Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Selkirk—Interlake.
I am pleased to rise in this House in support of Bill C-44, the Helping Families in Need Act.
As a pediatric orthopedic surgeon who has worked with many families supporting critically ill children, primarily trauma patients, I can personally attest to the absolute need for this legislation to be passed as quickly as possible. I want to thank the opposition parties for their support of this bill and for the timely passage of it through second reading and committee consideration.
This bill is about supporting families who are going through probably the most difficult times in their lives both emotionally and financially. This legislation introduces new employment insurance benefits for parents of critically ill children, which were announced earlier this summer by the Prime Minister. This new EI benefit would provide 35 weeks of income support to parents who cannot work while caring for their critically ill or injured children under the age of 18. To comment on what the opposition member said earlier, this would then be allowed to be stacked on sickness benefits of 15 weeks, as well as compassionate care benefits of six weeks if families require it.
Children with life-threatening conditions need more than just around-the-clock medical care. They need their parents. This new benefit would help reduce some of the financial pressures that parents experience when they take time away from work while they are caring for their children. Our government recognizes the vital and essential role parents play in both comforting and caring for their children. As a surgeon, I can say that parental support at the bedside is essential for a recovering child. As with EI parental and compassionate care benefits, parents would be able to share these benefits between them. This benefit would also provide support for families in the most tragic and difficult times they may be facing.
Clauses within this bill would also enable the creation of new federal income support for parents of murdered or missing children, as announced by the Prime Minister last spring. Our government has continued to champion the cause of victims of crime. In 2007, we provided $52 million over four years to enhance the federal victims strategy. In 2010, we provided additional funding for child advocacy centres and victim services for families of missing or murdered aboriginal women.
As announced by the Prime Minister in April of this year, we will provide financial support to parents who are coping with the disappearance or death of a child, as a result of a Criminal Code offence. This measure will come into effect in January of 2013.
The measures in this bill demonstrate our government's commitment to providing families with flexibility to balance the obligation of work with the duty to family. I can only imagine the loss or disappearance of a child as a result of a criminal act. It would be one of the most agonizing experiences a parent could ever go through. While there is no way to make this situation right, we as parliamentarians can provide financial support to parents, who then would have the ability to focus on what matters most to them without having to worry about missing a mortgage payment.
To qualify for this grant of $350 for up to 35 weeks, applicants would be required to have a minimum level of income and have taken leave from their work. Income support would continue for two weeks after the missing child is found to allow parents to spend time with their child. Workers who take leaves of absence from federally regulated jobs to cope with such an event would have their jobs protected, as would parents of critically ill children, thanks to amendments to the Canada Labour Code.
The third component of this legislation would provide greater access to sickness benefits for new parents.
With this bill, parents will be able to access sickness benefits if they fall ill while receiving parental benefits.
Currently, EI claimants cannot access sickness benefits during a claim for parental benefits because of the requirement to be otherwise available for work or, for self-employed persons, to be otherwise working and to have stopped working because of illness. There are situations where a parent becomes ill soon after a child is born, while receiving parental benefits. In those cases, parents have been unable to access sickness benefits during or after receiving parental benefits because of the way the Employment Insurance Act is written. This bill would amend the EI Act to waive these requirements for claimants receiving EI parental benefits, allowing parents to focus on their own health and getting well so that they are able to take care of their children at the end of the parental leave.
The combination of these new measures in Bill C-44 is proof that our government is taking action to help parents balance work and family responsibilities. We are fortunate to have a Prime Minister who understands the importance of families. As he has stated previously, families are the building blocks of our society.
It is time to stand together and support families in this country when they need it the most.
I thank the opposition parties again for agreeing to support our Conservative government with this bill, so that at a time when parents need it most they would receive support from our government while facing those challenging circumstances.