Émilie Sansfaçon Act

An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (illness, injury or quarantine)

Sponsor

Claude DeBellefeuille  Bloc

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

Status

In committee (House), as of May 26, 2021

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Summary

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

This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act to increase from 15 to 50 the maximum number of weeks for which benefits may be paid because of illness, injury or quarantine.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

May 26, 2021 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-265, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (illness, injury or quarantine)

Émilie Sansfaçon ActPrivate Members' Business

May 12th, 2021 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

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.

Émilie Sansfaçon ActPrivate Members' Business

May 12th, 2021 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Madam Speaker, it is my turn to talk about this important bill. I just need a minute to recover from what I heard the parliamentary secretary say a moment ago about extending EI sickness benefits to 26 weeks starting in July 2022. He seemed pretty proud of that, but I do not think this is a very pleasant way for people who are sick now or who are going to get sick in the coming weeks to find out that they will not be entitled to additional protection.

As I said, Bill C-265 focuses on a topic that is especially relevant now considering the circumstances: employment insurance sickness benefits. The bill would extend those benefits to provide essential financial support to people who cannot work because of illness, injury or quarantine.

We are all facing unimaginable difficulties because of the pandemic, but some people are in absolutely dire straits because they are sick. Canadians should be able to concentrate on recovering without having to worry about making ends meet.

Although the EI sickness benefits program is essential, it is troubling to see all the problems with it. The current maximum of 15 weeks of benefits was established in 1971 and has not been updated since.

It is important to remember that this bill also bears the name of Émilie Sansfaçon, a courageous young woman who fought on two fronts. She fought a battle against a fatal form of cancer and she fought for an increase in the number of weeks of EI sickness benefits in order to help others like her.

I would like to remind members that Émilie was a young mother and stepmother to two children. She was diagnosed with cancer twice in the same year. Because the maximum of 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits was not enough to meet her needs, she was forced to remortgage her house, max out her lines of credit and seek financial help from her family to make ends meet.

Less than a week after finishing chemotherapy, she went back to work in order to bring in some much-needed income. She had to go back to work instead of taking the three months she needed to recover both mentally and physically. Five months later, the cancer came back and this time it was more aggressive. It spread to Émilie's lungs and became inoperable. After going on sick leave a second time, Émilie once again found that she was entitled to only 15 weeks of benefits. For someone in her situation, 15 weeks is just not enough, since it usually takes months to recover.

I would like to honour the memory of Émilie, who passed away in November 2020 after fighting tooth and nail to have the EI sickness benefit period extended for all Canadians.

According to a report from the organization BC Cancer, the average treatment and recovery time for those diagnosed with breast cancer ranges from 26 to 36 weeks. For those with colon cancer, the average treatment and recovery time is 37 weeks. Those are two of the most common cancers in Canada. For less common cancers such as rectal cancer, the average treatment and recovery time is even higher, averaging a little over 47 weeks. Clearly, the current 15 weeks of benefits is not enough.

In its recent budget, the Liberal government partially responded to the request. Unfortunately, this policy announcement was disappointing on several fronts. The Liberals capped EI sickness benefits at 26 weeks, despite a motion adopted by a majority of members here in the House that called for a longer period. On top of that, the Liberals have only committed to doing so starting in the summer of 2022. There was absolutely no reason to delay this important change for sick Canadians until next year. People better hope they do not get sick until then.

It is not enough. It is too little, too late. I am not the only member here who is inundated with letters and calls from constituents who can no longer pay their bills and have to go back to work while fighting for their lives.

Allow me to share some examples. Annick wrote to me and I was able to speak to her this evening.

Here is what she emailed me: I am writing to you about employment insurance sickness benefits. I learned in January that I would have to battle an aggressive form of breast cancer. I started chemotherapy, which will continue until June. I will then have a total mastectomy, before having radiation. For this part of my treatment, I will have to travel to Lévis every day, which will cost a lot money. The Employment Insurance Act gives me 15 weeks of benefits. How am I supposed to focus on my recovery knowing that I will have no income after 15 weeks? I will not even finish chemotherapy until after those 15 weeks run out. My doctors expect my recovery to take around a year. I have been working since I was 15 years old. I am now 45 and I have always paid my taxes. I do not know how I will heal, survive, pay for medications, pay my heating bill, buy groceries, buy clothes or meet all of my basic needs. I hope that my email will inspire you and that you will challenge the Prime Minister to review EI sickness benefits. The Prime Minister has been telling us for the past year that Canadians' health comes first, and now is the time to prove it to those of us battling cancer. Thank you for your time. Annick, from Thetford Mines.

