Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Battlefords—Lloydminster for her excellent speech. I sensed a great deal of emotion in her presentation, which is to her credit.
Today we are debating an opposition motion that reads as follows:
That the House call on the government to increase the special Employment Insurance sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks in the upcoming budget in order to support people with serious illnesses, such as cancer.
The aim of this motion is interesting, for I do believe it is important to take care of Canadians who have a serious illness. However, why does it call for 50 weeks? I do not know, and I cannot answer that question.
On February 5, I made a statement in the House reminding members of the need to review the special EI sickness benefits, and gave the example of Émilie Sansfaçon, a constituent of mine who lives in Saint-Augustin. This morning I saw her father sitting in the gallery, facing the Bloc Québécois. He came to listen to what the House of Commons was saying on this matter. Ms. Sansfaçon received two cancer diagnoses in the span of a single year. In a heartfelt plea, she called on all political parties to review the current maximum benefit period of 15 weeks.
During the election campaign, I met with her father, Mr. Sansfaçon, to get his side of the story. I obviously promised to take concrete action to improve things for these Canadians who are diagnosed with a serious illness that forces them to be away from work.
The current employment insurance sickness benefit program was established in 1971. That is nearly 50 years ago. Maybe that is where the 50 weeks the Bloc Québécois is asking for came from: since it has been 50 years, the Bloc is asking for 50 weeks. If it had been 70 years, would they have asked for 70 weeks? I do not know, but I wonder.
Obviously, the legislation needs to change. Ms. Sansfaçon has been very courageous considering she has to deal with this serious illness. As I said in the House on February 5, this young woman, and all Canadians with a serious illness, should have the privilege of focusing on their well-being and the care they need instead of the financial concerns that crop up once the 15 weeks of benefits come to an end.
What is absurd about the 15 weeks of sickness benefits is that chemotherapy treatments last at least six months. That was the case for Ms. Sansfaçon after she was diagnosed with cancer the first time. When her benefits ran out, she had to remortgage her house and she asked her family for financial assistance after exhausting her line of credit.
I don't claim to be a doctor, but according to the medical guidance, a patient should convalesce for three months after having chemotherapy to return to full health. Ms. Sansfaçon had to return to work less than a week after the end of her treatments because she had no other choice. She could no longer cope financially. Even worse, five months later she learned that the cancer had returned and that it was stage four and inoperable, having metastasized to the lungs. She can no longer live without chemotherapy and her days are numbered.
As we all know, this is unfortunately not the only young woman who has or will have to deal with this illness, or I would say this cursed illness.
I will cite the statistics published by the Canadian Cancer Society. According to the 2016 data that was recently published, cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada. It is responsible for 30% of all deaths, compared to 19% caused by heart disease. It is expected that one in two Canadians, or 45% of men and 43% of women, will develop cancer in their lifetimes. One in four Canadians, or 26% of men and 23% of women, is expected to die of cancer.
Thanks to advances in medicine and increasingly effective treatments, it is now possible to cure roughly 60% of cancers. With continuing medical research, this number will undoubtedly increase and treatments will take less and less time.
Right now, the majority of cancers require extended treatments that take more than 15 weeks—not to mention other serious illnesses and medical conditions that require long periods of treatment and recovery. It is appalling how the Liberal government keeps flushing taxpayer money down the drain. It is handing out gifts to Mastercard and Loblaws and buying pipelines. Well, it is not a matter of money anymore. The government needs to take concrete action.
I wonder what happened to the government's compassion. The negative health impacts of stress have been proven. I think it is cruel to create more stress for Canadians who have been or will be diagnosed with a serious illness requiring more that 15 weeks of treatment or recovery. Getting the bad news is stressful, the treatment itself is stressful, and there is financial stress on top of that. In 2020, I think Canada can be there to help these people.
The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities should take an in-depth look at EI sickness benefits to make sure they meet the needs of Canadians.
Canada and the U.S. have the two least generous systems, with 15 weeks. Let us compare with other countries. Germany, for example, another G7 country, provides 72 weeks of benefits with the possibility of extending for up to 3 years. France has up to 360 days over a non-recurring 3-year period. Italy offers 50% of daily benefits for the first 17 days and 66% thereafter; there is then a 3-day waiting period for a total of 180 eligible days. Japan offers benefits matching two-thirds of standard daily wages for up to 18 months. The United Kingdom does not rely solely on employment insurance. They have another system and two different types of benefits: one based on employer and employee contributions, and another based on revenue and resources. There is no time limit for the payment of revenue-based support benefits.
Here is what I am getting at: Why does the motion mention 50 weeks? I mentioned a few countries, but there are many more examples out there. Other members talked about different systems in other jurisdictions. Why did the Bloc pick 50 weeks?
This is a matter that must be acted on responsibly. We have to take the necessary steps to get the right answers and treat Canadians well. There has to be a will, there has to be an intent and it has to be a priority. The government simply has to be genuinely compassionate and specifically want to help people.
I see my time is running out, so I will skip right to the conclusion. I have questions for my Bloc Québécois colleagues.
What data did they use to come up with 50 weeks, when the Canadian Cancer Society only asked for 26 weeks? Surely the folks at the Canadian Cancer Society deal with seriously ill people on a more regular basis than members of the Bloc. I put more faith in the Canadian Cancer Society.
What solution does the Bloc Québécois have for people who do not qualify for employment insurance? They are Canadians too, and they are also entitled to assistance.
I am perfectly willing to work with the government to find the best system and determine the right number of weeks to support the thousands of Canadians who have been diagnosed with cancer, like Émilie Sansfaçon, who lives in my riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier.