House of Commons Hansard #179 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was families.


Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

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10:05 a.m.


Jim Flaherty Conservative Whitby—Oshawa, ON

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members


Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.


Jim Flaherty Conservative Whitby—Oshawa, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the House today to this absolutely fantastic legislation. The helping families in need act is a bill that would provide help to parents who are going through some of the most difficult times in their lives.

As a new member of Parliament, I very much remember one of the first constituent meetings I had after being elected. I heard from the father of a very young girl who was very stricken with cancer. Our party had made a promise in the election campaign that we would bring in changes to the employment insurance system that would allow parents of critically ill children to claim benefits while they were spending much needed time with their child. I remember him sharing his story, saying how much of a benefit it would have been in their case if his wife had been able to take the time off work and claim EI benefits, enabling her to stay with their very sick child. I am delighted to report that the child has had a great recovery and is doing well.

That is just one example of one family out of thousands that the changes proposed in Bill C-44 would help. As one individual member of Parliament, to hear that story and to be able to rise in the House today and talk about it, knowing that the bill would make a significant difference to families like that, makes me immensely proud.

The proposed legislation supports the implementation of three initiatives: the new federal income support for parents of murdered or missing children, the new employment insurance benefit for parents of critically ill children and enhanced access to EI sickness benefits for parents who fall ill while they are receiving EI parental benefits.

The title of the bill says it all. It is about helping Canadian families. It is about supporting them through situations that are both financially and emotionally difficult.

As announced by the Prime Minister earlier this spring, we will be creating a new benefit for the parents of murdered or missing children. We heard at committee from a number of parents whose lives had been affected by the fact that their child was missing, had been missing and, in some cases, had been murdered. I cannot even imagine as a parent going through that. We listened to the testimony and heard from these parents indicating how much this benefit would have helped them in their situation. Even though they continued to grieve, and they will each and every day for that murdered child, the ability to take time off to spend with the remaining members of the family, to have that level of support, and to know that their job will be secure through the amendments that are proposed in the bill to the Canada Labour Code, will make a significant difference to the lives of those people who showed the courage to come before the human resources skills and social development committee and share their stories with all of us. I know every member of the committee, both opposition and government members, were very moved by the testimony of those individuals.

As a father of two wonderful daughters, I understand how important family is and a parent's desire to protect our children. The loss or disappearance of a child as a result of a criminal act can only be described as the most difficult experience a parent could ever go through.

The new federal income support for parents of murdered or missing children, which would provide parents with financial support of up to $350 per week for up to 35 weeks, is a major step forward. I am delighted, at report stage, that all members of the committee recommended that the bill come back here today for further and final debate, and hopefully passage. We all recognize the tremendous benefit that this support would provide to these families.

The helping families in need act would also amend the Canada Labour Code to protect the jobs of parents who temporarily leave a federally regulated job to cope with the death or disappearance of a child as a result of a suspected Criminal Code offence. We know that the new income support and the knowledge that their job is also protected would help ease the pressure on parents in this unimaginable situation.

Since Canadians first elected a Conservative government, we have been devoted in our support for victims of crime, despite the fact that the opposition parties continually vote against our measures to strengthen victims' rights. However, the bill does transcend party politics. It would provide support for Canadians going through something that is so personal, so devastating and so profound that only those who have been touched by this kind of tragedy themselves will ever truly understand it.

We have already heard a number of very touching speeches in the House by many members of Parliament, including the member of Parliament for Brant. I want to thank him for what I think was a very moving speech and for sharing his family's personal story yesterday in the House on the bill. It just goes to show that there are 308 people who get elected to this place who all come from different parts of the country, different families and so on. Many of us wind up being touched on a personal level by some of these tragedies in life because we know of a relative with a critically ill child or we know of a family where a child has gone missing. Unfortunately, there are some of us who also do know families who have been touched by the fact that a child has been murdered.

I am glad to hear that my hon. colleagues from the Liberal and NDP parties will be supporting the bill, even though the NDP did initially vote against the ways and means motion to get it moving. Let me review some of the measures we have taken to help families, even though the opposition parties either opposed or delayed many of these great initiatives.

Our government has expanded the eligibility for compassionate care benefits to include people considered as family by the person who is ill. We have allowed self-employed workers to opt into the employment insurance program to be able to receive maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits.

In speaking to a number of self-employed people, I know how much in my riding of Mississauga—Streetsville they very much appreciate the fact that they can opt into the EI system. This is especially true of women entrepreneurs because they will then be eligible for maternity and parental leave benefits while they are caring for their newborn, a time when they may not be able to continue to run their own business directly. We have also improved access to EI parental benefits for military families and for foster families who make a demonstrable commitment to adopt the child in their care.