I also heard from Diane from Princeville, who received her 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits but cannot go back to work yet. Her only option was to apply for welfare.

Here is what another mother wrote: I would like to know what to do once the 15 weeks of sickness benefits run out. The Prime Minister was supposed to do something about this, but this promise, like many others, was broken. My daughter had a stroke in November. She just finished university in April and was supply teaching in schools, which meant she did not have any disability insurance. She is now in rehab for at least three months, earning no income.

Another example is Nathalie Beaudoin from Plessisville, who had cancer. Her benefits ran out, and her family was getting by on her partner's income. She died today.

Then there is Martine, who has a rare disease. Treatment to fix her immune system is not working and is causing undesirable side effects. She had to go back to work in November because she ran out of money. She is now on her second employer, and it is not easy because she has to miss work to go for treatment. She has been working for a month. Her employer already seems to be finding her absences troublesome because there is nobody to replace her.

We see cases like these every day. In February 2020, the House adopted a motion, backed by the Conservatives, to extend EI benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks in the next budget. At our last convention, we adopted a policy presented by the riding association of my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup to extend benefits to 52 weeks. I repeat: Canadians who are already grappling with serious and often fatal diseases on a daily basis should not have to worry about their financial situation. They should be focusing on their recovery.

Louis Sansfaçon, the father of Émilie, the bill's namesake, had this to say about the Liberals' broken promises: “Émilie fell asleep for the last time in a bed at Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Quebec City on November 5...with no answer, no commitment, disappointed.”

In advocating for a proper extension of EI sickness benefits, Émilie Sansfaçon was fighting not only for herself, but for other seriously ill Canadians, like Annick and Diane.

We all hope that the Liberals will not forget that when it comes time to vote on Bill C-265.

Émilie Sansfaçon ActPrivate Members' Business

May 12th, 2021 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in support of this bill. It actually looks a lot like my own private member's bill, Bill C-212, which effectively seeks to do the same thing.

It is in the spirit of an amendment that I tried to move to one of the government's most recent bills modifying the Employment Insurance Act for the purposes of the pandemic, where I sought to have the EI sickness benefit extended to 50 weeks. It is in the spirit of a motion that has already passed, not once but twice, in the House of Commons during this Parliament that calls for an extension of the EI sickness benefit to 50 weeks. Frankly, it is high time that this got done.

I have to say I have not found the government's response to this proposal compelling in the least. The previous intervention by the member for Winnipeg North, just two speakers ago, illustrated the inadequacy of the government's response. He talked about EI as a program meant to maintain an attachment to the workforce. That is true, but there already other EI benefits that can extend up to 50 weeks.

It makes no sense at all to say that, because somebody is sick, they should not be able to maintain an attachment to their job and go back to work after an adequate recovery period, and continue to receive some benefit during that whole period. I do not see how sickness is a good way to choose people who would not get the length of benefit that they might otherwise receive under a normal EI stream.

The member then talked about some other general features of EI that have been changed throughout the course of the pandemic, but did not really speak again to the issue of sickness benefits.

The question that the bill really puts to the fore, and rightly so, is for people who are sick, how are we going to do right by them. Even prior to the pandemic, there had been a campaign towards 50 weeks going on for far too long already, with governments that refuse to act and to implement a 50-week EI sickness benefit.

We knew, already, that in terms of typical recovery periods for diseases like cancer, 15 weeks is simply not enough. However, the pandemic has put this question into even sharper relief. COVID-19 has led to the development of a condition that some people are calling long COVID, post-COVID syndrome or COVID long-haulers. These are people who are seriously falling through the cracks.

They are falling through the cracks for a number of reasons. In some cases, it is that they contracted COVID before the robust testing regime was in place, so they do not have a formal diagnosis of COVID. In some cases, their workplace insurance plan for things like short-term disability does not recognize long COVID as a condition, so they cannot get coverage.

One of the programs that has been there for these folks in their time of need and as we learn more about this new condition that is afflicting them is the EI sickness benefit, but that is only for 15 weeks. We heard from people some time ago who were already at the expiration of their EI sick benefits and unable to access any other kind of insurance program.

Without naming names, out of concern for folks' privacy, I do want to read some excerpts of the stories that have been sent to me by people who are struggling with long COVID, who I think really make the case for why it is so important that we make our EI sickness benefit a much longer benefit.

