House of Commons Hansard #18 of the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was wet'suwet'en.


Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Delta B.C.


Carla Qualtrough LiberalMinister of Employment

Madam Speaker, I want to start by saying that our hearts are with Émilie Sansfaçon. She is incredibly brave, and we thank her for taking the time to come to Ottawa to meet with me and the Prime Minister to explain just how serious this situation is. We understand that it is very serious.

I am pleased to rise in the House of Commons to discuss the motion before us today. I want to acknowledge that we are on unceded Algonquin territory.

Today's motion touches on a key Canadian value, which is how we take care of each other when we are sick. We are not a country where the sick are abandoned; that is not the Canadian way.

We have a solid social safety net, and one aspect of this net is our employment insurance system.

I am proud to be responsible for this program in my new role as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. In this role, the Prime Minister has asked me to undertake a number of measures to strengthen this important Canadian program.

As everyone knows, workplaces and families are changing. Naturally, employment insurance sickness benefits need to change as well. The employment insurance system has remained a pillar of Canada's social safety net since it was created in 1940. Since then, life has changed considerably.

It is time to see how employment insurance sickness benefits can better support Canadians. I will first take a moment to describe what the program is currently meant to do and what it is like now.

Currently, the EI sickness benefit provides up to 15 weeks of income replacement for Canadians who are unable to work because of illness, injury or quarantine.

Employment insurance sickness benefits were designed to help Canadians stay connected to the labour market and to provide them with financial support during the healing process. This will allow them to return and contribute to the labour market without having to bear any undue financial hardship. These sickness benefits are in addition to other support measures available in the case of illness or long-term disability through the Canada pension plan disability benefits and employers' health care plans.

On average, people who claimed sickness benefits in the fiscal year 2017-18 used 10 weeks of the benefit and then returned to work. However, quite a large cohort, 36% or about 150,000 Canadians, exhausted their full 15 weeks before they could get back to work. Among these 150,000 Canadians, we know that women and older Canadians were more likely to need more than the 15 weeks. This is a very serious issue facing Canadians with sickness or injury.

Imagine that someone is raising children alone and suddenly is unable to pay the bills. No one needs that kind of pressure—

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The hon. minister will have 16 and a half minutes to finish her speech when we resume debate.

Relations with Indigenous PeoplesRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.

Papineau Québec


Justin Trudeau LiberalPrime Minister

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by recognizing that we are on the ancestral land of the Algonquin people.

People are troubled by what they have been witnessing this past week. Young, old, indigenous and newcomers are asking themselves what is happening in the country. They are asking what lies ahead for themselves, for their communities and for Canada. They know that these protests are serious, that this is a critical moment for our country and for our future. So do I.

On all sides, people are upset and frustrated. I get it. It is understandable, because this is about things that matter: rights, livelihoods, the rule of law and our democracy.

To those affected by the blockades and protests, I know that you are going through difficult times. Rest assured that our government is working hard to find a solution. Our government’s priority is to resolve this situation peacefully, but also to protect the rule of law in our country. That is a principle we will always stand up for.

It is past time for this situation to be resolved. However, what we are facing was not created overnight. It was not created because we have embarked upon a path of reconciliation recently in our history. It is because, for too long in our history, for too many years, we failed to do so. Therefore, finding a solution will not be simple; it will take determination, hard work and co-operation. There is no relationship more important to Canada than the one with indigenous peoples. Today, as Prime Minister, I am once again formally extending my hand in partnership and trust.

Over the last 11 days, our government has been working on a path forward, even as many have been saying we should give up. We know what is at stake. We know that we cannot afford to fail. Therefore, we are creating a space for peaceful, honest dialogue with willing partners.

As we heard this morning from Mohawk leaders and from National Chief Perry Bellegarde, we need to resolve this through dialogue and mutual respect.

To the Wet'suwet'en and Mohawk nations, and indigenous leaders across the country, we are listening. We are not asking that they stop standing up for their communities, rights and for what they believe. We only ask that they be willing to work with the federal government as partners in finding solutions. They remind us, rightly so, that too often trust has been betrayed in the history of indigenous negotiations with Canadian governments. In fact, that underlines the difficulty of solving this situation today. However, our common ground is the desire to arrive at solutions.

We cannot resolve this alone. Just like we need indigenous leaders to be partners, we also need Canadians to show both resolve and collaboration. Everyone has a stake in getting this right.

Let's be clear. Our government will continue to work night and day to quickly find a peaceful solution. In the past, we have seen just how quickly these situations can change. I know that we all want to find a solution, and at the same time we must prevent things from escalating. I again convened the incident response group yesterday to discuss the situation and our path forward. I have also spoken with premiers across the country about the impact of blockades on farmers, entrepreneurs, families and workers across the country.

