Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address Bill C-265. I would like to draw a comparison. There is no doubt that there are members on all sides of the House who are very concerned about workers and want to do what we can in order to support them, whether they are currently in the workforce or they find themselves in a situation where they are disabled temporarily or even long term.
Bill C-265 is an attempt to address an issue. Having said that, there are a couple of concerns. One would be in regard to the scope of the legislation. Is it going beyond the scope of what was intended? Bill C-265 recognizes the scope of the EI programs in terms of their objectives, which are quite simple. It is there to help keep workers connected to the labour force.
Members will find that a majority of the workers who end up taking leave beyond 26 weeks do not return to work. In many ways, we need to look at other programs. The government recognizes the need to support Canadian workers who find themselves out of the labour market, either long term or permanently due to disability, and does this through the program that Canadians will be very familiar with, the Canada pension plan disability benefits. The EI program really is not meant to provide that avenue of coverage.
There are concerns regarding the bill we have before us. I would ask members to take a look at what is being proposed by the government, particularly through Bill C-30. The minister has done an excellent job in understanding the importance of making changes to benefit workers in Canada. We have seen that through some temporary measures that have taken place because of the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, we made sickness benefits a priority.
We introduced a number of temporary changes to the EI program in order to support Canadians during this difficult time over the last number of months. Some of those temporary measures were to facilitate access and increase the generosity of EI benefits, including EI sickness benefits, just to cite a few of them. This allowed Canadians to qualify for EI with only 120 insurable hours. I think that was a very well-received initiative by the government.
There was a need, and the government responded by implementing a minimum benefit rate of $500 a week. This particular change had a very positive impact, much like we had through the CERB program with that minimum amount of money. We saw how Canadians benefited in all regions of the country. I thought it was very encouraging when we heard there would be a minimum benefit rate, which was established at $500 per week.
There were also temporary measures to provide access to up to 50 weeks of regular benefits and the freezing of the EI premium rate at the 2020 rate for two years. I see those as very strong, positive actions that were necessary. The minister and the civil servants responded quite quickly in terms of making sure that injured and disabled workers were being seriously looked at and supported during the pandemic.
Bill C-30 has some things within it that I would recommend the House seriously look at. There are many reasons to support Bill C-30: After all, it is our budget bill and a wide variety of things affect so many Canadians. I would encourage members to support this legislation.
There are some specifics about workers. For example, budget 2021 contains commitments to modernize the EI program for the 21st century. It announces consultations on future long-term reforms to EI. Many times, we have seen private members' bills, resolutions and a wide spectrum of other types of debates hit the floor of the House of Commons that talk about EI and how important the program is, and how important it is that we look at ways in which we can make modifications to it that benefit workers.
For years in opposition, I wanted to see some changes to it. With the 2015 election results and the change in government, I was very happy that, for the first time, I had some sense that the government was going to be acting on worker-related legislation that would be more favourable to workers. Many of my Liberal colleagues have wanted to see changes to EI. The announcement of extending or allowing for consultations on future long-term reforms will do us and the people of Canada quite well into the future because of the spectrum of issues we face today. They were not necessarily prioritized in previous years. Extending EI sickness benefits to 26 weeks is a component of that reform.
Budget 2021 is a more balanced approach than the private member's bill that we have before us today. I would encourage members to look at it. In particular, we are seeing the extension of EI sickness benefits. They are a very important component of any reform.
I highlighted some other areas. When we think of sickness benefits, what are they and what do they currently provide? Sickness benefits provide short-term income support and help maintain workers' labour market attachment while they are temporarily unable to work due to a short-term illness, injury or quarantine, which is most appropriate at this time.
The EI sickness benefit would provide up to 15 weeks of temporary income support at an amount equal to 55% of an individual's average weekly insurable earnings, up to a maximum weekly amount. The commitment to increase EI sickness benefits in budget 2021 would also increase the maximum number of sickness benefit weeks available, from 15 to 26. If passed, the bill would provide $3 billion over five years starting in 2021-22 and an ongoing $967 million per year to do just that.
This extension would take effect in the summer of 2022. I would encourage members to look at the benefits to the workers in the budget that the Minister of Finance has brought forward and support it.