Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking all of my parliamentary colleagues for their remarks today, and a special thanks to the member for Edmonton Riverbend for bringing forward this important piece of legislation, which I was honoured to jointly second.
It is clear this matter is close to the member's heart, and I truly appreciated hearing the personal story behind the bill's creation and the accomplishment of implementing a compassionate care leave program in Alberta.
I implore my colleagues, and I think what I am hearing today in the House is that we will be able, to pass Bill C-220 and bring it before committee for a fulsome examination to get this law right.
As the sponsoring member has indicated, this proposed legislation would extend compassionate care leave by up to three weeks after the passing of a loved one. Presently, the compassionate care leave program allows an employee in a federally regulated industry to take leave if a family member has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks from the day the medical certificate is issued or when the leave is granted.
It provides benefits for a maximum of 28 weeks during a 52-week qualifying period. The benefit period is broken down into 26 weeks of receiving benefits with an additional one to two weeks of unpaid leave. An employee with 600 or more insurable hours is able to seek compassionate care leave. The basic rate used to calculate these EI benefits is 55% of one's average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount of $573 per week.
This is a good program. It is one that the Conservatives promised to expand in 2015 from the original six weeks. The present government implemented that extension, with an additional 20 weeks, for a total of 26 weeks.
The issue this bill seeks to address is that the benefit ends once the family member passes away. The sad reality is that the now-grieving former caregiver still has many responsibilities to manage, funeral arrangements to make and emotions to process.
The bill from the member for Edmonton Riverbend will extend the leave period for up to three weeks if the employee has not yet reached the maximum threshold of 28 weeks.
COVID-19 has reminded all of us of the mortality of our loved ones and ourselves. When a death occurs, it is necessary to take the time to grieve and to attend to the practical tasks that accompany it. This legislative change will provide the breathing room needed without accompanying financial concerns.
The way this time period has been structured is well thought out, and takes into consideration the various circumstances people may find themselves in. Those who have taken close to the majority of their available compassionate care leave would receive another week following the passing of a loved one. Those who have taken between four and 20 weeks would receive two weeks beyond the death of their loved one. Lastly, those who took fewer than four weeks of compassionate care leave prior to their loved one's death would be eligible to receive an additional three weeks afterwards.
This bill accomplishes what is often difficult for government programs, in that it works to balance the real needs of employers with the very real, very personal needs of people suffering through what may be one of the most difficult periods in their lives.
The average duration of the compassionate care leave program presently used by an individual is between five and 12 weeks. Most would be able to take up to the additional three weeks off work without exceeding the benefit's threshold. Since this proposal operates within the existing 28-week period of the compassionate care leave program, it is not likely to pose an additional financial burden to the system.
That said, in 2018, 11,000 Canadians used this program. Sadly, that number is expected to continue rising in the coming years, further highlighting its necessity.
This bill has the support of many national organizations, including the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, the ALS Society of Canada, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and Parkinson Canada.
The Canadian Cancer Society shared:
Caregivers supporting a loved one with cancer often must grapple with the physical, emotional and financial strain of their caregiving responsibilities. With so many emotional and practical issues to manage in the wake of a loved one’s passing, returning to work should not have to be one of them. We support [the member's] proposed extension to the Compassionate Care Leave so that caregivers can be afforded the time off work to navigate such an incredibly difficult time in their life, and hope to see support for this legislative change from all political parties.
Dr. Pamela Valentine, the CEO of Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, states:
The MS Society of Canada applauds [the member's] introduction of a Private Members’ Bill that focuses on expanding Compassionate Care Leave for all Canadians. The MS Society has long advocated for greater flexibility within EI sickness benefit policy, as many programs in Canada are designed like a binary switch: either you can work or you cannot work, which does not sufficiently address the realities of caregivers during the bereavement period. Expanding the compassionate care program will certainly benefit MS caregivers, and we encourage Parliamentarians to work together across party lines to ensure long-term support for caregivers and their families can become a reality.
I have a personal story that happened to me in 2008. It is what got me interested in the bill the first time. I was a graduate student at Carleton University. I was working full-time. My sister was living in Washington State and her husband suddenly passed away of swine flu during an earlier pandemic. I had to leave my work right away. My sister in Vancouver had to leave right away. Our parents both had to leave their jobs for an extended period of time to provide support to my sister and her four children.
At the time, it never even crossed my mind that there would be employment insurance or any funds available through the Labour Code that would assist me. Therefore, when the member for Edmonton Riverbend put forward this legislation, I thought it was a great addition to the types of programs we wanted to see governments provide to give Canadians flexibility when they really needed support and might not have that support otherwise.
In addition, in Canada right now, our labour market is changing at a very fast rate. Self-employed Canadians, for example, are able to get employment insurance now. I can imagine that legislation like this would be a real benefit to self-employed business owners who have to leave their operations for a number of weeks to take care of a sick loved one and to deal with the bereavement process. I encourage all members of Parliament to take a close look at this legislation, to look at the flexibility it would provide Canadians in a time of need and support it.
I would also like to point out that the member for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne talked about the need for the legislation to address sudden death. In my situation, this is exactly what this legislation would have helped with back in 2018. Therefore, I encourage all members of Parliament and the members on HUMA, if the bill makes it that far, to look closely at that suggested amendment as well.
At the end of the day, though, it is about providing better quality and better flexibility for Canadians when they are in need. I commend my colleague for bringing forward the legislation to give Canadians options that will make their life better.