House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was iraq.


Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The only way that we can deal with this is to have unanimous consent to do Motion No. 71 all over again. Is that agreed?

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, before re-calling a vote I would request that you review the tape and the blues. You clearly read the number of the motion. You clearly read the motion. There was a vote on it and it was carried on division. I see no reason that we should retake a motion.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I vividly recall that we did Motion No. 71 but now there is no unanimous consent.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have received the list that you are reading for calling the motions. I also have the list that was provided to us when the Speaker identified the motions that would be dealt with at report stage. Looking at the new Group No. 4, they are both in the same order.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that if you check the blues you will find that you went through and missed Motions Nos. 53 and 61.

If I am following, and I cannot look at each of the motions, but I know by number which one I will vote yes, yes, yes, no, which is what the whip does as well. If you miss one you throw off our voting pattern.

Having said that, the final point is that the member for Oakville and myself were two of the five people who stood but, I hate to say it, it appears that when you said yeas supporting the government motion you looked for the five people over there. You did not look over here. I know there were at least four or five people down there plus the two here. This is an important gender equity motion that needs to be debated further and voted on.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Let us verify the blues. If there are any corrections to be brought about they will be.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I guess I will have to wait to see where you are going with this. However when you rule that you are going to retake the vote on Motion No. 71 and then entertain further motions from members disputing that, then they are disputing the ruling of the Chair. The Chair has ruled that we will take the vote again, unless you are going to contradict yourself. You will get into real trouble if you start saying we are going to do something, ruling on it and then accepting disputes from wherever about revisiting it again. We need to have another vote because you have already ruled on it.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

If I could have the attention of the hon. member for Fraser Valley. We will have to check the blues. Initially I thought I had unanimous consent to go back to Motion No. 71 but the chief government whip stood up five or ten seconds after the fact and just about cancelled everything that we had tried to do.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Yes, that is right. I do not care what you say.

Motion No. 72. Have you all heard it?

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, there is a considerable amount of confusion here. I believe the last ruling was that you would go back and take a look at the blues and look at the confusion to see if you could clarify it.

The schedule we have is that this debate would go on until 5:53 p.m. We are now past that on the clock.

I would suggest to you that you do take the time to consider it and that we pick this up when we reconvene the debate. That would be my suggestion.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Here is a new one for you. It being 5:53 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from December 12, 2002, consideration of the motion that Bill C-206, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (persons who leave employment to be care-givers to family members), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join the many speakers who have already dealt with the bill in its first hour of reading who were in strong and full support of this very worthwhile, honourable and noble idea brought to us by the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore.

I should start by saying that as long as I have known the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore he has raised the issue, going back five years, at our caucus and through the House. The hon. member has recognized the great need and great shortfall that exists within the current home health care system as it pertains to people who may need assistance to stay in their own homes. He has been a tireless champion of this issue. It must be very gratifying for him to sit here today and have this private member's bill votable, in its second hour of debate, and looking forward to seeing it through to its final, logical conclusion.

I should point out as well that the ruling party, the government of the day, has obviously seen the merits of the bill because, to its credit, it has taken the lead from the hon. member and in recent releases about the upcoming budget it has been alluded to, actually outlined, that the government will in fact introduce some measures, we are hoping, in the upcoming February budget that will address the issue of income maintenance for family members who need to take time off work to care for ailing relatives. I think that is worthy of note and worthy of applause but let us not forget where it comes from.

There is a saying “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” I think we have a classic example today. I should mention that it was Margaret Mead who said that very worthwhile phrase.

The point of the bill, as I understand it, is that if a person has a family member, a loved one or a relative who is disabled or is suffering from an illness and needs to be housebound, that person can take leave from work and enjoy job protection. They will not risk their job by taking time off from work. They will be able to stay at home to care for an ailing relative and receive income maintenance from the employment insurance fund just as if he or she were unemployed or under the sick leave benefits of employment insurance.

The bill contemplates expanding the designated uses of the Employment Insurance Act. It would make an amendment necessary to list this as one of the categories or criteria under which a person would qualify for EI. However can there be any doubt, given the level of support that we have heard in the previous hour of debate in the House?

Can there be any doubt given the level of support that we are hearing from groups like the Canadian Association of Retired Persons which has a membership of two million or three million people who endorse the concept? Can there be any doubt when the Victorian Order of Nurses and the Canadian AIDS Society support this very idea? Many non-profit NGO groups have endorsed and proposed the very same measure as put forward by our friend, the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore.

