moved that Bill C-220, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (compassionate care leave), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise here today to discuss my private member's bill, Bill C-220, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code (compassionate care leave). It builds on my work in the Alberta Legislature and I am thrilled to be able to share this bill with my colleagues here.
The bill proposes to extend compassionate care leave by up to three weeks after the death of a loved one. Given everything that has happened over the last several months, I think we can all agree that compassionate care leave is as important as ever for Canadian families.
I would like to pause for a minute and thank the Minister of Labour, her staff and the member for Mount Royal for their advice and guidance during this process. The bill continues from their work established during the expansion of bereavement leave.
Compassionate care leave is a job-protected leave that allows an employee to take time off to care for a family member with a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks from the date a medical certificate is issued or when leave is granted. The leave is available to full-time employees of federally regulated workplaces. Currently, employees who have at least 600 insurable hours during a 52-week qualifying period can seek leave for a maximum of 28 weeks during the year.
Benefits are provided for a maximum of 28 weeks, with one to two weeks of unpaid leave serving as a qualifying period. The employee receives EI benefits of up to $573 a week, or 55% of their weekly earnings. This time is vital for many families. When a loved one receives a potentially terminal diagnosis, it is stressful to figure out the logistics of who will provide their care.
Often many people do not think that they can take time off to care for their spouses or parents because they simply cannot afford it. Having compassionate care leave allows families to focus on caregiving while still receiving a portion of their salary. Getting to be with a family member in their final days is incredibly important and meaningful. Compassionate care leave has been the saving grace for thousands of families around the country.
What happens after a compassionate caregiver's loved one passes away? Right now the leave ends immediately and the employee is expected to be back at work within days of their loved one's death. This leaves little time to plan a funeral, get affairs in order and, most importantly, grieve.
Returning to work within days of a loved one's death is the least compassionate part of the compassionate care leave program. All of us in the chamber can agree that it takes more than just one day to process a death and get back into the headspace of work.
Bill C-220 proposes to extend job-protected compassionate care leave beyond the death of a loved one. The extension can be up to three weeks depending on how much compassionate care leave the employee has taken. Employees who have taken close to the maximum leave time would get one additional week beyond the death of their loved one. Employees who have taken between four and 20 weeks of leave would get an additional two weeks of leave past the death of their loved one, and employees who have taken fewer than four weeks of leave would receive an additional three weeks of leave beyond the death of their loved one.
I decided to structure the bill in this way because someone who has already taken most of their time allowed under the compassionate care leave program will likely already have made end-of-life arrangements compared with someone who has been on leave for less than a month.
While I worked on the bill, I wanted to be as fair as possible to employees while also being fair to employers. If the bill is passed, more than 18,000 federally regulated employers will be impacted by the changes. These employers are in a variety of sectors including air transportation, banks, Crown corporations like Canada Post, radio and television broadcasting, railways, telecommunications and businesses that are vital or essential to the operation of a federally regulated workplace.
We understand that employees are vital to the success of these corporations and businesses, and I think we can all agree that having employees return to work in a clearer state of mind after taking additional compassionate care leave is better than returning to work before they are ready.
About 11,000 Canadians used the compassionate care leave program in 2018. This was an uptick in usage after the amount of time allowed was extended two years prior. The average duration of compassionate care leave is between 4.8 and 12 weeks. The number of people using the program is expected to rise in coming years as our population ages and more Canadians find themselves in a caregiving role.
There is support for extending the length of leave. The Quality End-of-Life Coalition of Canada recently submitted its pre-budget consultation brief to the government, and among its list of recommendations was that the compassionate care benefit should be extended to include a two-week period for grief and bereavement. This coalition is made up of 34 national stakeholder organizations dedicated to improving end-of-life care for Canadians.
In its submission it wrote:
Family members, potential recipients of the Compassionate Care Benefit, may need support as they grieve the loss of a loved one and try to manage numerous strains and stresses....
By adjusting the Compassionate Care Benefit, more Canadians will have access to the time necessary to heal, minimize economic hardships and take care of some of the more practical business following a loved one’s death.
At the beginning of this speech I mentioned how the past few months, as our country and the entire world has dealt with COVID—19, have demonstrated how important a compassionate care leave program is. The virus has given us perspective on the value of spending more time with family and friends. We have all heard the news reports about family members who could not see their love ones in hospitals or nursing homes before they died. This is heartbreaking and I am sorry that any family members have found themselves in that situation. There is a huge importance to being with a loved one in their final days and compassionate care leave facilitates that. It allows families to be together and even for the terminally-ill person to die at home in some cases. This program has vital importance to our society.