Over the weekend, the Minister of Indigenous Services met with representatives from Tyendinaga, as well as other members of the Mohawk nation. I have committed to the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs that the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations will meet with them any time. I hope the offer will be accepted.

This is our opportunity now to bring these perspectives together. What is the alternative? Do we want to become a country of irreconcilable differences, where people talk but refuse to listen, where politicians are ordering police to arrest people, a country where people think they can tamper with rail lines and endanger lives? This is simply unacceptable.

We cannot solve these problems on the margins. That is not the way forward. I know that people's patience is running short. We need to find a solution and we need to find it now.

I have spoken in the House about how my father faced protests over the debate about aboriginal and treaty rights in the Constitution. Over 30 years later, many of those questions still linger, which is why our pace of change must be even faster, and not only in this situation.

Despite having invested more than any other government to right historic wrongs, to close persistent gaps, we know that there is still more, much more to be done. It is unacceptable that there are people who still do not have access to clean drinking water, that indigenous women and girls still go missing and are murdered, that there are people without housing and good education. It is unacceptable that indigenous peoples are still denied rights and lands, so we need to keep finding solutions. That can only happen by working together and by listening.

As a country we are called upon to find a path forward. It is our job to choose respect and communication. We must not embark upon a path where we refuse to listen, or where we give in to hostilities. That is not the solution.

There are those who would want us to act in haste, who want us to boil this down to slogans and ignore the complexities, who think that using force is helpful. It is not. Patience may be in short supply and that makes it more valuable than ever.

Indigenous rights, climate action, law and order and building a clean economy, we will not achieve these things by degrading our—

Relations with Indigenous PeoplesRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Relations with Indigenous PeoplesRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

This is a very serious topic that we are discussing today and I am starting to hear heckling from both sides, which really troubles me. I want everyone to take a deep breath and listen to the speakers we have today. We have more coming.

The hon. Prime Minister.

Relations with Indigenous PeoplesRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.


Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will repeat my last sentence. Patience may be in short supply and that makes it more valuable than ever.

In this country, we are facing many important and deep debates, debates about the future livelihoods of our children, the future of our environment, our relations with countries around the world and our positioning on things that are fundamental at a time of anxiety. More and more Canadians are impatient to see those answers. More and more people are frustrated that there is such uncertainty. More and more we see those debates carried with increasing intensity on the margins of our democratic conversations.

The place for these debates is here in this House. The place for these debates is around kitchen tables and community centres in the country. Yes, there is always a place for Canadians to protest and express their frustrations, but we need to ensure we also listen to each other. The reality of populism, and its siren song in our democracies these days, is a desire to listen only to ourselves and to people who agree with us and not to people of another perspective.

The concern with action before discussion and the need for reasonable, reasoned debate in this place are at the centre of what we have to continue to move forward with as a country. Indigenous rights, climate action, law and order and building a clean economy are things we will not achieve by degrading our democracy. We must be honest about why we are here. We must be open to working together to move forward, not just in the days ahead but as we make progress on everything from implementing indigenous rights and title, addressing historic wrongs and ending long-term drinking water advisories. As a country and as a government, we need to continue the work we are doing and we need to continue to walk this road together.

I say to everyone that we are extending our hands in good faith for dialogue. The opportunity is there on the table right now. We are in this together: the worker, the senior, the indigenous leader, the protester and the police officer. Let us have the courage to take this opportunity and take action together to build a better path for all Canadians.

Relations with Indigenous PeoplesRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Regina—Qu'Appelle Saskatchewan


Andrew Scheer ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, that was the weakest response to a national crisis in Canadian history. I listened to the Prime Minister's word salad just now and at least two key things were missing: a clear denunciation that the actions of these radical activists are illegal and some kind of an action plan that would put an end to the illegal blockades and get our economy back on track. The Prime Minister's statement was a complete abdication of responsibility and of leadership.

We are at an important time in our country's history, a time when we have to decide who and what our country stands for. Will we be a country of “yes”, where big national projects can get built and our country can grow and develop, or will we be a country of “no”, where a few loud voices can shut down development and prosperity for all?

Will our country be one of the rule of the law, or will our country be one of the rule of the mob? Will we let our entire economy be held hostage by a small group trampling the legal system that has governed our country for more than 150 years?