It is such a reasonable thing, especially when we keep in mind, and I remind hon. members, that the employment insurance fund is showing a surplus of $750 million a month, not per year but per month, and $7 billion or $8 billion per year. What better use for that surplus than to provide true employment insurance for a person who needs to leave his or her place of work to care for an ailing loved one? I think it is entirely appropriate, logical and achievable because we know the money is there.

Let us remind ourselves where the employment insurance fund, which is in such a wild surplus, comes from. It comes from the contributions of employers and employees. Not one penny of money going into the employment insurance fund comes from the government. In other words, this will be a self-directed insurance program, if and when the unfortunate circumstance arises where a person has to take care of an ailing loved one.

I can relate to it even more because of my own personal experience. My mother is in a situation like this now that she is 84 years old and is disabled. She has been released from hospital and will be needing home care. The home care system, because we do not have a national home care system, is under enormous stress. My provincial home care system cannot provide enough home care to take care of a woman like my mother who needs attention 24 hours a day.

Were I an ordinary working person living in my home city of Winnipeg, and were this program available to me, I would be able to take time off in the same way one would take maternity or paternity leave, for a 50 week period which I believe is the new maternity rule. I would be able to relieve some of the stress on the current home care system that frankly cannot provide enough care, and very appropriately use the resources from the employment insurance fund so that I could take time off work and care for my ailing relative.

As I mentioned earlier, a key and integral feature of the hon. member's very well thought out bill is that there would also be job security provisions provided. My employer could not dismiss, penalize or discipline me if I found myself in this unfortunate position. Any reasonable thinking person would agree it would be fundamentally wrong to punish an individual if they had to take time off from work.

The hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore says what a wonderful world it would be, what a better world it would be. I believe it is our job in the NDP caucus to raise that very issue. Think how much better Canada could be if we took some of these logical, achievable and very realistic steps to plug the holes and fill the gaps in our social safety net.

It is my great pleasure to add my name to the long list of Canadians, a network that the hon. member over the five years he has been advocating for this, has developed right across the country, people who are watching that debate tonight. It is my great pleasure to add my name to that very long list of Canadians who care about other Canadians and to push this bill forward to its next logical step. I anticipate hearing positive comments from members from other parties today. I defy anyone in the House to come up with any good reason that this should not become law in this country.

I speak on behalf of the constituents I represent in Winnipeg Centre, on behalf of the many families who find themselves in the situation in which I am right now with an elderly mother who needs home care, on behalf of the senior citizens from the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, and I believe the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada, CURC. Its 1.5 million members have also endorsed this very worthwhile and noble initiative. We would all be in good stead if we could rise, party after party and voice our strong support for a worthwhile and noble initiative like this one.

Canada could only be a better place. Show me the reason that we cannot do it. The money is in the pot. It is our money. It is not the federal government's money. We, speaking on behalf of Canadians, are saying that this money should be used for income maintenance for people when they need it and that EI money should not be used for anything else.

Let me use the minutes I have left to remind people that those dollars from employers and employees that go into the EI fund were put there to give employment insurance to people when they need employment insurance. It is not to be used for anything else. If we use employment insurance money for anything other than income maintenance, it is a breach of trust. In fact it is out and out fraud if we take money from a person's paycheque for a specific purpose and use it for something completely different. It is fundamentally wrong.

This use will be to provide employment insurance for people who need it because they have a sick family member to care for. It is appropriate. It is one of the contemplated designated uses of EI. It is the right thing to do. I urge strong support from all parties.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Shefford Québec


Diane St-Jacques LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore for having launched this important debate on a matter that cannot help but interest large numbers of Canadians. It is, in fact, a matter of interest to the country as a whole, since it impacts upon the workplace, the health care system and society in general.

Last year I had an experience that made me more aware of this situation, when I was involved in fundraising for Leucan. I came to know parents who had left their jobs to be with a sick child and was able to see the many difficulties and constraints parents have to deal with during this painful time.

I must acknowledge that the bill introduced by my hon. colleague addresses concerns that are shared by the Government of Canada.

Bill C-206 needs to be seen in relation to the commitment made by the Government of Canada in the last throne speech.

