Mr. Speaker, I rise today to ask the government to give an account regarding the compassionate care program.
As we know, the compassionate care program is a program that was established and announced in the Speech from the Throne in 2002 and again in the budget speech of the following year. It has been with us for about two years now. It is there to provide financial assistance, EI benefits, to those who qualify and those who have a dying family member, so that they can spend the last six weeks of the life of that dying person providing compassionate care. It is a program that is built on the right premise but, unfortunately, the government has to give an answer, hopefully tonight, why it is not implementing that in a fair and compassionate way.
I have a 43-year-old woman in my riding of Langely who is dying. Her sister, Sue, had been taking care of her mother. Then she became diagnosed with cancer. Her sister came down from the Okanagan to take care of her and applied for compassionate care. As I said, it is a program for family members to take care of loved ones. Sue's family was told that her sister did not qualify for this program because the government did not consider a sister or a brother a member of the family. The family members were devastated by that news and they appealed it.
Since I brought this to the attention of this House, we have found numerous Canadians who have had the same treatment from the government, where it has said, “No, sorry, you're not going to be able to have that compassionate care. Sisters and brothers do not qualify. They are not considered family”.
We even had a dying woman whose sister-in-law was denied the compassionate care. She had no family left. Her husband and children had died. The sister-in-law was the only one to provide the care and the government said no.
We brought this to the attention of the minister in January. It will take about four months, by regulation, to make the changes. Actually, I am asking to let the dying person choose who is going to provide that care. The government has had ample time to solve this problem, to fix the legislation, and it keeps refusing.
We have been told that it is under review. So I asked to meet with the persons who were doing the review. I met with them last week and was told that they were aware of these problems and that the minister had the discretion to start the proceedings to fix the problem. The question is, why is the minister not doing anything?
Almost every week, I talk to the minister and I ask, “Are you going to do something now?” And it is always the same answer, “I'll deal with it when I want to deal with it”. These people do not have an unlimited amount of time for the government to dither. These people are dying and they need a loving one to take care of them. When will the government do the right thing?
The appeal board is called the board of referees. It made a decision which said:
The Board finds that there is no compassion in a piece of legislation that would not specifically prescribe a sibling to be a family member--
This Board believes that the failure of the Commission and the Minister to act swiftly in these matters of Compassionate Care amendments has only served to exacerbate the suffering endured by families as they care for a dying family member.
The Board believes the Minister and the Commission, in their failure to act urgently to rectify the inadequacies of the Compassionate Care legislation, can be viewed as being neglectful of the trust reposed in them.
I have met with the chairs of these boards of appeal. Both chairs are criticizing the government. Everybody is waiting. When will the government do the right thing?