Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise tonight in this virtual Parliament to talk about Bill C-220 on addressing the issue of compassionate care, which is a huge issue. In 2014, I pushed a national palliative care strategy and spoke with people across the country on its importance. We had all-party support. We are still waiting to see the Liberals actually follow through on some of these key promises.
We are talking about the most vulnerable part in the lives of any Canadian family, and the death of a loved one is a life-changer for those who are left behind. It can be traumatic or it can be healing. It can be a real moment of tenderness and it can also tear families apart. I have seen families in my office completely stressed out, almost broken, over economic insecurity. Then when I start to ask them questions, I realize it is because the woman has had to leave her job to look after a dying mother or sister and the stress on family is incredible.
There have been changes to the Canada Labour Code that allow Canadians to take job-protected leave of up to 28 weeks, but the way the code is written, if a person someone is looking after dies then the leave period ends on the last day of the week in which the death occurs. It means if a loved one, a husband or a child dies on a Friday, a person is expected to report back on Monday. That is not good enough because we know some of the real trauma after a death is having to make arrangements and dealing with the finances. It is enormous for whoever has to take that on.
This bill would give up to one or two extra weeks, and we support that as New Democrats. The failing of this bill, though, is that it would fall then to people who can afford to take unpaid time off. We believe we have to change the EI provisions so people can be compensated if they have to take time off to look after a loved one.
I think of my sister Kathleen. The table at a restaurant where the laughter was the loudest is where Kathleen was. When we knew it was really time to go home, Kathleen would be asking for one more song to be sung or say that we should have more drink or tell one more story. Kathleen had a fire for life, but I have never seen someone thrown over the cliff of death so many times. She crawled back determined and faced death down with the determination that would have made Doc Holliday weep. She never blinked, and she had it really rough.
Kathleen, as tough as she was, needed people there with her at key times. I tried to be a good brother over the years, but I did know Kathleen would not call me when she needed someone to go to the hospital with her. She called her sister, Mary, and Mary would drive over 500 kilometres to be there at those meetings with the doctors because these issues cannot be heard alone, especially when one is facing stage IV cancer. Someone needs to be there to help make sense of it.
My younger sister Mary missed an enormous amount of work. When Kathleen was dying, we had a big enough family that all of us took time and all of us were there. My brother came off the subways to be with her. I took time. We were at the hospital around the clock with her.
A lot of families cannot afford that. In my work, I have seen the stress it causes and often it is stress on the women caregivers. I will just say it, men just do not seem to be quite as comfortable and women take on this work. Women are the ones who are somehow expected also to give up their work time to do this because it is a family obligation.
We need to find ways to make it possible for people to look after their loved ones and be there in that stressful moment. Watching someone who is dying is so emotionally intense that there is almost a strange silence, a shock. A person is actually in shock but does not realize it at the time. It is just a feeling one has after having gone through something so intense. Coming out of that shock sometimes takes a lot of time.
The idea that someone's loved one could die on a Friday and yet the person is back at work on Monday is really problematic, especially if this is the person in the family who has to start making the arrangements, trying to figure things out, calling relatives, dealing with the funeral home. There are all manner of issues in terms of the funeral, the finances, dealing with the banks and all the forms. Someone has to take on that work. It falls very hard on the person whose responsibility it is.
Bill C-220 is a good bill. It is a good start. We need to look at making sure that people can be compensated through changes to the employment insurance compassionate care benefits so that they can actually step out of their work life to take on this responsibility and not suffer financial penalties. I have seen families that simply could not afford to do both and it had enormous negative impacts on them.
The issue of dealing with end-of-life care is something we really need to look at. We saw how quickly the Liberal government was ready to move on the assisted dying bill. We have a bill where people have the right to die in Canada, the right to die for all manner of reasons. The government has allowed the Senate to change those rules. However, people need to have the fundamental right to live out their dying days in dignity. That means a national palliative care strategy. We have to start talking about letting people live out their life in dignity, with the proper supports, the proper home care, with a home care vision that allows people to be looked after and not feel they are a burden on their family. It is a horrific thing for people who are suffering and who know the financial stresses on their family or their loved ones.
We need to make sure that we have palliative care available. In many provinces in this country, it is simply not there when it is needed. Some areas have incredible palliative care programs. I have seen them in action. They are really transformative. They make it possible for a family to heal. However, where people do not have access to palliative care, it can be a terrible, stressful time.
This is something that is above partisan politics, because death is something that comes to us all. All of our families have gone through this. We all know what the issues are. I am not speaking to people who have not experienced it. People of our age, here in Parliament, have probably seen a loved one pass. It can be a healing thing or a very traumatic thing.
Bill C-220 is a step in that direction. I think it is a good step. We do need to look at the employment insurance compassionate care benefits. However, we need to talk about the larger issue of a proper palliative care strategy, especially with the really disturbing changes that have come through MAID, which are being pushed through the unelected and unaccountable Senate. The fact that it could actually hijack legislation of such importance and put its imprimatur on it without public input is really letting us down.
We need to reassure the Canadian people that we want families to be able to have those final moments in healing and with support, and all the rights they are entitled to as citizens of this country. That would mean a proper palliative care strategy, available to every single family across this country, whether in a rural or urban area, whether new Canadians or indigenous. We are all facing the same thing in those moments, and we need to have a holisitic approach to give families and the people who are dying the support they need.
I appreciate having the chance to speak.