Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise to speak to this motion that is so important to me. For the benefit of those who are watching us on TV and who may be wondering why I am wearing a green ribbon, I want to point out that this week Quebec is celebrating Hooked on School Days. The members of the Bloc Québécois who rise today are proud to support Hooked on School Days, which are so important to our nation.
As I have said many times, I am a social worker by training. Before I became a member of Parliament I worked in a CLSC. I worked with the most vulnerable members of our community, including the sick and those who needed support. I am very proud to share a little about my job today, because it shows why I support this important motion.
Social workers in Quebec's health care network are fortunate to have good, unionized, secure jobs with group insurance that guarantees they will get paid in case of illness. The union negotiates this insurance. It helps workers get treatment and return to work quickly.
Today, I can say that, over the course of my career, I have met many people who do not have the privilege of having insurance or of having a job that gives them everything they need to get through difficult times in their lives.
The people we are talking about today and who will be affected by this motion, should the government support it, are the type of people who are not that fortunate, who do not have the privilege of having a job that guarantees them group insurance coverage at times of personal hardship. They are workers who like their jobs and have the misfortune of getting sick. When the doctor tells them about chemotherapy and radiation, the first thing they think about is how they are going to pay their rent if the treatment takes a long time or if the cancer comes back. I am not talking about a mortgage here, because people who own their own homes often have mortgage insurance that covers payments in the event of misfortune. I am talking about people in precarious jobs, who live in apartments, who do not own their own homes, and who get sick. I am talking about people who have to fight to beat a serious illness and quickly get back to work.
In my professional life, I met with people in this situation whose jobs were precarious, who were good workers, men and women who wanted to work and who paid EI premiums, fulfilled all their responsibilities as workers, but who became ill. This motion, this amendment of the Employment Insurance Act that the Bloc Québécois has been championing for many years, seeks to meet the needs of these people and of these workers in particular.
The government is telling us that it is too much to ask for 50 weeks, that benefits are increasing from 15 to 26 weeks. It is saying that the opposition always wants the maximum amount. That is a rather odd way of looking at things. As my colleague from Thérèse-De Blainville stated, when someone has this serious illness and requires treatments that prevent them from working, when they become that statistic, the person who goes over the 15 or 26 weeks, it is not about exaggerating, it is about being compassionate, understanding and inclusive. This is a social safety net that Quebec and all provinces want to provide to their workers who become ill.
Let's now take a look at the 26 weeks that are provided to family caregivers. People in their mid-fifties like myself are often parents, grandparents and also family caregivers. As society is changing and people are living longer, people of my generation must support their children, grandchildren and parents.
Essentially, the Employment Insurance Act was amended to make things right and address this new social reality by increasing special benefits for caregivers to 26 weeks. It is a very good idea.
I have worked in a CLSC, and I can honestly say that this measure was really helpful, particularly for providing at-home support to seniors in rural areas. It enabled seniors and very sick people to leave this world with dignity, while surrounded by their loved ones.
Now, it is not right for someone to lose their income because they get sick and their treatments require them to miss work for more than 15 weeks. Clearly, the last thing someone in that situation wants to think about is how they will meet their financial obligations if they require further treatment.
When somebody has cancer and lives in a rural area, they must not only shoulder the burden of the disease, but also pay to travel in order to receive treatment, which is often only available in large urban areas. For example, if someone from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, which is in my riding, needs to get to Montreal for chemotherapy or radiation therapy, it takes an hour to an hour and a half to drive there and costs an average of $45 to $50.
Basically, people get only 15 weeks of employment insurance, even though they often have low-paying jobs that barely allow them to meet their financial obligations. These people have to pay out of pocket to travel for treatment.
The Liberals claim that the Bloc Québécois is being a bit greedy because they have already promised to extend the benefit period from 15 weeks to 26. They say that this is already a lot and that we should not cry wolf. They are suggesting that we keep thinking and that an amendment to the act, such as increasing the benefits to 50 weeks, could be introduced a little later.
I have seen a situation first-hand. A member of my family was diagnosed with cancer and fought it. His recovery and treatments lasted over 15 weeks. He was very happy, and so were we, to have group insurance so that he was able to honour his commitments.
We in the Bloc have a hard time understanding why it would be so complicated to amend the Employment Insurance Act and increase the benefit period to 50 weeks. We know that an amendment to such an important piece of legislation does not happen in every Parliament, and, as my colleague from Thérèse-De Blainville said, we have a great opportunity to settle this issue of inequity and injustice once and for all.
For us, giving up and settling for 26 weeks is out of the question. We want to support these people who have to fight for their lives day after day to regain their health, get through their illness, and return to work.
In debates in the House, we do not talk enough about workers in that situation. I do not know whether any members of the House are actuaries, but it does not take a genius to know that not all sick workers will need 50 weeks to get better.
I believe that we have the means to do this. We have a golden opportunity, and I hope that government members will support our motion and be inspired by our arguments. These are workers with precarious jobs. They are the most vulnerable members of our society. They have the right to legislation that gives them better protection than they have now.