In the September 2002 Speech from the Throne, the government announced its intention to make changes to existing programs The government will also modify existing programs to ensure that Canadians can provide compassionate care for a gravely ill or dying child, parent or spouse without putting their jobs or incomes at risk.

These commitments show the government's concern with the difficulties being faced by many Canadians in balancing work and family.

There is no question about my colleague having his heart in the right place. He is concerned about the difficult situation being faced by nearly one in four Canadian workers. These workers or other family members are looking after a family member who is elderly, disabled or seriously ill.

My colleague's deep concern for these devoted people who are having to reconcile family responsibilities and work pressures is obvious. Theirs is a superhuman task.

It is also undeniable that the efforts required to establish this balance among all one's obligations, often incompatible obligations, is a heavy burden for many Canadians. We know that close to half of all Canadians experience average, if not high, occupational stress levels. That figure is close to twice what it was 10 years ago. We also know that women who have to reconcile work and family responsibilities are twice as likely to experience considerable stress.

This personal conflict does not only impact on individual health and well being, although this is enough of a concern in itself. Mental or physical health problems also have repercussions on the economy.

These repercussions are directly related to job satisfaction, to loss of interest in the organization and burnout, which can ultimately lead to someone leaving their job. Work-related absences represent approximately 20 million work days and $2.7 billion annually for Canadian businesses.

Taxpayers are affected too: health care spending is increasing. The cost to the Canadian health care system resulting from the difficulties of balancing work and family life has been estimated at over $425 million per year.

What concerns me is that the proportion of employees caring for both elderly parents and children has risen from 9.5% to 15% over the past decade. Given these demographic trends, the situation can only get worse. That is why the Romanow and Kirby reports recommend that the Government of Canada ensure income support and job security for caregivers.

What the member is trying to accomplish with Bill C-206 is an act of compassion worthy of praise. There is no doubt that we must look at this issue.

In the Speech from the Throne, the government recognized the vital importance of job protection and income support to workers whose family is in crisis because, for example, a loved one is seriously ill or dying.

I think that it is not acceptable to any of the members that 56% of Canadians dealing with these types of responsibilities must take time off work without pay.

That is why Human Resources Development Canada is developing policy options for a new leave for family reasons. Our first goal will be to effectively meet the needs of Canadian workers and their families.

We made a commitment to change our existing programs to allow Canadians to provide care for their child, spouse or parent who is seriously ill or dying.

I would like to mention one concern I have regarding Bill C-206: the fact of having to choose between work and providing care for a family member.

On this point, I am very happy that the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore was open to amendments to his bill. This is something that could be done in standing committee.

According to the amendment proposed, people would have to leave their job or be laid off in order to receive employment insurance benefits.

I am sure that all members would agree that the last thing we want is for Canadians to have to choose between their job and being a caregiver for a family member who is seriously ill.

The new compassionate leave that our government is proposing would allow Canadians to miss work temporarily to provide care for a child, spouse or parent who is seriously ill or dying.

The benefits the government is considering providing would add to the support measures intended for families who need them the most. This would avoid having vulnerable families slip into poverty. This would also help Canadian companies keep their skilled employees, an issue of great importance for all employers at a time when the labour pool is diminishing and there are not enough qualified workers. Our compassionate approach to people's personal problems will contribute to a more productive economy.

Our initiative will also meet one of the key recommendations of the Romanow report and will help to achieve the targeted results in a federal jurisdiction.

I can assure the hon. members that we are consulting with provincial and territorial governments, employers and stakeholders in order to move forward with this initiative. We are confident that we will have their support.

According to a recent COMPAS survey, 60% of CEOs and senior managers of companies are in favour of the government providing temporary financial support to employees who have to stay away from work in order to take care of members of their immediate family who are seriously ill.

I should also point out that according to surveys, Canadian companies have adjusted well to the extended parental leave that we implemented a year ago to promote balance between family and work.

Of course we are well aware of the cost of such programs and we want to create a program suited to the most practical needs of Canadians.

We understand our colleague's generosity of spirit. We must turn good intentions into good results for Canadians who have to cope with serious family health problems. Our goal is to come up with an effective and economical initiative that will meet needs yet be flexible and practical.

Let us make no mistake. The Government of Canada fully recognizes the challenge faced by many Canadian workers. We are determined to give them the support they need to cope with this difficult situation.

I am certain that the new leave for family reasons that is being developed will take into account the hon. member's concerns. I hope I can count on his support.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-206. My colleague from Medicine Hat has already spoken to the bill. He is the critic for us in this area, but I also want to add my voice.

Bill C-206 is an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act for persons who leave employment to be caregivers for family members. First I want to first congratulate the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore for bringing forward this issue. I believe that every member of the House appreciates the hardship and adversity families face when one of their relatives is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Such families are confronted with very hard choices over how to care for that relative while at the same time providing for themselves and other family members. Those who choose to care for their own relatives are very courageous and deserve support from the state. This was recognized by both Kirby and Romanow in their reports.

Members of the Canadian Alliance strongly believe that the family is the essential building block of society. We therefore find merit in the idea of government assistance to Canadians who choose to leave a paying job to care for a terminally ill family member at home. I must say that this is already done by many people. They may not be leaving a paying job, but this kind of care is done regularly across the country even at this time.

Certainly the proposed legislation would reduce the financial stress for people who find themselves in that situation. In addition, such a program could provide substantial savings for public health care budgets. However, the primary issue is a recognition that the social and emotional benefits of loved ones caring for each other far outweigh placing an individual in institutionalized care.

By tying such assistance to the employment insurance program, however, the bill flies in the face of a Canadian Alliance conviction that the EI system has gone astray from its original objective to be a safety net for laid off workers. When the program was designed, the premiums were supposed to match the payouts. However, since its inception all kinds of new features have been tacked on and the Auditor General has raised objections that the intent of the Employment Insurance Act is no longer respected, particularly in regard to premiums equalling benefits. We in this party believe that EI should be brought back to a true insurance program for job loss.

I understand the desire on the part of some members to attach this initiative to the employment insurance program. The overcharging of employers and employees for this program resulted in a $40 billion surplus at the end of the last fiscal year. This is $25 billion over what is required as a cushion by the chief actuary of Human Resources Development Canada, who says that $15 billion would be adequate to withstand any economic downturn.

Of course we as parliamentarians know that this is a surplus only on paper, because EI funds flow directly into general revenue. The $25 billion extra in surplus has already been spent, mainly to pay off the debt, according to Dale Orr of the economic forecasting firm Global Insight. Even if the EI surplus were just sitting there, the Canadian Alliance believes the solution is not to tack on more spending initiatives to the program. Rather, the federal government should stop overcharging employees and employers and substantially lower premiums to reflect the benefits paid out.

Funding compassionate leave through the EI system has other drawbacks. I think it is important to point them out, because this may be well intended but may not have been thought out by the people proposing the legislation. It arbitrarily screens out those who are ineligible for EI: the self-employed. I do not believe that Canadians would support the disqualification of farmers, small business owners, contractors, consultants and truckers from such a worthy social program. They would be left out in the cold. Also, as the trend in business is toward hiring workers as independent contractors rather than employees, the pool of the excluded would likely increase dramatically over time. The same situation applies to parental leave, frankly, which we in the Canadian Alliance believe should be a separate program and not part of the EI system.

In addition, due to the demographics of an aging population, there is a very real possibility that attaching compassionate leave to EI may in time overburden the system, requiring premium hikes down the road.

In conclusion, I believe the intent behind Bill C-206 is on the mark and I applaud my colleague for his work on this issue. However, the fatal flaw of the legislation before the House today is that it uses the employment insurance system as its funding instrument. This initiative needs to be further studied and debated. In my view, the compassionate leave would be better financed through some joint provincial-federal agreement. I therefore cannot support the bill itself. I certainly believe in the intent, but the bill itself, in attaching it to EI, is not acceptable to the Canadian Alliance.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak in the debate on Bill C-206, which seeks to amend the Employment Insurance Act to allow persons qualifying as caregivers to leave their job to care for a family member.

The member's objectives in introducing this bill are highly commendable. For quite some time, we have looked for a way to help caregivers help their family. We know that there is no better caregiver than a family member to help someone who is ill either regain their health or die with dignity.

We also know that a program for caregivers would take a huge load off the health care system, the CLSCs and the clinics providing home care and so forth. Therefore, the principle of the bill is a good one.

The definitions are set out in section 1. Caregivers, clearly, are persons leaving their job—it says who leave their employment voluntarily or whose employment is terminated—but who want to care for a family member who is ill or who has an impairment as defined in the Income Tax Act.

Next, the bill gives a definition of family. Again, I see no problem with the way family is defined.