As a former board member of the Peel Children's Aid Society, I know how important it is for foster families to be able to spend the time they need with a new child they have adopted into their family and to be eligible to collect EI benefits just as if it were their own, biological, newborn child. What a great initiative we have brought forward to encourage more families to foster and to adopt children who need wonderful homes.

Our government is committed to making targeted, common sense changes to the EI program to support hard-working Canadian families. We are doing this through the helping families in need act. This support will help people at a time when they most desperately need it.

While we are fortunate to live in one of the safest countries in the world, we are not immune to violence. It is unthinkable but every year in Canada some 1,100 children are reported abducted and about 100 children are murdered. I cannot even begin to imagine what it might be like to lose someone I love more than anything in the world, especially in something as senseless as a child abduction or a murder. It is unthinkable, and families who have to deal with that reality deserve our support.

Our government is taking steps to help families who are dealing with these traumas. We have heard from Canadians that this help is needed and it is long overdue. That is why our government made the campaign commitment to provide support. I am delighted to say we are following through on it right now. This income support will help these parents take time off work to address legal issues and to begin their emotional recovery.

Fortunately, many employers grant unpaid leave to parents in these situations. I think there would be very few employers who would not empathize with their employee and his or her family going through this, and those companies are often very generous in their support. However, it is important that we, as legislators, also make sure that we are doing what we need to do within the laws of Canada and within our employment insurance system to also provide our support.

Fortunately, while it helps parents focus on their families, most parents cannot afford to go without an income for extended periods of time. They also need to know that their job will still be there when they are ready to come back.

We are the one party that is always putting the rights of victims ahead of criminals. Our record has been very clear on this issue. In 2007, we provided $52 million to strengthen the federal victims strategy. In budget 2011, there was an additional $26 million for this initiative. Since Canadians elected our government, we have brought in much needed legislation to protect the victims of crime as well as to ensure that those who do commit crimes pay the price. We will continue to deliver on our commitment to protect all Canadians.

As the parent of two daughters aged 13 and 8, the thought of losing one of them is unimaginable. We talk to families who have been through that situation and all members of the House empathize with what they go through. We as the government have an obligation to support and help families cope during these tragedies, however horrible the circumstances. By providing this much-needed financial support and job protection for parents, we can at least give them some time to begin to heal.

I want to quote a number of different representatives and organizations that support the bill and its speedy passage. Dan Demers from the Canadian Cancer Society stated:

This new EI support will allow parents to focus on caring for their child rather than worrying about how to pay the bills and can they keep their jobs. These programs will strengthen Canadian families and provide them the flexibility and the security they need to help keep their lives as normal as possible through a very difficult time.

Terri Odeneal, executive director of the Comox Valley Hospice Society, stated, “By extending these benefits, we can ensure that parents can focus on caring for their child during this difficult time rather than worrying about financial issues”.

Sharon Ruth, who is the mother of a critically-ill child, in a press conference this past September stated:

Every time there was an election, all the efforts died on the order paper and we had to start again. The truth is that I had help from each party, but it wasn’t until our country finally got a majority government that I’m standing here today with all of you on the brink of what I hope will be revolutionary change to help those families that are in need and most vulnerable.

I will quote Sharon Ruth again, because she speaks very passionately about where we are and where we need to go. She said:

I want to thank [the minister] who has a genuine concern for family and their suffering, for receiving myself and Colleen and Edwina Eddy last November and to listening to what we had to say. She believed that changes needed to be made and worked toward making this day happen.

In conclusion, I want to go back to one of the first face-to-face constituency meetings I had with a resident of the great riding of Mississauga—Streetsville, a father who shared his story with me. He said, “Brad, you guys need to keep your election commitment. You need to get this measure enacted”.

Nothing gives me greater honour and privilege today than to stand in the House to speak to Bill C-44 and tell that father that we have delivered.

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his work on committee. We sat on HUMA together and reviewed this bill in some detail.

I noticed the member could not resist taking some partisan jabs. I will try not to reply in kind, but I want to point out that he ended by suggesting that his party had kept its commitment with respect to the electoral platform where indeed the Conservatives promised in 2011 to “ provide enhanced EI benefits to parents of murdered or missing children”.

We on this side of the House support that commitment and will vote in favour of Bill C-44. However, the member neglected to say that the Conservatives' commitment also said that “Funding for this measure will come from general revenue, not EI premiums”. This is part of the commitment they did not keep.