One woman who wrote to me said:

My symptoms started on April 2, 2020. In the weeks and months that followed, I have suffered and continue to suffer with multiple symptoms that affect my ability to function on a daily basis. I used my short-term sick credits available through my employer until October 2020. At that point my long-term disability through a third party insurance company should have started, but my claim was denied. I am currently going through the appeal process, which could take many months. I am receiving EI sick benefits, but when those end I will have no income.

Another woman from Quebec says, “Please help. I got COVID in March 2020. I've been sick since. I'm coughing uncontrollably and because of the cough, I can't resume my job working on the phone or any other job. Even going to the store I get stared at. I just exhausted my EI sickness benefits and I have nothing else available to me. I'll be sick and homeless. Fifteen weeks is just not enough to recover. I want to work but my doctor said that I'll end up being fired because of this cough.”

Another woman writes, “I am emailing on behalf of my 25-year-old child. They contracted COVID-19 at work at the end of May 2020 and have not been able to work since. They were eligible for CERB and received it until the end of September. They have been receiving the EI benefit since then, but are becoming concerned about what will happen if they continue to be unable to work when their benefits run out.”

A woman from Ontario wrote, “My husband and I are both COVID long-haulers and are about to lose our home because of lack of government financial support. As a result of my insurance company denying my long-term disability claim, I've had to rely on employment insurance sickness benefits, but the 15 weeks of benefits to which I'm eligible are almost up and I'll soon find myself without any income whatsoever. Though I filed a lawsuit against my insurer, it could take up to two years for my case to be resolved.”

There are more, I am sorry to say. We have heard from so many people who really had no other resort in the pandemic than the EI sickness benefit. Despite the fact that there have been many changes made to the EI program on a very quick basis throughout the pandemic, as yet no changes have been made.

I know the government committed to extending the benefit to 26 weeks in the campaign, but those have not surfaced in any of the legislative changes over the past year. They finally appear in Bill C-30, but what I cannot understand is why the government would choose to go with only 26 weeks, when we have an excellent bill like the one before us today. We have clearly demonstrated the will of the House of Commons to support a 50-week benefit.

When I tried to amend a previous government bill, Bill C-24, to include a 50-week benefit, one of the arguments, which I did not find compelling, made by folks on the government side was that making changes to the software that undergirds the EI system was very difficult and it was not just a matter of putting in a number of weeks in the system. It is very complicated, according to them.

If this is supposed to be a once-in-a-generation change to the EI sickness benefit, it would be a tragedy if it ended up only being for 26 weeks. Future governments are going to make that same argument that we cannot expand the number of weeks because the software does not support it. If this is the moment to make that change, and the government is clearly signalling a willingness to make that change, even though it was not willing a couple of months ago on Bill C-24, then let us get it right the first time.

There is an expression on job sites that there is never enough time to do the job right the first time, but there is always enough time to redo it three times after. The problem with this is that we are not slapping up a storefront here. People are sick now and their EI sickness benefits have already expired. People with that benefit, on the cusp of expiring, are going to suffer while the government struggles to get this right. The way is clear. The House of Commons has already said categorically that it should be a 50-week benefit. We have had opportunities with amendments that I have moved previously. We have another opportunity with this bill today.

This has already taken too long. Let us get this right the first time and do right by all those people who are out there suffering, either with new conditions like long COVID, or with long-standing conditions who have struggled to get their health needs met during the pandemic because our hospitals have rightly been focused on helping all those whose lives have been jeopardized by COVID-19. Let us ensure that sick Canadians have the financial support they need to get through these challenging times.

Émilie Sansfaçon ActPrivate Members' Business

May 12th, 2021 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I will try not to get too worked up, even though there is clearly good reason to do so. What we are talking about this evening is extremely important for our constituents, for those who put their trust in us to represent them.

If we polled people on the street about whether a certain bill should be passed, it would be very rare for 10 out of 10 people to agree. However, that would be the case with Bill C-265. This is more than just a number on a bill. It is a battle that has been going on for the past four Parliaments. The member for Salaberry—Suroît is currently waging that battle with passion and strength, and five or six other MPs have waged it before her.

With all due respect for the opposite view, I think that the House needs to face up to its 80-year-old responsibility to improve employment insurance coverage for all Quebeckers and Canadians who lose their jobs. We need to do that not because people are asking us to, but because they need us to.

