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House of Commons Hansard #74 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was international.

Topics

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dennis Mills Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to compliment the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. This bill represents a piece of public policy whose time has come.

I must go back to an experience that I had in my own riding approximately one year ago where I put out a request to my constituents asking them what they believed some of the priority issues would be, should be, that I would take to our Liberal policy convention which was to happen in June of last year. One of the top three messages that came to our policy team was the whole issue of compassionate leave of absence for respite caregivers. We developed a resolution in the community and I would like to read it into the record:

Whereas the Government of Canada provides for parental leave of absence of up to one year, which allows a parent to nurture and care for a new member of the family and our Canadian society without jeopardizing employment status or career opportunities as an employee;

Whereas the Government of Canada does not formally recognize the importance or impact of family members or guardians providing respite care without jeopardizing employment status or career opportunities;

Whereas current and future generations of Canadians will require the Government of Canada to hold dear an individual's quality of life until the point of death and for caregivers to provide comfort and support to that point;

Be it resolved that the Government of Canada review compassionate leave of absence to employees or guardians providing respite care to family members as a mandate for review. The review period should not exceed two years for the purpose of establishing criteria, standards and timeframes for leave of absence.

The people of my community are 100% behind the member from Sackville on Bill C-206. In June 2001, of the 400 policy resolutions that were tabled for the Liberal Party of Ontario policy convention this resolution was accepted as one of the top 10 as a priority resolution. There is a will emerging within the Ontario wing of the Liberal Party that this issue be dealt with.

We must also acknowledge that in the last budget the Minister of Finance did put this issue on the radar screen. He made a great first step with six weeks. It is a start.

The House of Commons must really press the finance officials and the will of all members in the House, especially the ones who are obsessed with the fiscal framework. What they do not understand is that when we have to work to make a living and our parents or a family member is dying, if we cannot look after them what happens is that most often we put them into the hospital system. That is a heck of a lot more expensive.

First of all, we cannot even compare the quality of care to a loved one looking after us. But the cost to the health care system, when people are just put into a hospital because they have no alternative, is really a heck of a lot more expensive than what the member is proposing in Bill C-206.

I wish to congratulate the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. Let us continue to press the will of the House to ensure that in this term, before we go back to the people, within the next two years that this becomes one of those pieces of legislation that is a fond memory of all of us collectively doing something special in this Parliament.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-206, an act that would amend the Employment Insurance Act concerning persons who leave their employment in order to look after their loved ones at home.

I agree with the previous speaker that this legislation is very important. This opens up the debate on exploring some of the new alternatives that must be looked at as we move forward into the 21st century if we are to protect our health care system.

I wish to commend my colleague from Nova Scotia for bringing forward the bill before the House at this time so that we can at least begin debating it. I also wish to commend my colleague from Medicine Hat who led our party's response to this piece of legislation.

As senior health critic of the Canadian Alliance I would like to look at this issue primarily from a health perspective.

Canadians are a caring people. It is a value that we have as Canadians. In fact, as Canadians, we see our identity sometimes being wrapped around our health care system and the value of it. The value that we applaud and appreciate is the value that says that we will not lose our life savings because of an illness later in life, or at any time in our life. Because of that we collectively would like to pick up those costs for health care and have the one tier system. That is a value that we share.

Our American friends to the south have a different value. I am not here to judge their value. I am here to say that is not our value and we do not appreciate it. However, their value is a little different. They say they will look after people's health needs, in fact, they have terrific health care, but they have a terrible health care system, in the sense that they will take people's life savings before they give them treatment. Because of that, we do not share that value system and do not want that system. Nor do I hear any political party or hear any voices calling for that.

The value system that we have is saying that we should look after our people, regardless of their financial means. The Canadian Alliance will stand firmly behind those values.

We also have another problem; it is our aging population. An aging population means many of those who are facing the challenges later in life of becoming ill, as this bill will speak to, are having to be looked after by an institution, or by home care, or perhaps by a solution that is brought forward in this piece of legislation.

I am not here to say that the idea is wrong; the idea is right. We must explore all the ideas that we can possibly come up if we are to sustain the health care system as this aging population moves into the 21st century. It is important to take a little bit of time and describe exactly what we are facing in Canada as a health care system. We must realize that between the ages of 45 and 65 the average cost to the health care system in Canada right now is about $4,400 per person. However, between the ages of 65 to 75 that cost almost doubles, to over $7,000. And between the ages of 75 to 85 it doubles again, to almost $14,000. Those are just the bare facts of the dollars that go into health care right now without any of the exponential costs that we have seen. However, these costs are continuing to grow and becoming a real concern.

We can say that is fine, as people get older they access more dollars for health care. However, what we must put into that formula is an understanding of the demographics.

People who were born after the second world war are now reaching the age where they are getting into those high dollar costs of health care. As they hit our health care system we will have to come up with ideas that would have to go far beyond what this piece of legislation is proposing to be able to sustain our health care system. The numbers will keep increasing, until the year 2041, before we start breaking over the bubble where it starts relieving the demographic curve and we will have fewer people age 65 and over. From now until then we will have more individuals in Canada who are reaching the age of 65 and beyond. Therein lies a dilemma in our health care system and because of that we must start looking at it.

That draws me to the bill itself, the idea of compassionate leave for individuals to look after their loved ones at home.

Most Canadians want to be there for their loved ones, at the time of their greatest need. I also believe that those who have a terminal illness would prefer to live at home. They would prefer to be in their own environment where they would be the most comfortable with the least stress, have an easier time of it, and be looked after by those who love them the most rather than be in an institution where they would feel alienated.

From that perspective, I believe it is important that we look at this proposed legislation. As I said before, I applaud the member for bringing it forward.

Indeed many Canadians are already providing formal care in their homes. Most families are looking after their aged individuals. In fact a study has been done in Ontario by the Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens' Organization. It estimates that 85% to 90% of the home care is provided by family and friends. That means there are a great many individuals who are looking after those they love dearly. I salute each one of them who dedicates and sacrifices himself or herself for Canadians. It is very important that happens.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that care at home is actually more beneficial for the patient than care in institutions. It is also more cost effective.

When it comes to care at home, the care from family members is much more cost effective than formal care. I think that is very easy to understand. In fact my colleague from Medicine Hat, when he made his first comments on this proposed legislation, said that a constituent of his came to his office to talk to him about the bill. He said that the home care cost for his loved one per month would be $2,500. He said he could do that same job for $700.

When we look at Canadians, we can understand why this could be duplicated many times over which would relieve a lot of the costs.

However is it the right vehicle? Is it the right place from which we should be getting the money to deal with this? I would suggest that probably not. It may contribute to better health outcomes and enhance human dignity, and it is possibly less expensive. That is true when we look at the bill.

However should we be drawing the money from the EI program? That is where the bill and I differ. I do not believe EI was set up for that purpose. EI was set up for the purpose of employment insurance, which insures people for the times they are out of work. Individuals as well as corporations have paid into that program. In fact that program is in some ways an over taxation because of the amount of money brought in through that program and yet is not paid out through that program.

In fact the Auditor General has repeatedly criticized the government for pouring the EI funds into the consolidated revenue fund rather than establishing a separate self-sustaining EI account. I believe the Auditor General is right because the numbers are significantly more and it really amounts a higher tax than what it should be in the program.

Under the bill, it calls for 52 weeks on EI with a potential extension. We have to understand that the government's own pledge is only for a six week program. That would still add some further dimensions to the program.

We need further study to see if that is appropriate, with the right numbers and if it is flexible enough. All that needs to be taken into consideration. Because the compassionate leave is a health issue and because such leave is intended to address human health needs and would allegedly result in cost savings to the health care system, consideration should be given to the funding for compassionate leave being provided through federal and provincial health budgets and not employment insurance.

There is another example recommended in the Kirby report suggesting that perhaps the money should come from tax credits for supporting individuals at home. That is another way of accomplishing the same thing only in a little different way.

It is very important that we understand that this is perhaps an important bill. However even under the bill and even under the government's six weeks plan, we can see it would cost $86 million for the first year and $221 million for the second year. Therefore it is a very costly program.

If we are to sustain our health care system into the future, we will have to come up with ideas like this, not as expenses, but ideas that will drive efficiencies into the system or we will lose our health care system. It is very important that we open our eyes and examine all areas and ways to deal with our elderly and with the people who are ill in Canada.

I applaud the member for bringing forward this bill, but I would challenge him on using EI as the vehicle to pay for it.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief, because a lot has been said on this bill. I want to congratulate the hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore for his bill. I think that the Bloc Quebecois will support this legislation, even though our party does not impose a party line on private members' bills.

I understand what the hon. member is proposing in his bill. This is definitely a humanitarian measure to support families and informal caregivers. There is a whole series of legislative measures that provide government assistance and that allow a person to stay at home when that person becomes a new parent or adopts a child, whether it is here or abroad. However, nothing has been provided to help those who live with disabled persons, or who look after sick people or people who require palliative care and who are near the end of their lives.

The House would be well advised to support this legislation. It reflects a public health policy that provides that we should rely less and less on institutionalization. The Clair report in Quebec said so, and so did the Kirby report in the Senate and the Romanow report.

This is why, in the mid 1990s, the Quebec government made the shift to ambulatory care. What does this mean? It means recognizing the fact that increasingly people are living longer. As members know, we no longer talk about the old, but the very old. It is not rare, during the course of our activities as members of Parliament, to meet people who are 85 or 90. It is no longer exceptional in our society to meet people who are 90 years old.

When he launched the election campaign in Quebec, Premier Bernard Landry pointed out—since the Quebec government has made the work-family reconciliation initiative a major issue in that campaign—that a person born in 2003 has one chance in two of living to the age of 100. This shows how difficult it is for public authorities, health care professionals and parliamentarians to anticipate what home support services will be required.

The shift away from hospital care that happened in Quebec in the mid-nineties was aimed at unclogging hospitals and keeping people in their communities as long as possible. This is why hospital stays are being shortened and this is why we want more resources for CLSCs and we need natural caregivers. When we talk about natural caregivers, of course we mean immediate family members, but it can also mean members of the extended family, in-laws or friends.

Contrary to what our colleague from the Canadian Alliance was saying, I checked with the sponsor of the bill and I understand that the federal funds to be used will come from Human Resources Development Canada, since this measure is similar to the ones that exist for maternity leave, adoption leave and bereavement leave. This must be very clear.

The money will not come from provincial budgets either, which does not mean that we should not convince the provinces to introduce similar measures. This is why Pauline Marois, Quebec's Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance, wants the money from the employment insurance fund to be transferred to Quebec so that the province can have an integrated family policy. This kind of leave would obviously be part of such integrated family policy.

Therefore, this is an extremely positive measure that must be adopted, not only so that people can remain in their communities, but also because people obviously do not choose to be sick. There is not a single family that is immune from reversals of fortune. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. One can be healthy for most of his or her life and working, and then become sick. No one is immune to that, and people who participate actively in the labour market—even though they often have access to wage loss insurance—must be able to count on an extended network of people to help them, without financial worries.

I think this is the merit of the measure that our colleague is proposing. When illness strikes, it is catastrophic to people's lives. The person who decides to stand by in solidarity and take care of the person who is sick has to be protected by coverage.

The former leader of the NDP gave the example of taking care of her husband. I had a similar experience when I was an MP and my partner, who had AIDS, was at the terminal stage of the illness. However, I was not in financial difficulty.

When you earn more than $100,000 a year, you are relatively secure financially. But if you earn a modest income of $25,000, $30,000 or $35,000 a year, you do not have the means to forgo any of your salary. Often, you do not have the means to stop working.

There has to be coverage. In addition to the existing wage loss insurance and private policies, there are also the Human Resources Development Canada measures. I think this is an extremely positive measure, because we also know that this will result in savings for the public health systems.

In correspondence from the member, he pointed out that, according to the calculations, for every $1 devoted to the program, to be implemented if this House wishes it and it gains majority support, public health services will save $4 to $6. The provinces will therefore be the main beneficiaries of these savings.

We are aware of how much health systems devote to program spending. In Quebec, which is the situation I am most familiar with, the Ministry of Health obtains approximately $19 billion of a total budget of approximately $52 billion. Last year the figure was $17 billion, and this year it is $19 billion. That is obviously a considerable amount. It is the highest program expenditure the government has to make.

In closing I would point out that this is a bill with extremely strong support from significant groups of stakeholders in our society. I am thinking of the Victorian Order of Nurses, and of course the Newfoundland and Labrador health council. I am thinking of the Canadian Cancer Society. I am thinking of the various bodies that provide services to people with degenerative diseases.

I will be pleased to support the bill and to convince my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois to do the same. I believe it will be voted on next Tuesday.

This is a humanitarian measure which puts an extremely modern face on the health and social services system. Once again, I congratulate our colleague on this praiseworthy initiative.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair takes notice that there are a few members who still wish to speak. Cognizant of the fact that at 6.50 p.m. the Chair will have to put the question, if it is agreeable to the two members standing they could each have five minutes.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Laval West.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to speak on Bill C-206. It is legislation that certainly seeks to assist those who need help to be able to provide care to a close relative, father, daughter or son who is seriously ill.

However, with respect to this bill, the funds allocated under the 2003 budget deal specifically with this problem.

I can well understand the thinking of our hon. colleague, the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore who has worked so hard to advance Bill C-206. However, while I fully share the values of compassion, caring and dedication that lie behind his bill, I believe it has some serious shortcomings.

Our government has pledged in the Speech from the Throne to find a way so that workers will not have to choose between taking care of a family member and their job.

As usual, we were quick to deliver on our commitments. Actually, the government has announced in the 2003 budget the establishment of a six week leave with employment insurance benefits. This initiative seeks to ensure that Canadians can provide compassionate care for a seriously ill or dying child, parent or spouse without putting their job or income at risk.