Let me be clear. Standing between our country and prosperity is a small group of radical activists, many of whom have little to no connection to first nations communities. They are a bunch of radical activists who will not rest until our oil and gas industry is entirely shut down. They may have the luxury of not having to go to work every day, and they may have the luxury of not facing repercussions for skipping class, but they are blockading our ports, railways, borders, roads and highways, and they are appropriating an indigenous agenda, which they are willfully misrepresenting.

The Prime Minister's elevation of these protestors to the same level as the thousands of men and women in first nations communities across our country who have been trying in good faith to right the wrongs of Canadian history is a disservice to the spirit of reconciliation.

The Prime Minister has emboldened and encouraged this kind of behaviour by cancelling other big projects based on political considerations instead of science and facts.

The reality is that a vast majority of members of the Wet'suwet'en people support the Coastal GasLink project. Every single elected band council on the Coastal GasLink route supports this project. Even the majority of hereditary chiefs support this project. The vast majority of first nations community members themselves support this project because it will create jobs and it will create opportunities. It will lead to investments in their communities and, in the end, it will help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a fantastic opportunity for the Wet'suwet'en people, so why are these radical activists opposing this project? For them this is just a warm-up act. It is a warm-up act for what they consider to be the next fights against Trans Mountain and against Teck Frontier. In the end their goal is to shut down our entire energy industry.

It is important to remember who the victims of this have been and who have been victimized by Liberal inaction. They are the farmers who cannot get their grain to market. They are the small business owners who cannot get their shipments in time. They are the homeowners who may face trouble getting their home heating fuel for the winter. They are the workers facing layoffs. The ultimate victims are the Wet'suwet'en members themselves who are looking for prosperity for their children.

Conservatives have been calling for common sense and appropriate recommendations to end these illegal blockades. We have called on the Liberal government to enforce the rule of law. What we were expecting today was some sort of an announcement about a plan that would put an end to these illegal blockades. Instead, today we heard literally nothing.

Everyone has the right to say their piece, regardless of whether we agree or disagree, but nobody, and I mean nobody, has the right to hold our economy hostage.

The blockades across our country are illegal and it is time the government stepped in and did something about that. On this side of the House, we stand with the farmers. On this side of the House, we stand with commuters. On this side of the House, we stand with workers facing layoffs. We stand with everyday, hard-working Canadians. Most importantly, on this side of the House, we stand in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people.

We stand in solidarity with the elected councillors of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation. We stand in solidarity with the majority of hereditary chiefs from the Wet'suwet'en First Nation who recognize that these types of projects and investments are the only way to lift first nation Canadians out of poverty, give them hope and opportunity, and give the next generation of indigenous Canadians the same quality of life that everyone else in this country enjoys.

Relations with Indigenous PeoplesRoutine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.


Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must clarify what the Conservative leader means when he uses the phrase “this side of the House”. We sit on the same side of the House, but clearly, no member of the Bloc Québécois would ever take sides within a first nation, calling some people bad guys and others good guys, depending on whether they agree with the Bloc.

Who are we, in white society, to get between them and pass judgment on them based on whether they agree with the common interest of the moment? The line between the members on this side of the House is here.

Furthermore, I have to ask the Prime Minister why it took him 12 days to intervene when it was clear from the very beginning that this would be a serious national crisis?

Also, why do I feel like I just heard an election speech from 2015? We heard statements about all sorts of highly laudable values, principles and virtue, but with nothing concrete behind them. I understand that negotiations must happen somewhere. I understand that open lines of communication are needed. I understand that the Prime Minister does not want to negotiate in public.

That is fine, but the government does not convene Parliament to make a ministerial statement if it has nothing to say, and yet, that is what we just witnessed. The way forward does not seem much clearer, but the errors do. First, it seems we have to make a decision. It is almost like we have to choose today in the House between respect for first nations, respect they deserve, and the Canadian economy, as though those two things are automatically and hopelessly irreconcilable. It is almost as if it were impossible to find a solution to the crisis that would get key components of the Quebec and Canadian economies moving again without undermining the talks requested by the first nations. I, for one, think it is possible.

As a brief aside, I want to once again ask who we are to judge. After all, we are claiming our approach is legitimate based on a law passed in 1876 that imposed a governance model on first nations that stemmed from our great sense of white superiority. Some first nations members are not convinced that this is the best approach. This debate is theirs to some extent. That is mainly what this is about. We are somewhat obligated to respect and listen to first nations. In that respect, I agree with the fact that the government wants to finally have a conversation.

However, there are certainly some existing tensions. Members must remember that, not so long ago, the government either authorized or turned a blind eye to the use of snipers near Wet'suwet'en territory. I can see how that might create some tension. I can see how some people might not feel safe.