It might seem ironic for me to explain to the Liberals that we, as parliamentarians, are privileged. Relatively speaking, those of us in this Parliament are the elected officials earning the best living in Canada, and many of us came from a privileged background before we even had the privilege of sitting in this hallowed chamber.

When we lose our jobs, we have support from many people, we get severance packages that can often be considerable and, when we are sick, we do not end up on unemployment. No one feels sorry for us.

I say this because this is not the case for everyone. The workers who pay our salaries and make it possible for us to be here to represent them do not have one-tenth of the security we have. For the vast majority of people, becoming ill sets off a chain of misfortunes and difficult decisions, often because they have no choice. For some people with cancer or other serious illnesses, it can even mean death.

I bring this up a lot, but I want us to remember who we work for. It is always very important to remember, and I will name one of the people we work for. Actually, it is a person we worked for. This individual was let down by a number of governments, but there are thousands of others, including her two children and her spouse.

That person was Émilie Sansfaçon, a woman from Quebec who fought both her illness and the system that allowed her wretched disease to control her life. Nobody here believes that money saves people's lives directly. It does not. However, one thing money can do, especially money that replaces income, is give people a fair fight against disease. Nobody needs a crystal ball to see that health problems are at least as stressful as the possibility of losing everything.

The Bloc Québécois understands that. We have always fought to improve the program. We fought for an independent fund, we fought to eliminate the spring gap, we fought to improve access to regular benefits, we fought to end the classification of unemployed workers, and we fought to improve all types of benefits.

I think the debate on Bill C-265 is less about improving benefits and more about correcting injustice. Talk to anyone battling serious illness, such as cancer, and it will quickly become clear that employment insurance is flawed.

Refusing, as the Liberals do, to see that 15 or 26 weeks are not enough is a serious error in judgment. The Parliamentary Budget Officer outlined the problem very clearly. More than four out of five people who use up the entire special benefit end up taking unpaid leave for another 16 weeks on average. It is absolutely disgusting. Worse yet, not even a quarter of claimants are able to return to work after exhausting the benefit. In developing an important public policy, it is absurd to draw a line based on the least unfortunate quartile of the sick.

In any case, and I want to stress this because it makes me angry, behind all this foot-dragging there seems to be some acknowledgement that this does not look good, but there is also concern that the people who manage to recover will still get the benefit. These are people who are sick and their priority is to return to work, because that would mean they are in good health.

I cannot understand how parliamentarians here can be opposed to the idea of increasing the number of weeks. I recommend they do a little soul-searching.

For someone who is sick, their illness means living with a constant financial threat over their head. For a person who is sick, their illness means losing their job and their employment relationships while they are fighting the disease.

Since special sickness benefits were established in 1971, not only have federal sickness benefits not improved, but the labour market has changed dramatically. Needs are becoming increasingly urgent, especially with regard to achieving work-life balance. Someone who loses their job is entitled to receive regular EI benefits. Someone who has a baby is entitled to maternity leave or parental leave. However, someone who has cancer or a chronic disease and who needs to take frequent or multiple days off work gets only what someone who breaks their arm riding a bike would get. That is not right.

It is unfortunate, but no one wants to fall ill. I think it is high time Parliament made an effort to restore some balance.

For the last six years, it has been 2015 for the Liberals, except for employment insurance. When it comes to EI, they are still stuck in 1971. Must we bring back a DeLorean for the Prime Minister, like in the movie Back to the Future, so he can finally realize this? It would probably be useful for him to go back in time to see one particular thing.

In 2012, he voted for Bill C-291, introduced by the former member for Bourassa. That bill called for the exact same thing we are calling for today. It is a rare thing for me to quote the former member for Bourassa, but I will do it, nevertheless. Before his bill was defeated by the Conservatives, here is what he had to say:

In a non-partisan way, I am asking all my colleagues to make that gesture of solidarity and support my bill.

That is exactly what I am asking my colleagues today with an additional argument. The House has already agreed to extend EI benefits from 15 to 50 weeks in the event of a serious illness. That was not so long ago, on February 18, 2020. Furthermore, there are many reasons for supporting our bill. The lesser known reason is that employment insurance is a so-called stabilizing program. I am not the one who said that; it was Stephen Poloz, former governor of the Bank of Canada.

There is no doubt that because of the current crisis many people understand the importance of a good EI program. I really do not understand the government's foot-dragging. It claimed to be the champion of the less fortunate, but perhaps that was nothing but a publicity stunt. I hope not.