If members do not mind, I would like to share a personal story about why compassionate care leave is important.
When I was starting out in my career, my grandma became very ill. At that point, I was young and in my twenties, competing with several others for a full-time job. I wanted to spend as much time as I could with my grandma, but I also worried about what would happen to my job if I did. Would I be fired? Would I be passed over for an opportunity? I decided to stay at work. That is a decision I regret to this day. My grandmother, Jeanne Babcock, passed away a few weeks later. At that time, there was no compassionate care leave program in Alberta. Employees in the same situation as me had no choice but to keep working or take unpaid time off, which could also impact their jobs.
After I was elected to Alberta's Legislative Assembly in 2012, I began to work on introducing a compassionate care leave program in the province. All other Canadian provinces had such a program at that point in time. For two years I worked on my private member's bill. I talked with researchers and families who all spoke about the importance of having such leave, as people are in their greatest time of need in their last few weeks of life. Being able to be with a loved one during that time to help them in any way they need and to say the proper goodbyes is a treasured gift for many families. I am pleased to say my bill passed and Alberta became the final province to introduce job-protected compassionate care leave in early 2014.
Six years later, I stood in this chamber to introduce Bill C-220 and build on this vitally important program. I did this because I saw a gap in the leave program. Many stakeholders and families told me how they were grateful to spend the final days with their loved one, but that the days following the death of their loved one felt rushed and stressful. Many had to return back to work before their affairs were in order, before they had time to fully process the death and start the grieving process. From these stories I saw an opportunity to make the compassionate care leave program even better and to help more families going through such difficult situations. Allowing additional time off following a loved one's death was something I felt could strengthen the program and greatly help caregivers who are grieving.
I hope my colleagues can agree with me that such an extension is important. This program has the support of all parties. In fact, the Conservative government pledged to extend the compassionate care leave program from six weeks to 26 weeks. The current government followed through on that commitment to extend the compassionate care leave program in early 2016. At the time, the government said it was also working on plans to extend the program so that more Canadians could take advantage of it. I hope my colleagues can see that Bill C-220 presents just that opportunity.
Some of my colleagues may ask why such an extension is necessary. After all, we have bereavement leave and 10 days of unpaid personal time off work. An employee currently taking compassionate care leave could use those options if they wanted extra time off. However, these options may not be realistic for some families. An employee is only allowed three days of paid bereavement leave after a family member dies. The remaining two days are unpaid. The 10-day personal time off is also unpaid. Not only is it unpaid, but it leaves no flexibility for employees if a different personal emergency comes up later in the year.
As I mentioned before, the average length of compassionate care leave is between 4.8 weeks and 12 weeks, so the majority of people who take the leave would be able to receive the extension proposed in my bill without exceeding the 26-week threshold. This would allow them to continue to receive EI benefits of compassionate care beyond the death of their loved one.
Using unpaid bereavement or unpaid sick leave after a love one's death is not feasible for many people. They just cannot afford such a loss in income. Most people cannot go two weeks without a paycheque, and that is why extending the compassionate care leave benefit is superior to using personal time and bereavement time.
With my bill, more Canadians would be able to have that extended time off. I am willing to continue to work with the minister and my colleagues to get this right for Canadians.
I have no doubt that all of us in the House have experienced the loss of a family member. It is devastating, and it takes time to recover from such a loss. We are fortunate to have a great program like compassionate care leave in Canada to help employees spend time with their loved ones in the final days. It is a great gift for many family members, who would not otherwise have the financial means to take time off work to become a full-time caregivers.
My bill aims to fix a gap that has become apparent, and that is the need of some additional time off following a loved one's death. This would allow employees who are taking compassionate care leave to make funeral arrangements, get affairs in order and start the grieving process before returning back to work. To have employees returning to work with a clearer state of mind is beneficial to employers in the long run, rather than rushing them back to work before they are ready.
As our population ages, we will have more family members stepping into caregiving roles and taking job-protected compassionate care leave. We need to ensure that the leave provides sufficient time for these caregiving employees and their families.
We all know the importance of family, and the last few months of chaos and uncertainty have cemented this importance. Upholding compassionate care leave and ensuring that the program has enough supports for employees who use the program is vital. One way to provide more support is by extending compassionate care leave by up to an additional three weeks to allow caregiving employees more time to grieve and settle affairs.
I hope that I have the support of my colleagues in the House. I look forward to working together so that we can make smart changes to this program to better help more families.
I am thankful for being allowed the time to speak on Bill C-220, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, compassionate care leave. It is truly such an honour to introduce this bill.