On the heels of that, the message is to avoid going down a path of tension and violence. I could not agree more. That should never have been allowed. We have heard a litany of excuses over the years. This is a good opportunity to apologize for allowing such a thing to happen, which is certainly a fundamental aspect of the current crisis.

I do not want to give anyone the impression that I am condoning certain actions. This cannot go on. Some first nations people have called for reason.

I can imagine everyone's relief at the thought that maybe, by their own initiative, there would be conversations, processes or reassurances that would produce the urgently needed result of ending the blockades. Negotiations necessarily involve people reacting to other actions.

That is what has to happen. It is also vital to be open to profound, fundamental cultural differences, instead of simply imposing our own values by banging on desks. First nations have the right to be different. I think we need that perspective and restraint.

Although the Wet'suwet'en are not unanimously agreed on the issue of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, I think it is important to at least have the wisdom to give them a space where they can have the necessary discussions.

What actions should to be taken? I do not have the authority to answer that question, because I am an observer who only speaks for Quebec. However, this crisis is having a serious economic impact on Quebec.

This crisis falls within the purview of British Columbia, and we respect provincial jurisdiction. However, apart from all the otherwise highly commendable speeches and values, I wonder if it might be advisable to seek a complete suspension of the work, if only on a temporary basis. It would then be perfectly legitimate to ask the first nations to dismantle their blockades across Canada and Quebec.

I think that would be a clear, concrete and measurable action that the first nations could surely interpret as a gesture of genuine openness, one that would go beyond mere words, which have all too often only led to disappointment over the past few years.

I urge the government to take concrete action and propose a clear, measurable solution that I hope will be well received. I want to reiterate that the methods adopted by the first nations are unacceptable and are harming their own economy as well as the Canadian and Quebec economies as a whole. This issue needs to be resolved quickly and definitively. If that is the government's intention, it can count on our collaboration.

Relations with Indigenous PeoplesRoutine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.


Jagmeet Singh NDP Burnaby South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge that while the Prime Minister has spoken today on a very important crisis, he has not shown leadership on this matter for over a month.

I want to begin my comments by acknowledging the fact that it is inspiring to see the youth rising and to see people of all walks of life standing up for human rights, standing up for climate justice.

I am inspired by young people fighting for the environment and human rights. It is inspiring.

I also want to acknowledge the helplessness and uncertainty that many farmers, local producers and business folks are feeling right now. I know there are a lot of workers who are not able to go to work now. There are a lot of people who are worried about whether they will be able to make ends meet because of the impacts.

I am thinking about all of these people right now, all Canadians. I am also thinking about the people at the blockade who are standing up because they are so frustrated. They are so angry, and they are right to be angry.

The context for what is going on, something the Prime Minister alluded to, is a deep frustration. It is historic, absolutely. If people have any compassion in their hearts, the bitter and horrible injustice faced by the first people of this land should result in some frustration and anger.

This is a serious crisis we are faced with. Sadly, it is not what the Prime Minister referred to as an “infrastructure disruption”.

We are facing a really serious crisis right now in Canada.

Canadians are expecting us to show some leadership. They are also expecting the Prime Minister to show leadership. Sadly, the reality is that the Prime Minister has let a lot of those people down.

There have been centuries of broken promises to indigenous people, and those broken promises are not just broken words: They have resulted in massive injustice, massive inequality and the deaths of indigenous people. Indigenous people have been denied basic human rights. The Prime Minister promised to be different, but he broke his promises and did not show himself to be very different.

Let us look at his record. The Prime Minister and the Liberal government members talk about their record, so let us look at what is going on in our country right now.

A Human Rights Tribunal decision found that the government did not just underfund or discriminate against indigenous kids, but did so recklessly, willfully, purposefully. To add insult to injury, the government is taking first nations kids to court and is not even being clear about how many millions of dollars it is spending to fight them.

Not only in child welfare has the Prime Minister and the Liberal government let down first nations, Inuit and Métis, but also when it comes to the funding of education for first nations and the funding of programs. Something as simple as the program to allow women to rightfully reclaim status has been underfunded. There have been massive inconsistencies between what the Prime Minister says and what he does.

We are in the year 2020. I can accept no excuse that the Liberal government, coming off of a five-year majority, cannot ensure that every single indigenous community in this country has clean drinking water. With the technology and the wealth of our country, there is no excuse why clean drinking water cannot be assured as a right.

It is completely unacceptable and incomprehensible that in 2020 we will not be meeting the targets and that not all indigenous communities will have access to safe drinking water.