Beginning in January 2004, six weeks of compassionate care benefits, along with eight weeks of Canada Labour Code job protection, will be available so eligible workers may take a temporary absence from work without fear of sudden income or job loss when a parent, spouse or child is dying or falls gravely ill.

Of course, at first glance, this leave may appear inadequate to my colleague, who is suggesting leave of up to 52 weeks. However, several analyses we conducted in the medical world showed that the average absence of a relative taking care of a seriously ill family member was six weeks. This is why the government suggested a six week leave paid by employment insurance.

Contrary to what my colleague from Vancouver East said, when she was drafting her bill, I am not so sure that our hon. colleague carefully researched the financial impact of her proposal on workers, employers and society as a whole.

Her bill includes not only close relatives such as children, parents, spouses, as does the government proposal, but also brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, as well as in-laws and step family members. This definition of family will be very costly for our society.

It gets worse when we consider the idea of impairment involved in the bill that applies to a wide range of care services entailing significant costs for Canadians.

I have noticed that no one here has mentioned any numbers. Let us talk numbers. Just to give members an idea, our compassionate care plan should cost the public purse approximately $86 million in 2003-04, and $221 million in 2004-05 and subsequent years. Clearly, Bill C-206, which would entitle more Canadians to this kind of leave and would make the leave almost nine times as long, would be very costly.

I do not believe that we as a country can afford this measure. The idea behind the measure is an idea that the government has already put forward and the government's position is one where we acknowledge the need, we try to answer the need, but there is certain limit to which we can go and this is a financial limit.

Bill C-206 runs contrary to the very principles on which we laid the new foundations of the employment insurance system, since it requires those who want to take care of their relatives to quit their job or be fired to be entitled to support.

The government proposal stresses that it is important for individuals to keep their jobs as long as possible. Unfortunately, I am out of time but, believe me, it is important to have a balanced approach.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I thank the member for Laval West for her cooperation under the circumstances.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rex Barnes Progressive Conservative Gander—Grand Falls, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me tonight to speak on Bill C-206. Of course my learned friend who brought it forward is a very kind and compassionate person. He cares about what happens to individuals all over the country.

People have to forget the fact that it is going to cost money. It will cost money up front, but we will save money in the long haul. We could sit down and talk about all the bills that come through the House, and when all is said and done, there is no bill that will affect people as much as this bill will. Bill C-206 is a bill for the people. It is an excellent, caring, compassionate bill, which we sometimes do not see from politicians. Today we have a chance as a country and as politicians to stand up and say that we care for the working people of this country in a way that we have never cared before.

We all know that the workplace is very stressful. For 22 years I worked as a front line worker in health care. That is a long time. I have seen a lot in 22 years. I have been with family members who cried, who had stress and who did not know where their next dollar would come from because they were too emotionally upset to work. They had no plan so that they could go off work and have some income. They did not know where their next dollar was coming from.

This bill gives them hope. Bill C-206 gives them some type of peace of mind for the future and the people they love and will care for.

Bill C-206 raises legitimate points. Certainly all members sympathize with and respect those who are left with no other choice but to leave their employment due to the illness of a family member. Whether it is a parent, a sibling or a child, it does not matter.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada certainly believes in assisting Canadians who are in need of help. Bill C-206 will bring a great sense of peace of mind to people who are in need. The government gives parental leave and maternity leave, so what is wrong with the government giving compassionate leave to the people who need it the most? Bill C-206 gives it to the people.

I know that the hon. member is looking for 52 weeks and I know that the Liberal government put 6 weeks in the budget. I commend the government for that. Six weeks is a good starting point. This is a good start to move forward to make the bill better than ever before.

I am sure we all know people who have been in situations where they could not go to work because of stress and because they wanted to take care of a loved one on the last leg of the journey. As a result, they did not know where they were going or if they would have any money.

Bill C-206 gives them hope. I could tell story after story of people whose lives have been torn apart, but unless people go through it themselves they do not really understand it. I have been through this experience with my father-in-law who had cancer. He was diagnosed in December and before the trout season began he passed away. The only reason the family had peace of mind was that there were family members in the house. One could afford to take time from work and there were two family members who were not working at the time and they spent every day and rotated shifts.

The bill would give those family members a chance to say, “I can take legitimate leave from work, stay off and take care of our loved ones”. The hon. member should be congratulated. We have an old saying: the people in this country should be kissing his feet, because we have a kind politician, a politician who means a lot to this country. We as politicians can change the time and change the image of politicians if we do things right. This is what it is all about.

All of us should vote in favour of the bill. No one should object to the bill. We should unanimously support the bill, give the people something that they rightly deserve and give them hope for the future.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Pursuant to order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of Bill C-206 are deemed put and a recorded division is deemed demanded and deferred until Tuesday, March 25 at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

It being 6:50 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:50 p.m.)