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.