On top of that, when a young activist raised concerns about clean drinking water in a community at a private fundraiser, the Prime Minister mocked that young person in front of his wealthy donors. That was the response of the Prime Minister and it is part of why this crisis is where it is right now. The Prime Minister said he knew better than elders and that what young indigenous people really need is a place to store their paddles and canoes. That does not show a respect for the seriousness and gravity of the problem that colonialism has left for the first people of this land.

On the current issue, more than a month ago the Wet'suwet'en chiefs made a request for the federal government to play a role. They specifically asked for the Prime Minister and the federal government to play a role in resolving this conflict. New Democrats asked a question of the government weeks ago. At the time, that question was laughed off. At the time, the Prime Minister said it was not his problem. He said it was “entirely under provincial jurisdiction”. I am glad to see that the Prime Minister now understands that a nation-to-nation relationship means that all levels of government must play a role and that the Prime Minister must play a role as well.

It is encouraging to see that the Prime Minister is not calling for police to be sent in. We have seen the consequences of that type of response and we do not want to go there. However, it is troubling that it has taken so long for the Prime Minister to realize that there is a role for him and the federal government to play.

It is disturbing to see that it has taken the government all this time to realize that it has a role to play in resolving this crisis.

The solution to all of this is going to require hard work. It is going to require that we respect the principles of a nation-to-nation relationship. It means having dialogue, having conversations. It means that the Prime Minister and the federal government have to play a role. It means we have to find a peaceful way forward that respects human rights, the freedom of the press and most of all the fundamental rights of indigenous people.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission laid a path forward. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples lays a course forward. However, the TRC's path forward has calls to action, not calls to empty words. It is time for the government and the Prime Minister to back up words with real action.

Now is the time to take concrete action. This is not the time for lip service; it is the time for concrete action to solve the problem and achieve justice for indigenous communities.

This is our chance to do better, not just say we will do better. If the Prime Minister is ready to move forward on a path of justice and fairness, then he can count on the New Democrats to work with him to deliver real solutions that create a path forward for justice and fairness and create a path forward out of this crisis.

Relations with Indigenous PeoplesRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank all my colleagues for giving me this opportunity to speak about this emergency situation that confronts us all with the reality of injustice and the challenge of reconciliation.

This is a very important debate and this is a very important moment. During the constituency week when I was home in my riding, we discussed the blockades, the inconvenience, what it means for settler culture Canadians to face inconvenience when indigenous people have had their land, children and culture stolen from them, and efforts to annihilate who they are as people. We have to weigh our inconvenience against the challenge of the moment. One of my constituents, Priscilla, said that we should focus on the opportunity of such a rich conversation.

Listening to some of the words of my colleagues, the leader of the official opposition reminded me of something. On May 4, 1877, General Oliver Otis Howard spoke of the frustrations he felt in dealing with the Nez Perce and their chiefs as they discussed what mattered to them. He stated that, “Twenty times over I hear that the earth is your mother. I want to hear it no more, but come to business at once.” This is not simple and it will not end overnight because it is based on a century and a half of injustice, oppression and colonialism.

It is also based on the reality that since 1997, the Wet'suwet'en have had every reason to believe that based on a Supreme Court of Canada decision, the federal government would come and talk about the title for the Wet'suwet'en, which could be 22,000 square kilometres, and about what it means that the Supreme Court of Canada has said that their title and indigenous form of government, which predates Canada by thousands of years, has status in Canadian law.

We must not ever set out the notion that there is a rule of law on one side and indigenous people on the other. Indigenous people have the law on their side. When the leader of the official opposition referred to “a small group of radical activists”, perhaps he meant the nine judges of the Supreme Court of Canada. They are the ones who said that title is title is title and that indigenous title is collective and intergenerational. Acknowledging that will explain why we stand in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary leadership.

My colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith went up on January 19 and met with the hereditary leadership of Wet'suwet'en. The Green Party has been trying to appeal to the federal government from the beginning to not let the RCMP arrest people. The huge encampment cost Canada a whole year of a remote location of RCMP detachment encampment on the edge of Wet'suwet'en territory. It is very remote. My colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith went up there and found that they had offered an alternative route. This was acknowledged in the injunction case that granted an injunction to Coastal GasLink. The Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs had offered another location that would avoid the Kweese trail, but according to the court, Coastal GasLink unilaterally rejected the alternative.

The federal government has to step up. I am glad the federal government is stepping up. It is true that on February 5 in this place, the Prime Minister said that, “This is an issue that is entirely under provincial jurisdiction.” That is true insofar as the pipeline goes. It does not cross a provincial border, but it is massively untrue. We talk about indigenous rights, the Delgamuukw decision of 1997, the Tsilhqot'in decision of 2014. The big question to ask when first nations win in our courts is this: What is the statute of limitations on us doing anything about it?