We know from other debates in the House that the EI system is not serving Canadians well. Only four out of ten Canadians can access EI. We know that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have stolen $57 billion out of the EI fund to pay down the debt and deficit rather than provide the much needed benefits for people who, frankly, paid into the system, which is only workers and employers.

Now we have an about face. We are adding something else to the draw on the EI fund, which is we now have to pay for this bill out of the EI fund as well.

Could the member talk for a minute about why the Conservatives flip-flopped on their commitment that this program would not be funded by EI?

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, all party members at the human resources committee have worked very hard in reviewing the bill. I want to express my thanks on behalf of our government to the opposition parties for their support of the bill.

Opposition members have raised some issues where they believe some changes would be appropriate. We have listened and we believe that this is the right way to go. Based on the best information that we get from the very professional and hard-working bureaucrats within the ministry, we believe the right way to go is to have part of the benefits in the bill paid through the EI fund and part of the benefits for missing and murdered children paid out of the general revenue fund. That is consistent with the compassionate care and sick leave benefits that we presently have in the EI system.

One of the things I did not get a chance to mention in my speech, which did come up at committee, was the reason for the 37 weeks of the entitlement under critically ill and whether it should be longer. In fact, it can be longer. A family can claim the 37 weeks, plus the 15 weeks for a sick benefit, plus 6 weeks for compassionate care leave. That is a tremendous amount of time for families to claim benefits, especially when they are workers who have already paid into the EI fund.

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party will be support the bill as well. We have recognized this as a very important issue. We care about our children and we want to be there in a very real and tangible way, which is one of the reasons we support the bill.

In the past, through electoral elections, we have talked about expanding this to look at, for example, gravely ill parents or siblings and how employment insurance might be able to assist them. At the end of the day, the government has an obligation to apply that compassion and caring attitude to those individuals as well. We hope the government will act on that.

However, with this legislation, there would be an obligation to carry on discussions and dialogue with provincial jurisdictions. Many would argue that there has been a great deal of concern regarding the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. Could the member provide some comment on how that minister needs to play a strong role in working with the provinces so we can realize the maximum benefits of the bill?

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague and the members of the Liberal Party as well for indicating that they will be supporting the bill. I thank the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso who is the Liberal Party member on the committee. He, too, just like the member for Hamilton Mountain, has worked very hard on the bill, reviewing it at committee and ensuring that it is a strong bill to go forward and ensuring that it will help families.

After this bill is passed, it would be the role of all members of Parliament to have conversations with our respective provincial colleagues to get them to adopt similar labour code changes in their provincial labour legislation to mirror the changes that we bring forward to the Canada Labour Code, to ensure that the 90% of the people in our country who are not covered under the Canada Labour Code but are covered by employment standards and labour legislation in the provinces will also be able to get the benefit that federally-regulated business and federal government employees will get through the changes in Bill C-44 with respect to the Canada Labour Code.

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


John Carmichael Conservative Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the families in need act is clearly a compassionate act that is long overdue. I am delighted to be in the House today to hear members of all parties agree that they are in support of this compassionate and necessary legislation.

As a parent three times and a grandparent of four little ones, I cannot imagine the stress on a family when confronted with a missing or murdered child. We have all been touched in the House. I doubt there is anyone who has not been touched by someone who has lost a child. We have seen the grief and the difficulties the families face.

This bill addresses important needs to take certain issues off the table so families can focus on the stress at hand of dealing with a missing or murdered child and the grief that goes with it.

I would like to commend my colleague for his speech this morning. I felt he addressed the issues very well and obviously with great compassion. We have talked about job security, but would the member perhaps go a little deeper on the issue surrounding federal income support? It is something that is very important in helping families to deal with these issues at such a time as they are being confronted with them.

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Don Valley West very much for his support of the legislation. I am not at the grandparent level yet, but I see the joy in my parents and inlaws' eyes when they interact with my daughters. Hopefully my day will come when I can enjoy grandchildren as well.

The member asked a specific question about the federal income support for parents of murdered or missing children. Beginning on January 1, 2013, this new grant will provide $350 per week for up to 35 weeks to parents of murdered or missing children, if they are less than 18 years of age, whose death or disappearance is the result of a suspected Criminal Code offence.

To receive this taxable grant, the affected parents will need to have earned a minimum level of income in the previous calendar year of $6,500 and take leave from their employment.

Again, this is a support mechanism for families is not directly related to the EI fund, but is related to another benefit to recognize the fact that in the case of missing or murdered children, it is different and in a lot of cases it is finite. It is done because the child has been murdered and the family needs the support mechanisms and the longer time to deal with that issue.

This is a major step forward for these families that need and require this level of support.

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House again to continue the debate on Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act and to make consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations. Although the title itself does not tell us much, the bill would make a series of improvements, most of them through the employment insurance program, to Canadian families that desperately need the support of their government. For that reason, as I indicated at second reading, my NDP colleagues and I are pleased to support the bill.

However, we take our role as the official opposition seriously. We hold the government to account and even when we agree with the intent of a particular piece of government legislation, we will work hard to ensure it is the very best bill that it can be.

To that end, we went into the committee hearings on Bill C-44 hoping to make the process work. Committee is where we have the opportunity to go through a bill clause-by-clause to question the minister, or in this case ministers, responsible for the bill and to hear testimony from both experts in the field and from individuals who would be impacted by the proposed legislative changes. We then go through the bill with a fine tooth comb to address concerns because, with the current government in particular, the devil is often in the details.

Because we support Bill C-44, we went into committee hoping that a spirit of co-operation would prevail and that we would collaborate to make the necessary improvements to give parents of critically ill, murdered or missing children the support they so desperately needed. I cannot tell members how profoundly disappointed I was when the government members on committee reverted to the old caricature of themselves and refused to entertain a single amendment proposed by opposition MPs. Honestly, it was a disgrace.

I will give one example of an area where we could have made an important improvement to the bill.

In order for parents of murdered or missing children to receive the government grant, they would have to have earned $6,500. Presumably, that threshold was set to show some kind of attachment to the labour force. Leaving aside the broader question of whether it is necessary to prove such attachment in the first place, I asked the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development in committee why she chose to adopt a threshold based on earnings as opposed to hours worked. Obviously, under her rules, somebody who worked for minimum wage would have to work many more hours to qualify for the benefit than somebody who made $150 an hour. Why would we create such an unequal threshold when people at the lower end of the wage scale would likely need the financial support even more than those at the higher end?

I encouraged the minister to explore other ways of proving attachment to the labour force. The minister responded by saying that they could not use hours worked to prove attachment to the labour force because:

—that would not be compatible with the eligibility of self-employed workers who have opted into the EI system. Their eligibility for EI special benefits is based on financial figures, on dollars earned, because we cannot measure their hours. There's no way to validate that.

Really? We do not trust the self-employed to report accurately, so we will punish those workers who earn minimum wage or work part-time because the government cannot create a nuanced enough system to ensure that the bill is fair to everyone. Really? Is that what the government is saying to parents of murdered and missing children?

We in the opposition could not move the necessary amendments in committee because they would have been ruled out of order. However, the minister had, and still has, the opportunity to right this wrong. Changing the eligibility criteria is the right thing to do and it would not throw the government into financial crisis.

Let us be clear about the numbers here. According to the Canadian Police Information Centre, there were 25 abductions by strangers in 2012. Helping 25 families will not break the bank, but even if it did, it is absolutely the right thing to do and the minister should not be creating artificial barriers by means testing eligibility for support. The Conservatives' failure to reconsider these provisions is an absolute disgrace and belies the spin that they are sincere about wanting to help families in crisis.

I would say the same thing about the other amendments my NDP colleagues and I were pushing for in committee. I know I will not have time to repeat them all in the House today, but let me continue to highlight some of the most obvious areas where we could and should have found common cause.

I will begin with the most egregious example where the Conservatives' strict adherence to talking points trumped common sense. Clause 5 of Bill C-44 states that leave for critical illness would end on the last day of the week that the child died. New Democrats tried to move a modest amendment that would have extended that leave for another two weeks after the child's death to give the parents time to grieve and to bury their child.

Our proposed amendment was supported by the Canadian Association of Social Workers, Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Canadian Association for Community Living and the Canadian Labour Congress. Fred Phelps, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Social Workers was almost incredulous when he asked the committee, “would compassion not dictate that families require time after death to mourn and bury their child?” For most Canadians, the answer would have been a resounding yes, but sadly, compassion does not appear to be the government's forte and the bill is proceeding unamended.

Let me give another example. The bill as it currently stands defines children as those under 18 years of age. Why is that? In many cases children are defined not by age but by their dependency on their parents. For example, many dental and health insurance plans cover so-called children until they reach the age of 18 or they complete school; 18 is not a hard and fast cutoff. I would argue that this should be the case in Bill C-44 as well. Particularly, it is essential that the definition of child be expanded beyond the age of 18 for disabled children.

