Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave). I thank the member for Compton—Stanstead for tabling this important legislation.
The bill would amend the Canada Labour Code to allow employees to take unpaid leave from work for the following family-related reasons: (a) the inability of their minor child to carry on regular activities because the child suffers a serious physical injury during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence; (b) the disappearance of their minor child; (c) the suicide of their spouse, common-law partner or child; and (d) the death of their spouse, common-law partner or child during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence.
The bill would also amends the Employment Insurance Act to allow these employees to receive benefits while on leave.
Very clearly I support this bill. It is a very important improvement to our social service network in Canada. I support the bill because I believe it is a significant measure that would help people who are victims of crime.
We hear a lot of talk in this place, especially from the Conservatives, about supporting victims of crime, but here we have a measure that is a real and tangible assistance. It is very important to note that the member for Compton—Stanstead has gone out ahead of the pack, ahead of the government on this issue and developed an idea that has real meaning for victims of crime.
Helping people in these circumstances, when someone they love, a child, a spouse or partner, is directly affected by a criminal act or when they take their own life is most appropriate. It is one of those areas where we, working collectively as a community, can act to be of significant assistance.
Ensuring that people have time, that their employment is protected and that they have income, while they deal with the consequences of a serious crime, is a good thing. The member for Compton—Stanstead put it very well in her speech, when she said:
We know very well that suicide, violent crimes and disappearances are tragic events that are very difficult for the families of the victims. These events cause great psychological distress for many relatives and parents. The victims’ families wait and worry, mourn and frequently feel depressed, often over extended periods of time. In cases of murders and disappearances in particular, more than two years can pass between the criminal act and the resolution of the investigation. During this period, family members are deeply affected. They cannot pursue their regular activities. They have access to support and help, but they have no financial support. Additional financial worries are the last thing they need.
The member put it very eloquently in that quote from her speech in the first hour of debate on the bill. We know there are many needs associated when families are victims of crime in our society. We know there are many ways we can offer assistance. We know there are gaps in that assistance. The bill goes a significant way to fill one of those major gaps.
There are some people who would say that we cannot afford such a measure, and we have heard that kind of commentary from the government benches. I would say we cannot do without it. We cannot afford not to do it. It is very important.
Others will say that it is too generous, that it places too much of a demand on employment insurance resources. That is nonsense.
We know that in the past the federal government has collected far more in EI premiums and employer contributions than was ever spent on the program. I think $57 billion is the figure to be exact. That money could have easily be spent on improving the EI program, protecting workers, supporting families and communities, but Liberals and Conservatives used it to pay off the deficit that they were responsible for running up.
We could have had a program that supported workers during a recession. We could have expanded EI to assist workers when their families were victims of crime. However, no, that money was taken from workers and employers. We were told it would be used for EI, but it used for another purpose altogether. That was not right or fair.
The bill before us today shows us an appropriate use for the EI fund. I doubt that few workers, when pressed, would not support helping others in the way the bill proposes.
The current Conservative government seems to be heading down that road again, where we are increasing premiums for workers and employers, increasing the payroll taxes that they pay for EI. That measure was announced in the recent budget, and it will come in this coming year. Employers and employees will pay more into the EI program starting next year, there again, building a new surplus in the program. It is predicted to balloon to $19 billion in only a few years.
This might be okay if the money were being directed toward improvements in the EI program, but there is no guarantee of that in what has been proposed. If more people were made eligible for EI, if the qualifying periods were reduced, that would be a good thing, but that is not what will go on here. If the benefits paid to unemployed people were improved, that would be a good thing, but, again, that is not what has been proposed with this increase. If the waiting period were eliminated, that would be a good thing too, but, again, that is not proposed by the government with its increase in payroll taxes.
We know that is not the intention of what will happen with the increase in EI premiums. Again, we are about to face 800,000 Canadians ending their EI claims, coming off EI in the next few months and there is no program in place to extend that, no program to continue or extend support for those people. Many Canadians are going to be in crisis as a result of that. If we were using the resources that are collected from Canadian workers and employers to improve the EI program, that would be one thing, but there is no plan to do that.
I think Canadian workers and employers would accept increases if they knew there was a benefit to be had, if there were a benefit to workers who might lose their job, if there were a benefit to employers to ensure that the people who work for them would be taken care of, if there were a benefit to communities to ensure that people would continue to have an income to spend in those communities to support other businesses and local economies. There is not much question that Canadian workers and employers would support that kind of program.
The bill would provide a very specific benefit. It would provide benefits to workers and families who have been victims of crime. We know that is a very significant moment in anyone's life and it is a time when they can use all the support and consideration that can be mustered for them. The bill would be a significant addition to that.
We know employers would benefit from this kind of measure. Employers would not necessarily lose employees in whom they might have invested training, who knows their business, who knows how to do the job. If they are the victim of a crime and are forced to leave that position, there is a loss to employers, a loss to a business in that situation. The bill would help to ensure that does not happen in the future.
The bill would also assist communities because communities want to help people who are in these circumstances. They want to ensure that their neighbours are taken care of. They want to ensure that the people next door have the support they need when this kind of tragedy strikes them. The bill would provide those benefits. Therefore, it is a very significant measure in that way.
I am happy the Canadian Labour Congress has supported an earlier version of the bill. I am sure it supports this bill too. It knows it is a measure that supports Canadian workers and improves the lives of workers and communities. It knows it supports the Canadian economy, that it supports Canadian employers and that is why it has given this measure its support.
We know it is of limited scope. The Canada Labour Code, unfortunately, only affects certain workers in Canada, workers in federal jurisdiction, people who work in transportation, communications and banking for instance. However, this would set a new standard for support of workers, one that hopefully other provinces will copy. We know Quebec has certain programs in place already, but this will stimulate activity to support families and workers who are the victims of crime in other jurisdictions. It is a measure on which we should move forward.
Again, I want to thank the member for introducing the legislation and I am happy to say that I will be supporting it.