The Wet'suwet'en have been enormously patient and the Unist'ot'en camp has been sitting there for 10 years.

It should come as no surprise to see resistance from indigenous peoples across Canada. It is clear in all the agreements.

The indigenous leadership across Canada has been saying for quite some time that if someone marches on that territory, they will respond as if someone had marched on their territory. This is an aspect of solidarity. For the solidarity of indigenous people across Canada and their allies, people like me who are settler culture Canadians recognize that this is a turning people for this country, where we actually mean what we say.

When I heard a comment from the brilliant senator and former justice Murray Sinclair from the other place, who said, as in Paul Simon in The Boxer, “For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises.” We must set aside our pocket full of mumbles. We must be serious in our intent. This is a land issue. This is a title issue. This is a justice issue. It is only very incidentally a pipeline issue.

It is now clear that we must face the reality of injustice and the great promise of reconciliation. Now is the time to say yes to indigenous peoples and to reject the notion that they are a radical group, because they are not. This is a group that is committed to the grand project of justice.

Now is the moment for Canada to face its moment of truth, justice and reconciliation.

Relations with Indigenous PeoplesRoutine Proceedings

11:40 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statements, Government Orders will be extended by 43 minutes.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Delta B.C.


Carla Qualtrough LiberalMinister of Employment

Madam Speaker, today we are talking about the Canadian value of how we take care of each other when we are sick. We are talking about improvements to the employment insurance sickness benefit.

On average, people who claimed sickness benefits in fiscal year 2017-18 used 10 weeks of the benefit and then returned to work. However, quite a large cohort, 36% or about 150,000 Canadians, exhausted their full 15 weeks before they could go back to work. Among those 150,000 Canadians, women and older Canadians were more likely to need more than 15 weeks.

This is a very serious issue facing Canadians who are sick or injured.

Imagine being a single parent and then overnight no longer being able to pay the bills. Nobody needs that kind of pressure while trying to rest and get better.

It is the government’s responsibility to put measures in place to keep the Canadian workforce strong, healthy and productive.

A healthy, strong and productive workforce means a healthy, strong and productive economy.

That is why our government has committed to increasing the sickness benefit from 15 weeks to 26 weeks. This commitment was praised by the Canadian Cancer Society and aligns well with the requests from The Conference Board of Canada and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada to enhance the support of people living with MS.

The main goal of the EI program is to support people and at the same time maintain their connection to the labour market. This is doubly important, as we know that employers face shortages in labour in all sectors across the country. Keeping Canadians connected to active work lives is important both for the well-being of Canadians and for the well-being of our economy.

As the minister responsible for disability inclusion, I attach paramount importance to this matter. Part of my work, under the Accessible Canada Act, is to ensure that barriers faced by persons with disabilities are removed so that they can fully participate in society.

To explain the connection with employment insurance sickness benefits, let me use multiple sclerosis as an example.

Those with multiple sclerosis have what is called an episodic disability. This means that they go through periods when they are well enough to work, and others when that is not the case.

In 2018, we made changes to the employment insurance sickness benefit to allow claimants to use the rules governing work during a benefit period. Workers therefore enjoy greater flexibility in availing themselves of the assistance provided by employment insurance while doing part of their work in the same week.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, if those with multiple sclerosis could remain in or re-enter the workforce more easily, it could increase our economic activity by $1.1 billion annually. That is a win-win situation.

Our government has committed to extending sickness benefits to 26 weeks. I want to impress upon my colleagues the importance of getting this right, of acting from the best evidence.

I encourage the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to study this matter as soon as possible. We do not want Canadians falling through the cracks.

As I mentioned earlier, we are determined to improve the employment insurance plan so that it better serves employees and employers. We are continuing to work hard to improve the program. I will talk about that now and let my parliamentary secretary add some details shortly.

I am very proud and pleased to say that Canada recently scored 100, a perfect score, on the World Bank's women, business and the law index. This was due in part to our recent reform regarding parental leave benefits that reserve five weeks of paid leave for the second parent, typically the father. With this step, we are ensuring that Canada is a place where everyone can be on equal footing in terms of work.

As Unifor national president Jerry Dias said, “In addition to making it easier for women to return to work this extra leave will help to even out childcare responsibilities and break down gender-based parenting roles.”

