Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Surrey Centre today.
I was really happy to hear the last exchange between the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, on maternity assistance in particular, because this is exactly where I was going to start my discussion today to highlight something that happened in the previous session of Parliament that perhaps a lot of the new Bloc Québécois members are not informed about.
I was very lucky to be chosen as one of the first members to have a private member's bill. I brought forward a private member's bill in 2016 that specifically dealt with women who work in hazardous jobs and the hardships they were put through as a result of the employment insurance system when they were told they could not continue working in those hazardous conditions.
This bill called for a couple of things. It called for an increase in sick time. It called for a national maternity assistance program to look at the various ways that we could help women in hazardous working conditions, given that the labour force is changing.
I will say that the bill went through a lot of ups and downs. There were some discussions along the way. It did not receive unanimous support at the beginning, but it did make its way to committee. It was discussed at committee, where ideas were brought forward. It finally came back to the House, and this House almost unanimously voted in favour of it. All the Conservatives voted for it. All the NDP voted for it. All the Liberals voted for it. The Green Party member voted for it.
Who did not vote for it? The 10 Bloc Québécois members in the House did not vote for it. They were the only members who did not support this private member's bill that was specifically about employment insurance sick leave for women who were working in hazardous jobs. I do not know why. For a while I thought they did not support it because the word “national” was in the title of the bill. I was not sure, but at the end of the day, we did not end up getting unanimous support.
I respect the fact that a lot of the current members of the Bloc Québécois were not here then. However, I am really glad to see that this is one of the issues that they are so focused on this time around, because it is critically important. For that matter, I want to give them credit for bringing forward this very important discussion today.
I asked a few minutes ago about the difference between 50 or 60 weeks and 120 weeks. How did we come to 50 weeks? I did appreciate the answer. I thought I was given a really good answer by the member that specifically touched on the fact that this had to do with employment insurance benefits and what people were getting when they were going off on unemployment. It made a lot of sense to me, and I appreciate the answer.
However, the problem is that we went into this election with a commitment. That commitment was to change from the existing 15 weeks to 26 weeks. We decided that this was the right thing to do. In fact, we saw that it was widely endorsed by various organizations and agencies, in particular those that are advocating on behalf of people who become sick or injured. For example, the Canadian Cancer Society said:
The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) welcomes the Liberal Party of Canada’s commitment to extend the Employment Insurance Sickness Benefit from 15 to 26 weeks if re-elected.
The proposed extension would support Canadians who have been diagnosed with cancer and need to take time away from work to seek treatment.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said:
The federal government’s commitment to extend employment insurance (EI) sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 26 weeks is a welcome and overdue expansion of the Canadian social safety net.
The MS Society at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities was quoted as saying:
Harmonize the EI sickness benefits duration of 15 weeks to match the 26 weeks duration of compassionate care benefits.
I would argue that not only are we doing exactly what people asked for, but we are doing stuff that was reported back through committee and that the committee had studied. There were many witnesses in that open and transparent process who could have been questioned and challenged on certain things they were saying.
If we just focus this debate on talking about the time and whether 26 weeks or 50 weeks is the right number, we are going to pay a huge disservice to a lot of the other work that is going on in our country, particularly as it relates to people who become sick or injured and as a result have to take time off work.
I want to focus a bit of my time on talking about some of that research and some of the work that is being done to help sick people to have better lives and a better quality of life.
The main agency that the government works with by funding its research is the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, in particular to look into things like finding a cure for cancer or giving people who have terminal cancer a better quality of life or making sure that people have the resources that they need.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CIHR, spends $1.2 billion every year. Approximately 13,000 Canadian health researchers and trainees are supported under this program throughout the country. They research health and chronic illnesses, support the development of preventive treatments, and aim to get Canadians healthier and back to their normal lives.
Over the last five years, the institute spent $305 million on mental health, $859 million on cancer research specifically, $522 million on cardiovascular diseases and $94 million on chronic pain. Last year in particular, the CIHR partnered with the Canadian Cancer Society for a joint $10-million investment aimed at improving the lives of those with cancer.
It is important to bring up all of this because the issue we are talking about here is not going to be solved just by giving more time and throwing more money at it. I do recognize that employment insurance has its own fund, but we need to ensure at the same time that we are helping to improve the quality of life for these individuals by making sure that we research these illnesses and chronic illnesses so that we can give people better treatment.
I want to give a couple of examples relating to cancer specifically. The money that is being used through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is working to improve the lives of cancer survivors. Often this includes long-term treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Patients have to go through these treatments for several months, and they involve a lot of hospital visits and sick days. The patient, the family, and the caregiver have to endure a lot of hardship as a result.
We also know the economic impact of living with cancer. We need to pay more attention to the economic effects that cancer has on individuals. I know I am running out of time, but I wanted to highlight what is being done in terms of ensuring that research and resources are put towards cancer specifically.
Research is also being done on chronic pain. One in five Canadians lives with chronic pain. It is one of the most common reasons that people seek health care in Canada. The economic impact of chronic pain on this country is estimated to be $56 billion a year.
In 2019, the government established the Canadian pain task force, which is tasked with better defining the causes of chronic pain and providing recommendations to Health Canada with respect to prevention and management. The objective is to reduce the overall impact of chronic pain. This is where the Canadian Institutes of Health Research comes into play. It funds organizations such as these to make sure that we do the research that we need to do.
As I indicated a few moments ago, it is vitally important that we look not just at EI. Based on the private member's bill that I discussed before, I am always interested in having a discussion about the employment insurance system and how we can improve upon it. However, at the same time, it is important that we look at how we can better the lives of individuals from a research perspective to give them a better quality of life and better care during the time of their illness, whether it is cancer or chronic pain, the two examples that I have used.
I appreciate the time I have had to participate in the debate today.