Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely delighted to rise in the House today to speak to the helping families in need act.
When first elected back in 2004, I began to champion this cause. I introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-542, in the 39th and 40th Parliaments, and once again introduced that same bill in the current parliament, Bill C-371.
I am absolutely delighted to see the government moving on this. It embodies what I was trying to accomplish in Bill C-371, and therefore at this time I plan on withdrawing that bill. I am delighted to see all of this hard work coming to fruition in this exceptional piece of legislation.
However, it is not just me. I have to thank a constituent of mine, Sharon Ruth, for her tireless efforts in helping families who are truly in need and have gone through the tragedy of having a critically ill child. I will tell the House a little more about Sharon's story later.
Not only had we been advocating for this, but it also fulfills our Conservative Party's platform commitment to support the families of murdered, missing and critically ill children. Dan Demers of the Canadian Cancer Society so eloquently sums up the commitment of our government in this quote:
[I]t's critically important that we acknowledge that in the last election, this government made a commitment to parents and families who are caring for children in the most difficult situations we can imagine and today, we're not only seeing the government take action to fulfill this commitment, but they're moving in this town at lightening speed....
I am encouraged by what I have heard from the opposition today, because it is very important that we move quickly. This much needed legislation will support the implementation of three initiatives: the new federal income support for parents of murdered or missing children, a new EI benefit for parents of critically ill children, and a measure to enhance flexibility for parents who fall ill while receiving EI parental benefits.
Since our government was first elected back in 2006, we have been working tirelessly to implement policies that help Canadian families. We Conservatives know that the success of our nation is built upon the foundation of healthy families, which is why we remain committed to supporting policies that benefit hardworking Canadian families.
The measures in the bill demonstrate our government's commitment to providing families with the flexibility to balance the obligations of work with the duty to family. I am confident that with thoughtful consideration of the text of this legislation, all members will support it. As I said, I am encouraged that everyone who has spoken today supports moving this as quickly as possible. The bill is about providing financial support to families when it is needed most desperately.
The case I am most familiar with personally is that of Sharon Ruth, her family and her daughter Colleen. I met Sharon during the election campaign in 2004 and she told me what her family had been dealing with.
Her daughter, Colleen, was just six years old when, without warning, she was suddenly diagnosed with stage one Hodgkins lymphoma. Within hours of that diagnosis she was admitted to hospital and doctors started working tirelessly to treat her.
The result for Sharon's family was that they spiralled into a financial abyss as they made the choice that every parent would make to help treat their daughter and save her life. It meant that at least one parent left work and gave up a salary.
She was in the midst of this chaos when she first spoke to me, and since then she has been a tireless advocate for compassionate care leave, spreading her message across Canada and joining others who seek the same assistance that she so desperately required. She chronicled her family's struggles in a book called The Guinea Kid. The good news is that her daughter Colleen, now 16, is in remission.
I have to commend Sharon's stamina on this issue as she watched bills die on the order paper, election after election, but stuck to her fight for these changes.
We are now meeting our commitment to introduce a new EI benefit to support parents of critically ill children. Starting next June, eligible parents in this situation would receive up to 35 weeks of temporary income support through the EI system.
This measure is expected to help an estimated 6,000 families each year who are going through the most trying times in their lives. This support is in addition to the EI compassionate care benefit, and parents of the most seriously ill children may apply for the compassionate care benefit if, after claiming 35 weeks of the new benefit, their child is in danger of dying in the next 26 weeks.
When their child is critically ill, many parents have to make what seems like impossible choices: continue to work and be away from their child or endure the financial hardship that can result from leaving work to provide ongoing care.
Caring for such an ill child is not only emotionally trying, it can also be financially crippling. Between 40% and 63% of families who have children with cancer lose income because they work less while caring for their ill child. The added expense of travel, accommodation, often near the hospital, and medical supplies can consume 25% of their total disposable income.
To alleviate some of the worry parents have about being away from work, we would also amend the Canada Labour Code. This would allow for unpaid leave for employees under federal jurisdiction to ensure that their jobs are protected while caring for a critically ill child. This means that parents would not have to quit their jobs to care for their critically ill child.
We have heard from Canadians that this legislation is desperately needed and long overdue. We know that roughly 250,000 children are hospitalized each year. Of these, approximately 19,000 are critically ill and are confined to intensive care units for extended periods of time. It is no surprise that these children need their parents' care and support to recover and in some cases to even survive.
Since our Conservative government was elected, we have been committed to supporting Canadian families and helping them balance work and family responsibilities. With this legislation, we show Canadian parents that we recognize the vital role they play in the lives of their children and that we value what they do.
This legislation would now allow us to offer new financial support measures to ensure that parents have support when they need it the most. I cannot help but reiterate how encouraged I am to hear that all parties and all members seem to be supporting this important legislation. This bill is not about politics, it is about helping Canadian families when they need it the most.
I would like to talk about a situation I learned about in a discussion with another constituent of mine. I just recently became aware of the situation of the family of Nicole and Craig Tobias, and their son Sam. Their son is critically ill. They brought their plight to me. I explained what was happening, and how, if we move this along, families like the Tobias family and the Ruth family will not have to face what so many families have had to face in the past number of years.
I am going to close with a quote from Sharon at the announcement of this bill by the minister last week. She said:
I want to thank the minister who has genuine concern for families and their suffering, for receiving myself and Colleen and Edwina Eddie last November, listening to what we had to say. She believed that changes needed to be made and worked toward making this day happen.
I thank the minister and the Prime Minister for showing us that everyday people like Sharon can make a difference in the lives of Canadians. I thank all members. I look forward to seeing all members agree that these are the very reasons that all of us came to this Parliament and why we became involved in serving the Canadian public.