But I do see a problem with the fact that families are getting smaller and smaller and, quite often, caregivers have no family ties with the person they are in a position to care for.

There are all sorts of reasons. Perhaps they are neighbours who have become friends, or they are co-workers, one of whom has no family and the other of whom is able to help.

Families are much smaller than they used to be. The bill refers to siblings, uncles, aunts and so on, but nowadays many families are having only one child. We also must consider the fact that family members are not always very close.

There used to be the family unit and everyone lived together. It was not uncommon to see only a handful of surnames in a village. Nowadays, young people often have to leave the region they were born in to look for work elsewhere and they end up very far away. Parents stay all alone. Thought should be given to a mechanism that would allow the concept to be expanded so that someone who is truly close to the person in difficulty could come to their assistance.

There is something else that should be considered. I personally would be very much in favour of this bill being passed by the majority of the members in the House so that we can send the bill back to committee, study it in depth and look at how it could be improved in order to fund this program.

The hon. member from the Canadian Alliance said that it was a problem to take money from the EI fund. Certainly, if this leave were reserved only for people receiving EI benefits, there will be a problem. There are an increasing number of self-employed workers. They need to have access to the necessary funds to be able to become natural caregivers too.

Given that the EI fund has surpluses in the billions, maybe it would be good if the government could come up with a mechanism to transfer part of the EI surplus into a fund to run this program. It would be accessible to all Canadians who may have a certain type of need.

Sometimes a natural caregiver may incur expenses when leaving home to take care of someone else, even if they live close by. Perhaps there could be a way to help the natural caregiver even if he or she is not receiving employment insurance benefits.

The various aspects of this problem need to be looked at. We will most definitely have an increasingly aging population, and will need more help to take care of them. It seems to me important for a mechanism to be found that is adaptable enough to enable everyone to benefit from the program.

For example, we do not want to get into the same bind as with maternity benefits and special sick leave benefits, which are related to workers' accumulated leave, workers who have a job and can draw employment insurance. The program to be developed for natural caregivers must go far beyond that and be capable of encompassing all Canadians.

I am convinced that, if we all support this bill at second reading stage, if we refer it to a committee for consideration and for the necessary hearings to be held so that people can put in their two cents worth, we will really have done something worthwhile. The government will perhaps decide after all that to reverse its position and say to itself, “Now, to move ahead with this bill about caregivers, it strikes us as important to redraft it and produce one that reflects all the comments that have been made”. So, one day, we will truly be able to help out natural caregivers.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure to say a few words today on Bill C-206, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

We are told that the purpose of the bill is to allow a person who receives employment insurance to care for a family member with an impairment, or who loses a job because of the conflicting demands of the job in the workplace to get up to 52 weeks of employment insurance.

Many groups across the country, especially in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, would support this bill because it takes a great deal of pressure off the already ailing health care system. Also it gives us an opportunity to see something very rare in this country. It gives us the opportunity to see the provincial government get a break and probably the opportunity to upload onto the federal government for a change. That would be a very positive step indeed.

I was very disappointed to hear that the Alliance will not support this bill. This bill would help out families right across the nation. The Alliance tries to be known as a party of the family, but it has no intention of supporting the bill, which is shameful.

I want to congratulate my colleague, the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, who initiated this bill. I wish I had done it instead of him but I do want to congratulate him for it because it is a very good move indeed.

In general, we can support this initiative as a party. I have always been in favour of laws and policies that respect and enhance the well-being of the family which is one of society's main building blocks.

The bill has some very good points. It restricts the role of caregiver to that of a close family member: a spouse, a common law partner, a child, a grandchild, a sibling. This is very positive. In other words, strangers need not apply. The bill covers family matters. It is not extended to the commercial home care enterprises. That is good because it protects the integrity of the bill itself.

The impairment involved must also meet the requirements of the Income Tax Act. If the government's definition is as strict as what it uses for the disability tax credit, we can be assured that we are not in any danger of having a major run on the EI account.

The caregiver has to have a major attachment to the workforce. In other words, someone who barely or rarely qualifies for EI benefits cannot use the caregiver provisions as a method of getting up to 52 weeks of employment insurance benefits.

The provision is not open-ended. A person cannot draw EI under this provision for more than 52 weeks in total in one or more periods over a two-year period. The bill makes provision for an extension of the 52-week period if a doctor certifies that the care provided is necessary for the health and safety of the person with the impairment or it has made it possible for the person with the impairment to avoid becoming an in patient in a hospital or a long term care facility.

