Mr. Speaker, I look forward to joining and contributing to this debate. As I indicated earlier in my question to the minister, the Liberal Party will be supporting this bill. We see it as a positive gesture in that it will have a positive impact on Canadians who are in a very traumatic position, who are battling and going through some great personal challenges. For Canadians who are facing such hardship and facing such emotional, physical, mental and spiritual pain, the anguish they go through in these types of situations should never be compounded by a further financial burden.
This bill would certainly go toward that. I know my friend and fellow member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Skills Development, the member for Brant, is going to speak on this issue. I know he can speak first-hand and I look forward to his intervention and comments today on this piece of legislation.
As I tried to impart to the minister at the time, it is a bit strange that we are debating this today and then we are invited to the technical briefing on the bill later this evening. We are debating what we think the bill is going to include and how it will impact Canadians and how it plays out, but we have seen that the track record of the government is not great on actually saying and implying it is going to improve on a particular issue in a particular situation. The old adage is that the devil is in the details, and when those details finally unfold, we see that there are unintended consequences or that the consequences have such a negative impact on a group that it makes no sense whatsoever for the government to have proceeded in this manner.
My colleague from Hamilton Mountain made note of the working while on claim provisions. I would like to welcome the New Democratic Party to that discussion, because we started that when the House opened. We have been pounding that one, so it was nice to see NDP members getting engaged today and giving it the old college try. We appreciate the support, but we have been hammering all last week on it. It was probably the article in The Globe and Mail that finally sparked them to see that there might be something going on there that they might want to pay attention to.
What we have seen from the minister and her handling of the working while on claim file would make the NFL replacement officials blush with competency. Whatever took place through the genesis of that bill, whatever is going on there, there are people being hurt, and that is the part about the devil being in the details. That is why we look forward to the technical briefing. That is why we support sending the bill to the committee.
This bill impacts 6,000 people. This is an important piece of legislation, an important piece of assistance. An estimated 6,000 people will benefit from this change. We will go through this at committee.
The same cannot be said about the other changes, because they impact 850,000 Canadians. When we look at the unemployed, we see they number 1.4 million, but 850,000 Canadians received some type of support through the EI program last year, and they would be impacted by the changes made by the government.
Again, I do not know if there is a great deal of trust between Canadians and the Conservative government. The minister is now saying that the best way to support this program is through the EI system. However, she is clearly on the record in response to an announcement made prior to the last election about a family benefits package, much of which is in the bill here, when she said that there are other options for people trying to care for loved ones, including the fact that “most employees do have vacation leave that they can use.”
She felt that people could take vacation to accommodate some of the time needed to care for those loved ones in a tough situation. This shift in her position might cause some concern, and members can understand why we look forward to the technical briefing.
Again, it is great to come in and read a speech, but it is about understanding the files. When there are a couple of variables within the files, all Canadians want to know is the truth about how it will impact them.
The minister went out on a nationwide public relations initiative this year to sell the working while on claim program. However, even today in the House, she responded to a question posed by the member for Bourassa by saying that under the old system, workers were only allowed to earn $75. However, that was the minimum; members know that it is 40% of their EI earnings, so if a person was earning maximum dollars, they would be able to earn $194 before dollar one was clawed back.
I think that is about the minister not understanding the files. She can read her eloquent speech here, but I look forward to sitting down with the bureaucrats to see how this would impact Canadians. I will put my trust in the bureaucrats.
The minister gave two examples today in answer to questions and cited examples in relation to someone working for three days. However, when the EI benefit variables are changed and the maximum EI benefit is used, in both of her examples they would have lost under the new program as well. She is being a little cute with some of her answers, and totally disingenuous.
We look forward to going to the technical briefing this evening and quizzing the officials on how they see this rolling out and the impact it would have on Canadians. Whenever we work with and make changes in the EI program, it does have an impact.
I think the comment that was made by the member for Hamilton Mountain was worthwhile. If somebody utilized this program within the EI system, used 35 weeks of leave, but was then unfortunate enough to lose their job, what happens then? Certainly a stand-alone program may make more sense in this particular situation.
My friend and colleague for Sydney—Victoria came forward with a private member's bill in the last Parliament. It was supported by the NDP and the Bloc, but it was not supported by the Conservatives. The bill was for the extension of EI benefits for those facing additional hardship.
Right now, the benefit runs for 15 weeks. However, there are a number of different statistics. The representatives from the Canadian Breast Cancer Society had talked about the normal period, especially if somebody is going through chemotherapy, running about 35 weeks. To have one's benefits run out after 15 weeks poses an incredible hardship on somebody who is battling a disease like cancer. Representations were also made by the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation.
When the bureaucrats, the people who work at Service Canada and the employment insurance offices, have to phone somebody who is fighting a catastrophic illness and tell them that his or her benefits are running out and can no longer continue, they know the hardship and the stress that they are placing on that person. They advocated for the changes that were being advocated by the private member's bill put forward by colleague from Sydney—Victoria.
It comes down to those types of choices. It comes down to who we are going to be able to provide for. I think it would have been a worthwhile initiative to support that bill.
There are some concerns, even with the EI, about the information we are using when we make these decisions. It has been said that the Conservatives are not that interested in facts or science. They never want to let the facts interfere with sound ideology. My colleague from Malpeque says the only science they believe in is political science.
In 2010, the EI tracking survey conducted by Human Resources and Skills Development shed some light on the inadequacy of the current 15 weeks off. In that survey, 16% of respondents who took time off work due to illness required 13 to 25 weeks off, while 20% required over 25 weeks off from their workplace. There is evidence from medical stakeholders that reaffirms that these timelines are pretty standard.
That tells us that the current EI system takes us part way, but not all the way.
This bill is a good first step, I think, and it is a nice gesture. However, I think there is so much more that can be done.
Other nations recognize that. European Union countries, Lithuania, Japan, all look at 22 weeks for sick benefits, while we are still at 15. Again, 22 weeks is not enough but it is closer to the standards that are being advocated by stakeholders that know these issues.
There are some other changes that could be made. There are worthwhile changes being put forward in Bill C-44, but there are other changes that could be made.
I am sure all members of the House have had an opportunity to work with and to listen to people who suffer from multiple sclerosis. My office manager is an MS patient. She is a tremendous lady, but there are peaks and valleys. There are times where she is able to work full out but then there are times where she needs rest. It is the disease that dictates how much energy one has on a particular day. It is a terrible affliction.
If there were some flexibility within the EI system then we could accommodate a worker who is skilled and trained and wants to work, and who works in a job that has some flexibility within it.
The government talks at great lengths about skills shortages and the need for skilled labour. Someone could be dealing with MS for many years and still be a valuable contributing member of the workforce. If there is a bit of accommodation through the EI program, then that is a good fit for everyone. It is a good fit for the person, it is a good fit for the employer and it is a good fit for the economy.
Bill C-44 is a good step. It is an important gesture and a good gesture, but much can still be done within the system without costing a lot to the system, especially trying to accommodate those who suffer from MS. It just makes so much more sense to try to make sure that the person is a productive and contributing member of the community.
We on this side of the House have stated before that we understand the impact on these families. It is an intense expectation on these families. It is one that no family wants to go through. When people are dealing with an illness, when parents are dealing with a son or daughter's affliction, we as Canadians are compassionate enough to do what we can to help them through that situation. I think Bill C-44 would at least go some ways toward that.
My party and I look forward to supporting the bill.