Mr. Speaker, I want to thank our colleague from Fort McMurray—Cold Lake for introducing this motion to instruct the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to study the issue of episodic disabilities.
I am also happy to inform him that the NDP will be supporting this motion. We believe it involves very important principles that we support.
Episodic disabilities are a vital issue, as they can affect any one of us. Many of us probably know quite a few people with episodic disabilities. I know I do.
Some people may be wondering what episodic disabilities are. They are disabilities related to conditions like multiple sclerosis, arthritis, cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes and certain forms of mental illness. Someone can have both permanent and episodic disabilities. The difference between the two is clear. Episodic disabilities are characterized by varying periods and degrees of good health and disability, meaning that a person can be fully functional at times and not so much at others. That means that their participation in the workforce is intermittent and above all unpredictable. The fact that these disabilities are often invisible and unpredictable is their defining characteristic.
A great number of people are affected by this type of disability. For example, over 4 million Canadians have arthritis; 20% of all Canadians will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives; an estimated 100,000 Canadians have MS; about 71,000 Canadians have HIV; and close to 2.8 million Canadians have diabetes. This issue affects many of our fellow citizens.
Sadly, it has become apparent that our systems, such as insurance plans and government benefits, are ill-suited to the unpredictable and fluctuating nature of these people's disabilities. For example, to qualify for Canada pension plan disability benefits, a person has to have a severe and prolonged disability. Often, a person with an episodic disability will not have contributed enough at work to qualify for benefits. Similarly, to qualify for employment insurance sickness benefits—which are never provided on a part-time basis, even though episodic disabilities do not affect everyone the same way, as I mentioned—a person must be completely unable to work. That leaves out many of the people I described earlier.
Provincial income support programs for people with disabilities are often restricted to people with long-term disabilities. Short-term disability insurance may not allow a person with an episodic disability enough time off to recover. In order to qualify for long-term disability insurance, the person has to be completely disabled. It is like there is a gap between the different systems, and Canadians with episodic disabilities are falling through the cracks.
These people have important needs. They need us to support them and be there for them. I have talked about the number of people with these illnesses, and we need to do something. For now, the motion mainly sets out broad parameters and principles for a study. The study should be done as soon as possible, which is something my colleague and I both agree on, because this issue needs to be addressed.
To quote Glenn Betteridge, a staff lawyer at HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario, “People with disabilities have a legal right to participate fully and equally in Canadian society”. Giving them the means to do so benefits them, their family and friends, and ultimately all of us. Let us do the right thing and plug the gaps in the existing system.