Finally, the bill requires any wages earned during the caregiver period to be deducted from the weekly EI benefits.

This is a good bill. I am hopeful the government will see fit to support it. I understand the bill will go to committee. Who knows, maybe a few changes will be made at that juncture.

In view of the fact that the government has been thinking out loud of late as to the possibility of covering home care under medicare, this bill certainly is in line with that thinking. It has the additional benefit of the home care being given by a close family member, which is very important to the individual receiving the care.

I want to revert to a part of the bill that requires a doctor's certificate for an extension of benefits over and above the 52 weeks stipulated over the two year period. It is not made clear in the bill, and hopefully it will be when it gets to committee, that a doctor's certificate is not required initially for the individual to get home care. That is one little thing we will probably have to look at. Hopefully when it is in committee some adjustment will be made.

It is a very good bill and we have absolutely no hesitation in supporting it. The bill will provide compassionate home care for family members. It will save money in the health care system and it will not be a very serious burden on the EI account. Unless and until home care is covered under medicare, this is a very good first step.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

York West Ontario


Judy Sgro LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this issue today. I thank the hon. member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore for raising such an important issue as compassionate care. It is something many of us on both sides of the House are very interested in. I am pleased that members in the opposition party share the same values as our government and support the same issues that concern us.

The very idea that is raised in this bill was broached in the September 2002 Speech from the Throne. In it the government clearly stated its intentions to modify existing programs to ensure that Canadians are able to provide compassionate care for a gravely ill or dying child, parent or spouse without putting their income or jobs at risk.

While we applaud the member's open-hearted desire to extend benefits to cover care not only for immediately family but also for aunts and uncles, brothers, sisters, step relations and inlaws, we as the government must be fiscally responsible. We have to ask the question, has the hon. member tallied the potential costs of implementing the amendments proposed in Bill C-206? It is one thing to have one's heart on an issue but at the same time as one's heart is on an issue, one has to look at what the costs will be to the government and to taxpayers.

These costs would involve not only direct payments to caregivers but also the loss of the labour market of workers. In addition, employers would face added costs in seeking, hiring and training new employees.

Besides Bill C-206's wide scope of both duration of benefits and definition of eligibility, we also have to question the need for a person to quit or to be laid off in order to be eligible for benefits. Is this the way to go? I think it needs more work and more discussion.

Canadians want to work and they do not want to be faced with either of these decisions. It goes directly against the government's continuous efforts to support labour force attachment. In fact, the principle of encouraging Canadians to find and keep work was at the heart of the 1996 reform of the Employment Insurance Act. The working world is perilous enough without encouraging workers to leave it in the hope that when they are able to return, there will be a job waiting for them.

The government is compassionate. We recognize the stress caused by balancing home and work demands. We are constantly seeking ways to lighten this burden.

It was for this reason that we extended maternity and parental benefits from six months to a full year. The temporary support employment insurance provides insures against the risk of losing one's job completely as a result of a family situation.

As the Speech from the Throne indicated in September, we intend to put the same effort into finding solutions for persons caring for a gravely ill close relative as we put into finding appropriate solutions for workers caring for their new children.

It does mean that we must look at the broad spectrum of government programs. It means that we have to look at all of the issues facing Canadians, including family, work and health. It means recognizing that people's lives are not neatly compartmentalized and that the same person is a worker, a parent and very often a caregiver.

We know that nearly three-quarters of the population of Canada who provide care to frail seniors are also employed and that the proportion of employees caring for both elders and children has almost doubled in the last decade. Caregiving is an issue that confronts a large segment of the population. It is also an issue that crosses the boundaries of work, family and health.

Commissioner Romanow in his recent report stated that home care quite simply could not exist in Canada without the support of social networks and informal caregivers. He noted that as much as 85% to 90% of home care is provided by family and friends.

When workers are faced with this degree of home care responsibilities, conflicts between work and care are bound to rise. Both the Kirby and the Romanow reports have raised the issue of income support and job protection for family caregivers.

I ask members to please note that these reports have linked both of those issues. They have not suggested, as Bill C-206 does, that choices should be made between work and caregiving. The government is examining just how to support people caught in this work/care dilemma.

We believe that an appropriate solution would be to design a measure that directly supports family caregivers. This measure would also permit Canadians to take a temporary absence from work to care for gravely ill immediate family members without fear of sudden income loss or job loss.

