Madam Speaker, I am not happy to rise for this bill. The previous speaker highlighted the frustration over how long this has taken, and Bill C-215 is just another attempt to bring some economic justice to this file.
Ironically, I am speaking here today because somebody is sick. I have been asked to cover off, at the last minute, our position as the New Democrats with regard to this private member's bill, which is very important.
When I first arrived in 2002, Yvon Godin of the NDP, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, was known as a champion with regard to Atlantic Canadians being taken advantage of by the employment insurance program we have in place. We fail to recognize that all Canadians, at the end of the day, are paying into a program that some will never have access to, and I have seen this over a number of generations.
It is really despicable, quite frankly, when we think about it. We pay into a program that is basically manipulated enough, predominantly against women and transitional workers, that we pay an extra tax. Oftentimes, it is the lowest earners in the system who pay this tax, and if they cannot collect it at the end of the day, then that is all it is.
This is no different from a regular insurance program we have privately. We might have it for a car, a house or anything like that. People often get very frustrated when they make an insurance claim and there is a massive deductible or when they are not eligible for some reason, such as a technical problem. However, here, our own government has crafted legislation that works against the lowest earners, in particular, with regard to collecting benefits.
The bill would rectify a problem when it comes to sick benefits. The member for Elmwood—Transcona, from the NDP, had a bill just recently on this asking for 50 weeks. Bill C-215 asks for 52 weeks, and I commend the member for bringing it forward. Again, I wish we did not have to speak about this again, but we do.
Let us remind ourselves of some of the important factors here. There is an argument for the workers: It would be a strong provision for the economy if we moved to a 52-week employment insurance program. However, let me back up. For an individual who has to apply for employment insurance, the rules have been made more difficult than ever before to get get a claim in. Then, if the claim goes in, they are just getting a portion of their income, whether they have lost their job, there has been a layoff or, in this case, they are sick.
The Liberals are finally agreeing, although it has taken a long time, to extend this to 26 weeks, which ironically is the minimum threshold necessary for cancer treatment. However, we know now that for COVID-19 and other types of long-haul diseases, it is not sufficient. When a person is trying to recover, the anxiety, depression and not knowing whether they will get healthy during that process are very serious and affect the recovery rate.
One of the things that is missed in this debate is the fact that employers do better when they know that somebody will be off for a period of time. They can then train another worker and that worker will have stability. A worker could come in for a period of almost a year, and they would contribute much more effectively to a company affected by a person who is off the job. This is incredibly important because it is about investing in training and education and getting a return, especially since right now some sectors of the economy are understaffed and are looking for workers. This would provide a sense of stability for the worker coming in.
This is similar to maternity benefits. When we extended them, it was one of the biggest achievements of Parliament. However, one of the sad things is that we did not extend the amount of money. What we did was divide up the money over a longer period of time. That is another story of how the employment insurance system really is a rip-off for workers at the end of the day. Again, here is a system that should be there for Canadians. They pay into it, yet the rate of return is poor to start with, and on top of that there are all kinds of qualifications for getting the benefit.
Coming back to Bill C-215, there is no doubt that it would provide a real benefit, because companies would have the chance to train and attract employees who could turn into long-standing employees. Often, with maternity leave, when somebody comes into a company and it grows and is successful, that person can stay in the workforce, either in a similar job or a new job in the company. We have had all kinds of success stories.
Prior to being a member of Parliament, I used to work as an employment specialist for persons with disabilities. One of the challenges we often had was that, especially with someone in a new job in the workforce, depending upon the person's disability, this could create some temporary or unintended consequences at the work site, where the person may need accommodation or the person might have another injury. There would be a break or a pause to fix the situation, or the person might have to adjust. Paying into the system and having an employer know that the person will come back healthier or better trained and that this investment has not gone away was really important, and we had over 90% success rate.
Again, this is what we are talking about, providing some sense of stability in the employment sector. What is going to come out of the next number of years is the ability to fill a number of positions in the economy, and that stability would provide an opportunity. We see a lot of movement of workers. We even see workers being poached from Canada internationally, now more than ever before. We have heard this in a lot of the testimony we have had from different types of employers across Canada. One of the things we can do is provide these types of benefits and stability, so that workers know that if they get sick or have a health issue, the government has their backs.
This is money that the person has paid into. This is not reaching back into the pocketbook or the wallet of the nation. This is money that comes off people's cheques every single day when they work, which is then given back as benefits because they paid into it.
I come from the auto sector, where these types of benefits help at times with the economy or, alternatively, if there is a retooling or a change in manufacturing. It provides stability because the workers will be coming back. There can be layoffs. What we have found is that companies have much better workforces and capabilities, which leads to better productivity in Canada. We actually compete on a better footing that way, because the company knows that it is going to get a person back after a period of time, rather than having to search for other answers.
This is what the NDP has been calling for with regard to employment insurance, which would be a much more progressive approach to employment. Sick benefits are just one of its features. This is how we should be looking at our model for employment insurance. How do we use it as a way of augmenting not only the attractiveness of being in the Canadian workforce, but also the productivity?
Extending the weeks would actually produce a better net result and provide better stability for employers who are looking to compete internationally with different manufacturing and other employment bases, knowing that strong programs exist, including day care, pharmacare and dental care coming up. All of those things are part of a company's decision to invest in Canada. Companies will inventory all those costs and benefits. I can tell colleagues that this is more attractive than some of the shortcuts we have seen when competing against the United States or Mexico, which do not have the same types of supports in place. Sometimes companies pay a little bit more up front, knowing that they are going to get a stable workforce and stable programs from the government, which will reduce their overall costs. Especially now, as we are seeing again that skilled trades and other types of occupations are being challenged internationally in whether Canadians stay or go, this is one of the things that we can actually offer as an attractive element to invest in Canada. These types of programs are a bona fide addition to a stable workforce.
I do not see why it is taking this long. I do not see how this would undermine the economy. I do not see how there is a cost to this, which is actually the revenue coming in from paying into other benefits, especially right now when we have a growing economy again. Thank goodness, we are seeing some turnaround in industries like the auto industry in Windsor here, where we have had some downtime, especially with a number of issues related to supply and demand. Investments have been basically poached from us for years because we do not have a national auto strategy. We still do not. We had a couple of victories recently, which was good, but we still need to do better on that. We are going to have increased production and increased capabilities, especially coming out of this pandemic, when we know COVID-19 has challenged so many people.
I thank the member for bringing forward this bill. It is sad that we are speaking about it again.