As the minister herself acknowledged, the criteria she used were emotional dependency and emotional maturity. Clearly, those criteria would apply to some disabled Canadians who may well be over the age of 18 but for whom the emotional attachment to their parents is every bit as real as for those children who fit the current definition in the act.

As Tyler Hnatuk, representing the Canadian Association for Community Living made clear at committee:

...caregiving responsibilities for parents of children with disabilities often continue much longer in life than for other families, and so certainly I want to recognize the need and the duties that carry on throughout a lifetime.

The parenting of a child with a severe disability is a lifetime commitment.

It would have been easy for us to allow for the expansion of the definition of the word “child” in this bill. That is why the New Democrats on the committee moved an amendment that would add child to the list of terms that could be defined through regulations, which would allow the government to expand the definition to include dependent children over the age of 18. Again, we are talking about a very small number of families who would be impacted, but for those families the concern is very real.

It is not good enough for the Conservatives to vote no just because the amendment came from the NDP. The Conservatives should have put partisanship aside and acted in the best interests of Canadians. That is what they were elected to do, but if they cannot even do it on a bill that has all-party support, how are we ever going to make the committee process work on the more contentious matters that are referred to our committee? Is it really that foreign a concept to the government that detailed scrutiny of its bills may actually lead to better legislation? Committee work used to be an integral part of the legislative process under governments of all stripes, but under the Conservative Prime Minister, that work is wholly devalued.

Here is another example. Clause 6 of the bill provides leave for the parents of murdered or missing children. We all support that provision, of course, but would it not make sense to allow parents to take that leave on a flexible basis rather than mandating that it be taken in consecutive weeks? We were not suggesting that the total number of weeks be increased. We simply wanted to allow parents to apportion their leave to suit their personal circumstances. Oftentimes their dealings with the judicial system occurred months down the road. Why would we not allow them to use some of their leave time during that critical time? Again, that flexibility found broad support among the witnesses who gave testimony before our committee.

Let me give a sampling from the very people whom this bill is intended to help. When asked whether it would be helpful to create flexibility with respect to the leave provisions of the bill, here is what they said.

Mr. Bruno Serre, whose daughter Brigitte was murdered in January 2006 at the age of 17 during her shift at a gas station in Montreal, said:

I think that would be a very good thing.

For example, if this happened to someone and, after 10 weeks, they felt ready, they could return to work. In my case, I went back after five weeks, but I wasn't really capable.

So it would help to have hours or weeks banked. Five probably would have been used and then there would be 30 left, which could be used over the years. But there should be no expiry date. For example, it could be decided that the recipient would have one year to use these 35 weeks, as is sometimes the case in the government. Instead, this should be spread out over two or three years. Some trials can take place three years later.

If someone has used all the weeks and the trial comes up, that person will relive the tragedy. When the trial comes up, you relive the day when you learned about the death of your loved one. So there are other steps to take. If the person doesn't have any weeks left, he or she will have to go through the same situation again that happened at the very start. That person will be lost and unable to work.

Being able to bank the weeks for later would be a very good solution.

Christiane Sirois concurred. Ms. Sirois' son was kidnapped on November 1, 1984, when he was 8 years old. When asked about the desirability of creating greater flexibility she said:

My answer is yes, without hesitation. I support what Mr. Serre said: there should be banked hours, should a person need them.

This doesn't apply for me. I haven't found my son, but I can put myself in the shoes of people who have found their child. I do not dream about finding him alive after 28 years, you can be sure. But I understand. I am suspended. What will happen when I find his little eight-year-old body or what's left of it? This will happen one day, for sure. I will relive 28 years stored up in my memory. It is important to be prepared for this, that is certain.

That is why it is crucial that these victims have a minimum amount of financial assistance to help them survive. Because listen carefully: you don't really live with this, but you survive.

Lastly, let me add the words of Ms. Céline Hotte, whose life changed forever when her daughter was murdered. Here is what Ms. Hotte told us in committee:

For 10 to 17 years after the events, I had to deal with the perpetrator's parole requests and the issue of halfway houses. To contest these requests, you need to put together a file. This takes signatures from people in the village where he lived. This isn't easy to do. You also have to read about everything he did in prison. This isn't easy. You cannot talk to him—that's not what I want to do anyway. You have to read the reports. He never followed the recommendations. Each time, it put me right back into the situation I had gone through.

Clearly there is widespread agreement that every circumstance is different and that there must be enough flexibility to allow for accommodation.