We welcome this opportunity to debate and explore solutions to the problems faced by employed caregivers. Bill C-206 gives us all the opportunity to enter into this debate and to look for the solutions needed to move it forward. We strongly believe that the federal government has an opportunity to lead by example in providing temporary income support and job security to working caregivers.

We are, of course, very conscious of the costs of such programs. The challenge parliamentarians have is to turn good intentions into good results for Canadians facing family health crises. The government's objective is to design a cost effective initiative that is responsive, flexible and practical.

In regard to the member who introduced Bill C-206, I think it speaks well of just what a caring individual he is. He has put the work into this private member's bill to put it on the floor and to move this debate along. Hopefully in the near future we will be able to have a program that meets the needs of Canadians and recognizes the challenges that many people are facing today.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member from the opposite side for her comments about this important bill. I also want to mention a comment made to me by one of her colleagues as I entered the House. The member talked about a situation that he faced 10 years ago. A mother came to him and said that she had a son who was dying. She wanted to stay home with her son, but she was not able to collect unemployment insurance. The only alternative was for her son to go into the hospital. There he went, at a cost of $400 a day, and that is where he died.

When we think about that, it is so tragic at all levels, because in fact if she could have stayed home with her son the cost at that time would have been $50 a day, I think, to pay for unemployment insurance while she stayed at home and cared for her son as he left the world. It would have been the perfect thing to happen. Everybody would have won. The hospital would not have had to pay out that additional money and we all know in our hearts that if someone is dying they should be with their loved ones in a home situation. That is what the bill is all about. It would institute a system which is caring and which meets the needs of Canadian families.

I am very proud that I have a colleague here who has done the work on this. He has in fact put it together in a way such that I think we can all see its possibilities and how it could in fact work to benefit all of us through a system that is already in place, the unemployment insurance system, which is there to provide insurance for people when they need to take time off, for example, to be with their newborn, which is something that the government has very rightly instituted recently, and a very progressive program it is. This bill is another piece of that program. It is at the other end of the spectrum, when people are leaving the world. Why not institute it at that point in the human journey as well?

I wish to express my thanks for this important bill and for the comments we have heard throughout the evening. The bill has had a very welcoming reception and I look forward to it going further, with more debate.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise today to speak to the bill from my colleague from Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, and I echo the compliments that have been given to him about his social conscience.

Tonight we are debating private member's Bill C-206 concerning EI benefits for persons who are caregivers for family members. There is no doubt that the issue of compassionate care and the need to find a way to provide support and job protection for workers who have to take time off to care for very ill or infirm family members is a key one for the House to consider. We know that everyone has a stake in workplace issues: employees and unions, employers and governments, and social commentators, for example. Virtually all have identified the need for some kind of compassionate leave program for Canadians who have to be away from work to provide needed care for family members.

We have a lot of evidence to look at. For example, almost one in four Canadian workers say that they or others in their households provide care to an elderly, disabled or seriously ill family member. We also know that almost half of Canadians feel moderate to high work/life stress. This is almost double the rate of a decade ago. We know that women are more than twice as likely to feel the stress of trying to blend work and personal responsibilities. Workers with dependant care responsibilities, such as children or elderly relatives, report even more conflicts between work and life than their fellow employees. The member raises an issue that is of great concern to Canadians and that is already high on the government's priority list.

There are numerous ways to look at this issue. To some it is an issue of work and life balance. To others it is an issue of workers' rights. More recently it was identified as a health care issue. For example, both Romanow and Kirby looked at it in the context of the health care system. Mr. Romanow told us that as much as 85% to 90% of home care is provided by family and friends. His report concludes that home care could not exist in Canada without the support of social networks and informal caregivers. Senator Kirby too recognized the fundamental role played by family caregivers in home care. His report specifically recommends that benefits be provided to employed Canadians who choose to take leave from work to provide palliative care.

The government appreciates the views presented in these reports and accepts that attention to the issue of support for family caregivers is an important element of the overall health care agenda, but we also see this as a key workplace issue, especially in the context of looming skill shortages in many Canadian workplaces.