Another major improvement was to reduce the time people have to wait before receiving their benefits. In January 2017, we reduced it from two weeks to one week in order to ease the financial burden for those receiving employment insurance benefits. This change puts more than $650 million into the pockets of Canadians each year.

I am also pleased to say that budget 2018 made the 50¢-on-the-dollar rules of the most recent EI working-while-on-claim pilot project permanent and grandfathered claimants who chose to revert to older rules under the most recent pilot project until August 2021.

In budget 2018, we also expanded the pilot project to sickness and maternity benefits, making them more consistent and providing greater flexibility for those who want to return to work while receiving sickness benefits. The new changes make it easier for claimants to remain in the labour force and get through gaps between periods of work.

We have also increased our support for caregivers. We know that millions of Canadians provide informal care and support for critically ill family members. Canadians told us that they want more flexibility and inclusive options to care for and support loved ones.

In budget 2017, we announced special measures to give families greater flexibility by making it easier for caregivers to claim employment insurance benefits. These measures are having a real impact on Canadians' lives.

An example of this is the creation of the employment insurance family caregiver benefit for adults. This new benefit is making a big difference in the lives of many Canadians who work hard, but must also take off work to care for a loved one. For a maximum of 15 weeks, it allows eligible family caregivers to provide care for an adult family member who is critically ill or injured.

I would also like to highlight that for the first time, immediate and extended family members of children who are critically ill now have access to a benefit that was previously available only to parents. This goes beyond immediate family and even relatives. Individuals who are not relatives but considered to be like family, for example, a neighbour, could be eligible to receive the benefit to provide care to a critically ill child. Caregivers can share the available weeks of benefits at the same time or separately.

We estimate that some 22,000 families have received the new EI benefit for family caregivers. These are positive changes that are already benefiting Canadians. We intend to deliver more of the same. We still have a lot to do to ensure that Canadians get the support they need to overcome barriers to full labour market participation.

As I mentioned, in my current role, I have taken on the mantle of further strengthening our employment insurance programs. This means improving our sickness benefit, but it also means making a number of other changes for the better. I will be working collaboratively with my finance and tax colleagues to make maternity and parental benefits tax-free. I will be introducing a 15-week leave for adoptive parents, including for LGBTQ2 families.

I will be working with the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to create guaranteed paid family leave. I will create a new career insurance benefit for workers who have worked for the same employer for five or more years and lose their job when the business closes.

This new benefit will kick in after employment insurance ends and will not be clawed back if other income is earned. This is essential in a world where jobs change so quickly that, 20 years from now, our kids will have jobs we have not even heard of.

I am tasked with improving the current pilot project for seasonal workers with a permanent program that provides consistent and reliable benefits. I will be working on this over the coming summer.

Lastly, together with my colleague, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, we are creating a new EI disaster assistance benefit. This new benefit will be developed in consultation with experts, workers and employers. It will replace the income that is lost when families need to temporarily stop working to protect their homes or because they need to relocate to safety.

Since we want our improvements to the EI system to be evidence-based, I will be working with my colleagues at Statistics Canada to strengthen the data. With the ever-changing nature of families and work, it is important that we join forces to ensure that Canadians get the support they need.

After all, these supports will not only benefit Canadian workers, who are mothers, fathers, caregivers of children and the elderly, and some who are battling long-term illness in their day-to-day lives; they will also go a long way toward ensuring a stable and thriving economy for our country. That is why we will continue to look for ways to improve the EI system so it can meet the needs of Canadian families and workers at every stage in their career, in sickness and in health.

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank Minister Qualtrough for her remarks on EI and EI benefits.

I would like to ask her a question—

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

I would remind the member for Thérèse-De Blainville not to use the names of members of the House.

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I apologize.

When the EI benefit system for serious illness was first introduced 40 years ago, it was shown that 15 weeks was not enough to meet the needs of those who needed it.

The minister says she is committed to offering 26 weeks of benefits.

Why stop there? Why not offer 50 weeks of benefits in the interest of fairness for those workers?

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

I want to assure the House that this is a first step. We are committed to improving employment insurance benefits. In our platform, we committed to providing 26 weeks of benefits. That is what the Canadian Cancer Society and the MS Society of Canada asked for, and it is what the Conference Board of Canada recommended. It is closer to our other benefits, such as the family caregiver benefit.

We see this as a start. As ever, we are committed to working with all members of the House to improve the system.

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Madam Speaker, earlier in the debate I asked the leader of the Bloc Québécois why it was 50 weeks, and the answer he gave was that it is because it matches other benefits. From my experience with the system, people may have EI benefits available for anywhere between 15 and 45 weeks, depending on the local situation and where they live.

