Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-13, which recommends changes to employment insurance. The summary of the bill states:
This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act to extend the benefit period and the period during which parental benefits may be paid for Canadian Forces members whose period of parental leave is deferred or who are directed to return to duty from parental leave.
My party and I are certainly going to support this bill. We have to recognize that our troops, who are defending our country or democracy everywhere in the world on a Canadian mission, deserve to be given consideration in this regard, so that they are not penalized. If our soldiers had not gone overseas, they would have been able to take parental leave, for example, to be with their newborn child. That is so important.
Most of the people in the House of Commons are parents. In our day we did not have parental leave. Parental leave was something wonderful for our parents and it was wonderful for their children. We are living today in a world where both spouses work, and parents are not able to stay at home with a newborn child. The child is sent to a day care centre because the parents have to work. A bill like this one is appropriate. It would give parents the chance to stay with the child for the first year of his or her life. That is wonderful.
Our troops do us honour everywhere they go. The Bloc member clearly stated other benefits that we might give our troops. This is one benefit we can support.
The member who introduced this bill said that he knocked on a door and a soldier answered. It was that soldier who made him aware of this issue.
With respect to employment insurance, I can say we have knocked on many doors. People have made us aware of the problems they have with the employment insurance scheme and the problems it causes in society.
The government has a surplus of $57 billion to $60 billion in the employment insurance fund. This program is paid for entirely by workers. Many people are entitled to employment insurance. Given the eligibility criteria of a minimum of 420 hours or 840 hours worked, in the case of a first claim many people are excluded from the employment insurance system. For women, the same is true. Many women work part-time and cannot accumulate the number of hours required. They are not eligible for employment insurance.
Over 800,000 people in Canada pay into the employment insurance scheme but are not eligible because of the restrictions the government has imposed. The government is making piecemeal changes.
At the same time there are many other changes that the government could make. I know this is a bill for our troops, and I will come back to it quickly, but we have to look at the human element and the changes being requested.
There is the case of Marie-Hélène Dubé, who lives in Montreal North. She circulated a petition signed by 62,000 people that was presented here by a member of the Bloc Québécois. It asks that sick leave benefits be extended to 52 weeks.
We have to see the human side of this issue. People work their entire lives and then have the misfortune of falling ill. For example, a person who gets cancer has to take treatments prescribed by a specialist for a year. But after 15 weeks he or she no longer qualifies for employment insurance unless he or she works for a company that provides insurance. If that individual has no income, he or she is thrown on to welfare.
It is totally unacceptable that employees who have contributed into this program cannot qualify for benefits.
I want to return to what really happens on both sides, the military side and the civilian side. Beginning with the military side, the government says we should support our troops. There is nothing wrong with that. We should support our troops and we do, even though the Conservatives try to imply that the opposition does not support the troops because we disagree with them about some of the missions the government sends them on.
There is a difference between a mission and supporting the troops. We support our troops, but sometimes there are missions with which we disagree. We live in a democracy and have the right to express our views in the House of Commons. That is what we are elected to do, to express our views on things like this.
They ask us to support our troops, our veterans, our soldiers and our military personnel. Some soldiers are on disability and that was officially acknowledged by the army. I will give the House one example. As a result of a disability, this solder is put on the reserves, and I am not sure about the exact military term, and could stay there for three years with pay but without serving in the regular forces.
The government knew he was going to retire. He knew he would be finished with the forces at the end of May and would receive the official pension from the federal government. The army told him, though, that he would start getting his pension 8 to 12 weeks from then.
The Conservatives say we should support our troops and our veterans, but here I am forced to get involved. I have to ask National Defence why it needs 12 weeks to cut a cheque for a soldier when it has known for 3 years that he was going to retire. The cheque will not be ready at the end of May, and when he retires he will have to wait 12 weeks without any income. Is that how we support our troops?
Another soldier has been in the Canadian Forces for 20 years and would be retiring in three years. He says that because of the medical problem which the CF has recognized, he was put into another category and is no longer in the regular forces. He said that the military has known for 3 years that he would be taking his pension this month, but he was told that he would not be able to get his pension for at least 8 to 12 weeks from now. He wants to know, who will feed his family? Is that how we support our troops?
Our troops go to war, they defend our country, and they defend democracy around the world. When they come back, they need our support. I support Bill C-13 because it would give our soldiers, when they come back from a mission, a break of 52 weeks to spend with their families. They would receive parental leave, like any other Canadian.
For the purposes of subsection (3.01), a member of a police force who is a Canadian citizen in the employ of Her Majesty in right of Canada or a Canadian citizen under contract with the Government of Canada, and who has been deployed as part of a mission outside Canada is considered to be a claimant.
I believe this is reasonable. We are not talking about millions of people. We have police officers who are deployed in various countries to conduct missions and to help in reconstruction efforts. We have other members of police forces who go to those countries.
We know of a specific case. RCMP Sergeant Gallagher lost his life after landing in Haiti the day of the earthquake. He went to the country to help the Haitian government and community build up its police force. We have other citizens in similar situations.
That is why I take Bill C-13 seriously. It is a good bill—