How will Liberal members explain it if they do not support the bill introduced by the member for Salaberry—Suroît? Is there something they fail to understand? The bill is not that complicated. It only amends the Employment Insurance Act by increasing the maximum duration of sickness benefits from 15 to 50 weeks. It is as simple as that.

I reiterate that this is nothing new, nor has it come out of the blue. We should all agree that this is just common sense. However, we need the government's support. On April 15, 2020, the Speaker of the House rightly reminded us that in order to pass third reading and head to the Senate, Bill C-265 would need royal recommendation. That means the fate of the will of the House, as expressed through a majority motion in 2020, rests entirely with this government.

If the Liberals do not support the bill, they will have to live with the consequences of their refusal, because vulnerable Quebeckers and Canadians will suffer as a result.

In closing, I want to thank the member for Salaberry—Suroît for her determination in championing this bill. I also want to thank the 162 members of the House who had the courage to set partisanship aside in February 2020 and vote in favour of the Bloc Québécois motion. I hope they will once again show their support for the struggle of survivors and those still fighting to make our society a little fairer and more supportive by voting in favour of Bill C-265 in memory of Émilie Sansfaçon.

Émilie Sansfaçon ActPrivate Members' Business

May 12th, 2021 / 7:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Madam Speaker, my speech will wrap up the debate on the Émilie Sansfaçon bill.

I remind the House that the purpose of Bill C-265 is to extend EI sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. It is a short bill that could really benefit all the most vulnerable workers, who are left with no income while sick, often while fighting for their lives. It is a bill that would allow workers to recover with dignity.

Canada is a rich country, but all it has to offer to sick workers is instability, stress and financial insecurity. That is embarrassing and unacceptable. Workers get 15 weeks to fight an illness, recover and return to work. However, all the studies show that people need an average of 41 weeks to fully recover.

In the last budget, we were disappointed to see that the Liberals were taking action, but only to extend the benefit period to 26 weeks. We know the Liberals' intentions. The fact remains that this half measure is hard to justify.

During the first hour of debate, I ended my speech in the House by stating this about the benefits: “If the government increases these benefits to 26 weeks, then it is simply providing false comfort hiding the terrible reality that the Liberals are letting down approximately 68% of workers who need those benefits.”

I share the disappointment of the 68% of sick workers. These thousands of workers paid premiums every payday but have been abandoned because they are sick. These thousands of Quebec and Canadian workers would be entitled to a much more ambitious and responsive social safety net if they worked in France, Germany, Sweden, Norway or even California.

A briefing note on the budget helps us better understand the Liberal government's arguments justifying this 26-week period. It states:

The data suggest that a worker is not likely to return to work, could be away from work much longer [and] could leave the labour force altogether after taking more than 26 weeks of leave. Although some stakeholders support extending the duration of sickness benefits to 50 weeks, this would not be in keeping with the main objective of employment insurance sickness benefits, which is to provide income support to workers on short-term sick leave.

That argument is unacceptable.

Honestly, that analysis made me mad. It essentially says that being sick for too long has various consequences, including financial insecurity and increased vulnerability, since the government is severing our employment relationship. It means that the insurance we paid into with every paycheque does not cover us. It means that we are on are own. All these consequences are discriminatory and neglectful.

As we speak, there are workers who are sick. There are workers who are getting better. There are workers who just want to recover and go back to work. There are workers whose 15 weeks will soon be up, which is making them anxious, because they do not know how they are going to pay their bills or even pay for medical transportation.

These workers, who receive little compassion, are being offered a maximum of 26 weeks. To add insult to injury, no one knows exactly when in 2022 this improvement will be made by order. However, we have the means right now to offer 50 weeks. Cabinet knows that, I am sure of it.

When I was drafting my bill, I had some terrific meetings that left a big impression on me. In particular, I met Émilie Sansfaçon's father, Louis Sansfaçon, who took up the political fight of his daughter, a young mother we lost much too soon. There is nothing purer than a father's love for his daughter, for his child. This was evident in all the meetings I had with Mr. Sansfaçon.

If any of my Liberal colleagues are still not convinced that 50 weeks are necessary, I invite them to have a short meeting with Louis Sansfaçon and Marie-Hélène Dubé, who is also a fighter for this cause. It is impossible to remain indifferent to their life stories, and it is insensitive to offer them a half measure in response.

Now is our chance to vote to make the point once again that workers need 50 weeks, not 26 weeks, and that the Liberals are making a mistake by insisting on abandoning vulnerable workers. I encourage them to move in the right direction and do the right thing by voting in favour of my bill.