That is certainly the conclusion drawn by Canada's Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, who in her testimony also encouraged the government to allow for flexibility. She focused particularly on the administration of justice and the court process:

We know that if there is a murder, the court case may be several years down the road, so to provide an option and some flexibility—for example, a parent may choose to take a certain amount of time at the time of the crime, and then, if the criminal court process is two years down the road, they may need to have time then as well. Also, in some cases the person responsible may not be apprehended for a while. I'm just saying adding that flexibility would provide parents of murdered and missing children an opportunity to take the time when it's appropriate for them, when they need that time.

Clearly, there was broad-based consensus about what needed to be done to make Bill C-44 as effective as possible for the people it was intended to help. The only people offside were the members of the Conservative caucus, presumably at the direction of the minister responsible and the Prime Minister.

I make these points more in sadness than in anger. We had the perfect opportunity to improve a bill that we all agree is worth supporting. This did not need to be an exercise in rigid partisanship, where the Conservative members of the committee automatically oppose anything proposed by the NDP. Frankly, the victims of crime deserve better. The parents of critically ill children deserve better. The Canadian public deserves better. They deserve a concerted effort from all their elected officials to make Parliament work. In this instance, on Bill C-44, the Conservative members on the human resources committee let Canadians down.

Now at this point members may well wonder whether we will continue to support the bill. Let me reassure them. My NDP colleagues and I will of course vote in favour of Bill C-44. My point is simply that we could have achieved more, that we could have improved the bill in meaningful ways, but that we failed to seize that important opportunity.

That does not mean that baby steps in the right direction are not worth taking.

In fact, as I said at the time of second reading, there are parts of Bill C-44 that were lifted directly from my own private member's Bill C-362. Let me just review which those are.

First, one of the proposals included in the government's bill would amend the Employment Insurance Act to allow mothers and fathers currently on parental leave to access EI sickness benefits if they fall ill during their parental leave. This is a welcome and long-overdue amendment. There are few Canadians who would disagree that new parents who are very often already stretched both physically and financially should not be penalized if they become ill while on parental leave.

I am a little puzzled, though, as to why the minister would have stopped short of extending this benefit further. If she appreciates the injustice of denying sickness benefits to those whose circumstances change while on parental leave, then why did she fail to apply the same consideration and logic to workers who are laid off while on parental leave? Why would we solve one injustice and at the same time wilfully ignore the other?

My bill does take that extra step. It would fix that wrong. It recognizes that those on parental leave, the very same physically and emotionally drained new parents who sometimes become ill while on parental leave, can find that they have been downsized or laid off, through no fault of their own, while on parental leave.

As it currently stands, parents in that situation are denied benefits. Inexplicably, the government is content to leave them twisting in the wind, unsupported by even the meagre support provided by EI.

On the upside, my private member's bill also includes provisions to cover the self-employed in this benefit arrangement. I am pleased to see that the government has at least adopted them.

I do want to reflect for a moment on whether the EI program is the best vehicle for delivering the larger package of supports contemplated by Bill C-44. As members can tell from my phrasing, I obviously do not think it is. It bears pointing out that at one time the government agreed with me.

As recently as 2011, the Conservative Party platform stated, “Funding for this measure will come from general revenue, not EI premiums”. The Conservatives were right to adopt that approach. Whether one is a waged worker, senior manager, professional or stay-at-home parent, the devastation of a critically ill child is the same. All Canadians who find themselves caring for their seriously ill child are incurring a myriad of expenses that go beyond lost wages, and they all deserve our support.

What happened to make the government change its mind? The grant for parents of murdered and missing children will be paid from general revenues and not through EI. However, with respect to critically ill children, the Conservatives have ignored their election promise and are paying for their commitment through EI. I don't need to remind anyone in the House that the EI fund is not the government's money. It is a fund to which only workers and employers contribute. Therefore, for the government to draw on that pool of money to create a photo op on a policy announcement, no matter how positive, is surely beyond the pale.

I know my time is almost up, but I ask that the House indulge me for one more minute so that I can make a final point.

New Democrats support the bill. It is not a question of ideology or partisan politics; it is about assisting families in their time of need. However, let us be clear. The bill does not go far enough to help the families of missing and murdered children, nor the parents of kids who are critically ill.

Also, the bill does not go far enough in making reforms to EI. These measures completely fail to address the greatest challenge with EI, which is the lack of access for unemployed Canadians.

The bill will clearly pass, and by all means let us do it quickly, because we have to get on with tackling the larger question of comprehensive EI reform. We must make EI accessible and effective for all Canadians. Nothing less will do.

