more minutes, but the reality is that many businesses are struggling to find employees. That is the case in my riding right now. Unfortunately, when some get sick they not only have the burden of their illness weighing on them, but they also bear the financial burden, which becomes an additional stressor and is very hard to bear for anyone going through these difficult times.
Some will say that the Conservatives refused to make these changes in the past. It is true, but the way things are changing we must take care of one another. As my colleague mentioned earlier, people who can take care of those who are sick are entitled to more benefits than the sick people themselves. That makes no sense. We must adapt these new realities to today's life. Clearly, the pandemic added another layer, and the reality is that these types of events primarily affect women.
I believe that we must absolutely support my colleague's bill, and I invite the Liberals to also support it.