Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to 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.
I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques.
For several years, the NDP has been calling for measures to make the employment insurance program more flexible and thus more accessible for Canadians.
In its present form, Bill C-44 seems to respond to certain concerns we have expressed in the past. It also seems to meet the expectations of organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Caregiver Coalition.
Bill C-44 takes into consideration the special situation parents are in when a child is hospitalized, is critically ill, is murdered, or has disappeared. As a society, it is crucial that we help ensure that these parents are not doubly penalized: by having to deal with an especially difficult personal situation and by having to worry about their deteriorating financial situation.
This bill introduces flexibility into the administration of the employment insurance program and targets families in need. It also makes useful amendments to the Canada Labour Code. Those amendments allow for leave to be granted or extended for parents of a child who is hospitalized, is critically ill, is murdered or has disappeared. That is why the NDP will be supporting Bill C-44 at second reading. I think we will all benefit by examining it further in committee. That way, we will be able to work together to make it a better bill.
This bill is certainly a step in the right direction, but we must not lose sight of the forest for the trees. Since the Conservatives came to power, they have attacked unemployed people on several fronts. The effect of the most recent employment insurance reform they put through will be to further limit access to this scheme—one to which, we must remember, the government does not contribute. The employment insurance plan is entirely funded by employees and employers.
In the NDP, we will continue to criticize a government that limits access to an insurance program paid for by working people and employers. We will continue to fight for a fair, accessible and effective employment insurance scheme for people who are unemployed. At present, less than 40% of jobless people have access to employment insurance in Canada.
As I said earlier, the NDP will support Bill C-44 at second reading. We believe that the measures in the bill will help to relieve the suffering of some Canadian families in need. Canadians know that when it comes to helping families, the NDP will be there. On this side of the House, we find it very hard to understand why the Conservative government is avoiding tackling the bigger problems connected with employment insurance.
Bill C-44 will allow about 6,000 people to benefit from new support measures, and that in itself is very positive. Those 6,000 people will have less to worry about in terms of their financial situation at a time when their priorities are elsewhere. What are the Conservatives going to do about the other 800,000 unemployed people who are being denied access to a program they have paid into?
For the moment, the government’s response amounts to limiting access to the scheme, rather than facilitating it. On that point, the Liberals did no better: during the 1970s and 1980s, between 70% and 90% of unemployed people were eligible for the scheme, but no more than between 40% and 50% were in 1996. Canadians would gain by seeing their employment insurance scheme reformed in a way that would allow more people who are unemployed to benefit from it.
On reading the bill, I was struck by elements that do not seem important and by the absence of solutions to certain problems that we identified in the past. For example, I believe that Bill C-44, in its current form, ignores measures that could have helped mothers who return from maternity leave and learn that they have been let go or that their position has been eliminated and who, quite often, must reimburse the employment insurance program.
At present these women cannot access regular benefits after their special benefits run out. Bill C-44 could and should have included a measure allowing these women to combine the two types of benefits.
Similarly, I wonder why the Conservative government decided to make a distinction between parents of a child who has disappeared in circumstances considered to be connected with a crime and other parents of missing children.
I find it more difficult to understand why parents of children who have disappeared in circumstances that are not connected with a crime, for example, are excluded. I could give many examples of parents of missing children who have spent all their time and money to try to find their children. In my opinion, Bill C-44 should include these parents. Do they not suffer just as much as parents in the first category?
I would like the government to explain the logic behind this decision.
I also noticed that the government has decided to not fund part of the benefits proposed in the bill out of general revenue.
In their 2011 election platform, the Conservatives promised:
...we will provide enhanced EI benefits to parents of murdered or missing children...Funding for this measure will come from general revenue, not EI premiums.
Once again, I am curious about the reasons why this government changed its position on this point.
In summary, I would say that Bill C-44 is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. I only hope that the government will be open to the changes we will propose in committee. Partisanship must not prevent us from ensuring that our work results in properly constructed bills that serve an ideal of justice.