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech and for the indication that her party will indeed be supporting the bill.

One of the most rewarding opportunities I have had since being elected to Parliament almost seven years ago was to co-chair, along with her colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh, a parliamentary committee on palliative and compassionate care. We had the opportunity to go across Canada and listen to dozens of witnesses who gave input on the issue of palliative care. One of the issues was dealing with gravely ill children. I would like to read an excerpt from Sharon Ruth with respect to her daughter Colleen Ruth.

She stated:

Governments must support and invest in families during these tragically difficult times. The long term socio-economic benefits and returns of supporting families are far greater than the supposed cost savings that result from a politics of inertia. Doing nothing simply raises the toll of broken individuals and families. Colleen is living proof that there are gaps in our social and support systems that need to be updated. I am asking you to extend compassionate leave benefits to at least 26 weeks in a 52 week period. I am also asking that you change the qualifying criteria to “gravely ill” as opposed to “significant risk of death”.

I ask my colleague this. Rather than focusing on some of the things that, yes, we could improve, could she just acknowledge that the 35-week benefit is much better than the 26 weeks that many were requesting? Indeed, not only is it 35 weeks, but my colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville pointed out many other positive initiatives. I wonder if she could acknowledge that.

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge my colleague's work with the palliative care caucus.

Of course, I agree that baby steps are better than no steps. That to me is a given. However, I do want to take our responsibility here as parliamentarians seriously. There is a reason that we refer bills to committee after second reading. Second reading simply suggests that we have agreed to a bill in principle. We then send it to committee so that we can do the hard work and listen to expert testimony and learn from people's individual experiences about how we can make legislation the very best it can possibly be so that we are actually serving the people whom it is intended to help.

We did that at committee. We heard very moving testimony. It took incredible strength for some of the witnesses to share their personal stories with us. All I was suggesting is that we did not do them justice. The changes that they were asking for were not of a huge magnitude. They were not very costly. Let us be clear: there are not that many children in Canada who in any given year are murdered or go missing. However, for the families who are impacted, their lives change forever. They were looking to their government and to our committee to help them find the support they so desperately need. We had that opportunity in committee and we let those families down. Therefore, I do not think we should be proud of the work our committee accomplished on the bill.

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech did an excellent job of summarizing the ascent of the bill, where we are today and maybe the opportunity that was missed. The Liberal Party wholeheartedly supports the spirit and intent of the bill, but there were some opportunities missed along the way.

Stephen Moreau was the lawyer who represented Natalya Rougas in the case that was presented to the Supreme Court and was ruled on. One thing that was brought out during the debate was the stacking provisions. The court ruling in 2011 said that those provisions on receiving maternity leave and then sick leave were already in legislation, as intended by parliamentarians who passed the law in 2002.

I would like the member's comments on Mr. Moreau's testimony during the hearings.

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely what Mr. Moreau said in committee. I do want to point out that what Mr. Moreau was talking about, rightly, was the stacking of special benefits.

At no point did our committee address the stacking of those special benefits with regular EI. Of course, that is one of the most fundamental problems with our EI system. For example, if someone is on maternity leave and intending to go back to work, but their company shuts down and they are laid off or downsized while on maternity leave, it is not possible now to stack the maternity benefits with regular EI.

That is something that is absolutely critical for us as legislators to look at doing. That is exactly what my private member's bill proposes. I look forward to all members of the House supporting that bill when it comes forward.

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time for government orders has expired. The hon. member for Hamilton Mountain will have four minutes remaining for questions and comments when this matter returns before the House.

Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary ProgramStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Peter Goldring Independent Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I wish to recognize 33 youthful delegates who have visited with us for the past seven weeks. They are here in members' offices to gain valuable perspectives on Canada's most important democratic institution, the Parliament of Canada.

These young people, representing the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary program, embody the highest ideals of achievement and community service. They are the future leaders of Ukraine, young people like Yaroslav Barkov from my office.

Canada and Ukraine are inextricably linked forever by prior migration. Fully one in 30 Canadians is of Ukrainian descent, as are my wife, daughters and granddaughters. Ukraine holds a special place in the hearts of Canadians. Canada was the first country in the western world to accord diplomatic recognition in 1991 to an independent Ukraine.

As the young emissaries depart, we wish them well and say to them, Menohaya Leeta.

Mothers Against Drunk DrivingStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, this past weekend I participated in MADD London's 25th anniversary red ribbon campaign.

