moved that Bill C-265, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (illness, injury or quarantine), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, this is it. We made it. It is finally time to debate a very compassionate, common-sense bill that seeks to extend special employment insurance sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. I am very honoured to sponsor this bill on behalf of the Bloc Québécois.
It is finally time to put forward a practical, viable solution to a very real and documented problem. It is finally time for parliamentarians to once again tangibly demonstrate their support for the idea that sick workers deserve better and deserve more.
I would like to remind members that the Bloc Québécois's February 2020 motion to extend EI sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks received the support of all opposition members. I would therefore like to thank the 169 members who supported the proposal and remind them that sick workers still need their support. I hope that, together, we will be able to convince the 149 Liberal members who voted against the motion to support it this time around. As the Speaker pointed out, the Liberal government's support is essential to my bill. I need this government's help because my bill needs a royal recommendation in order to be passed.
It is finally an opportunity to honour and remember Émilie Sansfaçon and bring her political struggle, which courageously began when she was fighting for her own life, to a successful conclusion. It is an opportunity to finally implement something that more than 618,000 people have been calling for, namely extending EI sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. I want to thank the incredible Marie-Hélène Dubé for her perseverance and tenacity in rallying support for this effort.
I invite parliamentarians to think back to January 4, 2021, which feels like just yesterday. Think about it this way: If one of your loved ones had a serious illness, like cancer, and their treatment had begun on January 4, that individual would no longer have any income today, because their benefits would have run out. They would have used up their 15 weeks of special benefits. This is unacceptable and, I dare say, embarrassing for a wealthy society like ours.
My bill would make some very simple amendments to the Employment Insurance Act. It would replace all references to the maximum of 15 weeks of special EI sickness benefits with a maximum of 50 weeks.
I want to make it clear that these benefits are for people who lost their jobs against their will. Eligible workers who are sick can collect 55% of their average salary to a maximum of $573 per week.
We can all agree that nobody decides to be sick. Nobody plans to be away from work for a long period of time because of illness. Nobody wants a cancer diagnosis or anything like that. These things are totally involuntary and unpredictable. The workers who need this safety net are the most precarious workers, those who are not lucky enough to have good jobs with private insurance or good coverage under collective agreements.
In 2017, 400,000 people needed this crucial support. It was their only option. These are people from all across Quebec and Canada, of all ages and backgrounds. In many cases, they do not have the privilege of holding well-paid jobs. When they get sick, they typically do not have the financial leeway to fully focus on getting better.
Back home in Salaberry-Suroît, a rural riding, when people get sick they usually have to go to Montreal for treatment. They have to budget for travel, parking and all sorts of medical expenses. Often, spouses also have to take time off work during the treatment periods to support their partner, which adds to the families' financial stress.
These workers deserve better. EI sickness benefits have the added advantage of preserving the employment relationship between the worker and the employer. In other words, when the person recovers and feels better, they can return to their position.
We can all agree that this job security is far from a luxury, especially after fighting for one's life.
My bill is also a posthumous tribute to Émilie Sansfaçon. At 31, this young mother lost her battle with cancer, leaving behind her grieving spouse and her two children. She died before she could see the outcome of her political fight to improve EI sickness benefits by extending them from 15 to 20 weeks, despite a meeting in 2019 with the current Liberal Prime Minister, who gave her hope. However, nothing has changed since then.
The Bloc Québécois leader and member for Beloeil—Chambly noted in the House that Ms. Sansfaçon is the face of the inequity, injustice and discrimination that the seriously ill face in the employment insurance program, but Émilie is also the face of hope, a fighting spirit and perseverance. By passing Bill C-265, the Émilie Sansfaçon act, we will finish the fight for all the Émilies in Quebec and Canada.
I am pleased to remind all my colleagues that in 2019 the Parliamentary Budget Officer released a study confirming that we collectively have the means to adequately support sick workers. It is a sensible and compassionate proposal. It is both realistic and achievable to increase EI sickness benefits from 15 to 50 weeks with a premium increase of six cents per $100 of insurable earnings.
The idea that 50 weeks are necessary in the event of illness was recognized to some extent during the pandemic, as temporary adjustments to EI provided for 50 weeks of benefits in case of need. Nevertheless, it is incoherent that there are still only 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits.
My colleagues will agree that it is peculiar and incoherent that we have the means to support caregivers for a longer period than the person they are caring for. In fact, the caregiver is entitled to 28 weeks, which is excellent, but the person being cared for is only entitled to 15 weeks. Where is the logic in that?
One thing is clear: We cannot afford to let workers mortgage their homes to cover medical expenses, as was the case for longtime advocate Marie-Hélène Dubé. Ms. Dubé was even forced to delay surgery for her third bout of cancer because she had not worked enough hours to be eligible for another 15 weeks of sickness benefits.
We cannot afford to delay remission and leave workers living in financial insecurity throughout treatments. We cannot afford to choose precariousness over compassion.
Today we are debating a progressive bill that I think should galvanize all progressive members in the House.
I never thought I would find myself quoting a former Liberal member, but my Liberal colleagues might be more receptive to the words of one of their own. On November 22, 2011, the former member for Bourassa said, “In a non-partisan way, I am asking all my colleagues to make that gesture of solidarity and support my bill.” This makes good sense. I want to echo this statement and call on all of us to support vulnerable workers.
In the past 10 years or so, parliamentarians have had the opportunity to debate similar bills introduced by the Bloc Québécois and the NDP. The Liberal Party even made the same proposal during the 41st Parliament.
If the Liberals decided to change their position and hammer home the message that workers do not need the 50 weeks that we are proposing and that 15 weeks or 26 weeks are sufficient for all workers, then they need to explain why. For a government that tells anyone who will listen that it governs based on science, this position is untenable and lacks ambition. Statistics from the government's own department contradict its position and confirm that they are abandoning the most vulnerable workers.
The Quebec Cancer Foundation supports extending benefits from 15 weeks to 50 weeks. I would like to get it on the record that the Canadian Cancer Society is also in favour of extending these benefits and sees 26 weeks as the minimum increase and 50 weeks as the more desirable option.
It is time, hon. colleagues, to join that consensus and support Bill C-265.
I would like to close with a heartfelt plea. Today is budget day. The Liberal government could be generous to the most vulnerable members of our society, to sick workers who need more from the government than financial insecurity, stress and abandonment.
When parliamentarians, citizens and the media read the budget announcements, I hope they will all think about Émilie Sansfaçon and the hundreds of thousands of people like her, and I suggest they look at the situation in the following way.
If the government makes no mention of this issue and continues to provide only a measly 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits, then it is breaking its promise and insulting sick workers.
If the government increases these benefits to 26 weeks, then it is simply providing false comfort hiding the terrible reality that the Liberals are letting down approximately 68% of workers who need those benefits.
If the Liberal government decides to extend these benefits by only slightly more than that, then it has missed an opportunity. The Liberals will not have increased these benefits enough in the eyes of the over 618,000 people who signed the petition started by Marie-Hélène Dubé, which calls for extending EI sickness benefits to 50 weeks.
If the Liberal government is suitably generous and decides to extend benefits to 50 weeks right away, I would be the first to congratulate it and withdraw my bill, Bill C-265, which would then be obsolete.
In other words, let there be no doubt that I will continue to demand what is fair and realistic, because we in the Bloc Québécois have not forgotten Émilie Sansfaçon; because we in the Bloc Québécois stand with vulnerable workers; and because we in the Bloc Québécois choose compassion, solidarity and kindness.
I know the House is capable of doing so, as well. I call on all my colleagues to support this bill.
Let us pass Bill C-265 for the most vulnerable workers.