I would like to ask the minister if she is supportive of the number the Bloc has given, and if she does not agree with it, maybe she can give us her rationale as to why it should be a different number.

I really think we should not be pulling numbers out of a hat, whether out of an NDP hat or a Bloc Québécois hat.

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, for a number of years, and before and during the election, we heard from such organizations as the Canadian Cancer Society, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and even the Conference Board of Canada that 15 weeks was not enough. Almost 36%, a third, of Canadians on EI sickness benefits go beyond the 15 weeks. Clearly, there is a need to go further.

We also know there are a different number of weeks of benefits. For family caregivers, it is 15 to 35 weeks, depending on whether they are caring for a critically ill child or an adult. The point is that we try to match the benefits with the particular circumstances the benefit is trying to address.

We are committed to 26 weeks because that is what we heard from experts in different organizations. Right now, that is where we are. Of course, we are always open to making improvements to the EI system. It has been too long already.

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Madam Speaker, I have been working with the minister and trying to get extended EI for fishers in British Columbia who have been affected by the salmon emergency, and I want to thank her for taking time to meet with me.

I got an email from Gary Egli from Courtenay a year ago. Gary had paid into EI and he had worked his whole life. He is 55 years old. He was told he had cancer. He extended his 15 weeks. He knew he was going to be off work for about 50 weeks and his EI was going to run out 15 weeks later. He has paid into EI his whole life and has not received a nickel of EI during the whole of his working career. He was contributing the whole time and here he is now, at a time when he needs help, and the government is not honouring it. He has been filling EI coffers, but when he needs it the most, he is not getting the help he needs. He does not want to be on EI; he wants to be working.

He is sick and he is looking for the government to update its EI policy, which it has not done since 1971. Clearly it is outdated and it needs to be fixed.

One in two Canadians is going to get sick with some terminal or extended illness, so we are hoping that the government will support today's motion and we are urging it to do so. I want to thank the Bloc for putting forward this motion. It is something the NDP has supported for decades. Hopefully, the minister will make the necessary changes to make sure Gary and people like him will get the support they need when they get sick.

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, of course I sympathize, and my heart goes out to everyone suffering from cancer and other illnesses that impact their lives and their ability to earn their livelihoods and provide for their families.

We do have to update this law. It has been way too long. I happen to have been born in 1971, so I can say it has not been changed in my entire life.

We need to look at the average number of weeks people are taking, whether for cancer or for other things. We have to look at the complementary benefits that are put in place and we have to make sure we listen to constituents and organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society itself, which is calling for 26 weeks.

As I said, we are always open to further discussions on this issue, but we committed in our platform to 26 weeks, and that is currently the direction we are heading.

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to point out that organizations in Quebec, such as the Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses, are asking that the time granted for sick leave be equivalent to what is granted to those who simply lose their jobs.

I take great offence to the comments of my Conservative colleague, who insinuated that the Bloc Québécois and the NDP do not know how to count. The maximum EI benefit period is one year. That is what we are asking for, because that is what organizations in Quebec are asking for. I am quite disappointed to see that it will remain capped at 26 weeks. As our leader said earlier, in my opinion, only a minority of people would need the full period. For those who have cancer and need a year to get back on their feet and get a little financial support, let us show a little compassion and extend it to 50 weeks, even though the Canadian Cancer Society is asking for 26.

In Quebec, we have a year of parental leave. That could never have been accepted in the House, because the values of its representatives are not sufficiently social democratic. That is what I am realizing today.

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, my thanks to my colleague for his question. By way of clarification, this is a first step for our government. The benefits period was 15 weeks and we have increased it to 26 weeks. We are really open to the discussion about how to improve the employment insurance system in a compassionate way. We understand that, for many, the present system is not working. The fact that 36% of people take more than 15 weeks shows that we must go further. We are continuing to work with the other parties in the House to ensure that our fellow citizens are supported in difficult times.

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders


Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I listened to the other questions that are being posed and I want to recognize that the government over the last number of years has made some significant changes.

On this topic alone, the minister is talking about increasing the number of weeks. For many years in opposition, I waited for the government to be more sensitive to employment insurance and the need to make changes. For the first time, we now have a government that is making progress on this issue. Can the minister provide her thoughts on why we have seen a current government move forward on changes for EI, compared to the previous government, which was completely closed to the idea of reforms or changes?

Opposition Motion—Special Employment Insurance Sickness BenefitsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I can assure everyone that this conversation is long overdue. Our government has invested significantly in ameliorating the entirety of the EI system, and this is indeed the next step forward. We know that there is always more we can do, and we intend to do it.