We have some facts that illustrate the extent of this issue in Canadian workplaces. First, we know that 56% of family caregivers also work full time and another 12% work part time. We also know the following: 69% of women with children under 16 are part of the employed labour force; 75% of males and 62% of females who provide care to seniors are employed; and the proportion of employees caring for both elders and children is going up dramatically, in the past decade increasing by 9.5%, to 15%. One survey showed that 77% of Canadian workers who care for gravely ill family members have had to take some time off to provide compassionate care.

The need to balance caregiving and workplace responsibilities is one that has impacts on many individual Canadian workers and their workplaces and, given the demographics of our population, it seems safe to assume that the extent of the impact on individual workplaces will continue to grow.

The issue of being able to provide compassionate care and still stay attached to the workforce is one that has important implications for the labour market of this country. Our objective must be to make sure that the valuable skills and experience of employees continue to be available to the labour market. At the same time, we should try to support their need to meet vital caregiving responsibilities.

In other words, the government's response to this issue should meet workers' needs for temporary income support while they are away from work but at the same time should allow them to stay attached to the labour market. Governments are not alone in seeing this need. Employers too are recognizing the growing need to provide temporary leave to meet family responsibilities. For example, a survey of medium sized to large businesses showed that 59% offered some kind of family responsibility leave, although only about half had a formal policy. The survey also showed that typical employer workplace supports are largely unpaid, informal and very short term. In other words, there is growing recognition of the need for temporary workplace support for caregivers but not yet a systematic approach.

As we look at the issue from the perspective of the government, some key considerations emerge. First, although representatives of both employers and employees acknowledge the need for some kind of program to allow workers to balance their work and family responsibilities, no systematic response to the problem appears to be forthcoming from the private sector. Second, the typical need is for a temporary form of income support which will ensure that workers can retain their attachment to the labour force. Third, any solution must be affordable. Fourth, a program response from the federal government should involve both the public and the private sectors.

These are the key considerations that are guiding the government as an appropriate response is developed to meet the throne speech commitment to deal with this issue. I once again compliment the member for his work in the social field in raising this important subject for us to deal with in the House.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I must inform the hon. member for London West that there are four minutes before we call the hour for private members' business.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will take four minutes now although that does not give me enough time to say what I would like to say about the bill.

I am very pleased that we are having this debate. I believe in compassionate care. I believe that with an aging population our country will have a need for it. Our demographics show us that by 2011 our population over 65 will have increased by 23%.

Who will be giving care? Typically it will be women. Who are these women? They are working in homes right now. We have changed over time.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

An hon. member

Right on.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Yes, and I have my financial hat on too. With my financial hat on, I must say to my hon. colleague that as it is written now, the bill would be very expensive. It would be coming out of a fund. However, I am saying that there is a need and I think that we can work toward this as a goal. I would like to see that coming very soon, but I am not in agreement with the way my friend's bill is currently written. However, I can assure the hon. member who sponsored the bill that as for the cause we can reach agreement over time with consultation.

Right now in Canada there is a void. What comes under the labour code? Only a couple of provinces are taking part. I have done some research. Apparently only six provinces in this country provide a short term period of unpaid leave when someone has extreme family responsibilities and/or emergencies and must provide for relatives. One of the problems I have with my friend's bill is that the definition of “relative” is pretty broad, but again, these are details and we can work on details.

The numbers of unpaid leave days under labour code protection right now are: three in New Brunswick; five in British Columbia; five, apparently soon to be doubled to ten, in Quebec; seven in Newfoundland and Labrador; ten in Ontario and twelve in Saskatchewan. If a person's mother or father has cancer, that leave will just not fix things.

One of the other areas I am concerned with is women working outside the home and the additional stress there will be if they have to quit a job. I am looking at something that still has a labour attachment, not a voluntary quitting. I think we add and stockpile stress in a home situation if we have to quit a job. We do not need that. Again, I think there are ways to work this out. All of us here can do things that are realistic, that can meet real needs inside families and that do not deprive workforces of highly skilled and trained individuals, including those men and women who must do caregiving in their homes. In fact, 81% of Canadians feel somewhat the same about this. When approached on this issue, they say that there should be a role for the federal government in this.

Now it is a temporary replacement, and I will be the devil's advocate here. I will argue that if I am the sick person, I am not entitled to the 52 weeks that this bill provides for the caregiver, with potential extensions, but quite substantially less than that. This is another issue that we will have to grapple with.

I am glad to have had the opportunity to participate today. I will be involved as this bill, or an alternate bill of the government, moves along. I suggest that we all work toward getting the issue resolved.