Held at London's Airport Kia dealership, Mothers Against Drunk Driving launched its annual challenge to Londoners not to get behind the wheel if they drink. London Police Chief Brad Duncan reminded us that the RIDE program would be out in full force to help put a stop to totally preventable, heart-wrenching accidents and deaths.

We heard a tragic story from Mary Rodrigues. Mary was driving through an intersection when her car was T-boned by a drunk driver. Her son Alex was in the car. Alex was killed. Alex was four months old. Mary challenged us to honour her son by following the simplest of rules: if someone drinks, they should not drive.

Project red ribbon runs until the first Monday after New Year and will see volunteers distribute millions of red ribbons to the public to attach to their vehicles and keychains. It pays tribute to the more than 1,000 Canadians who do not need to die every year because of selfish, stupid and impaired drivers. We have to make drinking and driving as socially unacceptable as lighting up a cigarette in a non-smoking area. If we cannot do it for ourselves, we should do it for Alex.

Hamilton Steel Workers' CenotaphStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, as Canadians across the country take part in Remembrance Day services this week, I would like to bring to the attention of this House a special ceremony in Hamilton.

In Hamilton in 1959, a cenotaph was unveiled on the grounds of the former Stelco plant. That day more than 800 steel workers, who were members of the Stelco War Veterans Association, marched in that initial dedication ceremony. The cenotaph as been the site of Remembrance Day services ever since.

This year's ceremony will have new significance because U.S. Steel Canada recently completed the revitalization of this very important cenotaph dedicated to the 3,000 steel workers who became war veterans and their families. The cenotaph's renovations include the complete refurbishment of the plaques with the names of the 172 steel workers who gave their lives in the service of Canada.

I call on the members of the House to join me in remembering those brave steel workers who sacrificed their lives in the service of Canada.

Recipient of Diamond Jubilee MedalStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to acknowledge the life and work of Robert (Bob) Burns of Estevan, Saskatchewan, in the constituency of Souris—Moose Mountain.

Robert was born in 1930 in the hills of southwestern Saskatchewan in the Wood Mountain area. Sports like baseball, softball, skating, curling and hockey were always a big part of his life. During his years, he worked as a grain buyer, car salesman and for 25 years as a retail salesman with Sears Canada.

He always believed in being a team player and devoted much of his life to helping youngsters become involved in the sport of hockey and ball. He picked them up and at times fed them kept them at his home, and he coached and taught them not only about sports but also important life lessons. He believed that to be successful in sports and in life, one had to give 100%, hold one's head high and be a good sport.

It is these great attributes and qualities in Robert and his life's contribution to the many communities in Souris—Moose Mountain that are recognized in the awarding of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal to him. I congratulate Bob. Way to go.

Family Doctor WeekStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, November 12 to November 17 is Family Doctor Week in Canada.

Family Doctor Week proudly acknowledges the outstanding contributions of Canadian family doctors and dedication to their patients and delivery of high quality care.

We have heard from patients just how much they value their family doctors and how important their help is when it comes to providing the necessary care to patients and their families.

In particular, I would like to pay tribute to Dr. Calvin Gutkin, who is retiring as executive director and CEO of the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

For the past 16 years, he has worked tirelessly on behalf of family doctors and all Canadians who want to see improvements in family medicine across the country.

He supported the successful evolution of the Family Medicine Forum, and the enhancement of medical student and resident training as the future of family medicine, and he spearheaded the development of the National Physician Survey. Most recently, he helped author, and is currently advocating for, the Patient's Medical Home as the next significant step in enhancing family practice care in Canada.

Cal is a true believer in family medicine. We thank him for his endeavours and wish him well in the future.

Hockey Night in Leeds and GrenvilleStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, on November 1, I hosted my sixth annual Hockey Night in Leeds and Grenville. This charity hockey match features former NHL stars, local dignitaries and members of Parliament on the ice raising money for the United Way of Leeds and Grenville. The game ended in a tie, but I am pleased to report that the real winner was the United Way, as $112,000 was raised for its campaign.

I want to thank the donors who made this game and its results possible, and the fans who came out to support this great cause. In particular, I would also like to thank Crystal Sled and executive director Judi Baril and her team at the United Way for their tremendous organizing efforts, and special thanks go to former NHL star Doug Smith, who was the honorary chair of this event.

The event was held in Athens this year, with the support of that community's council, headed up by Mayor Herb Scott. Finally, George and Kevin Tackaberry of Tackaberry and Sons deserve special mention. They made a very large donation and then topped it off to bring the total to $112,000.