Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to my colleague. I again welcome the fact that he has asked for an adjournment debate on the question of the compassionate care benefit. The government is committed to helping ensure that Canadian workers do not have to choose between their jobs and providing care for a dying family member.
Let me remind members that Canada's compassionate care benefit was introduced as recently as January 4, 2004. It was designed specifically to provide temporary income replacement for those Canadians who need to leave their jobs for a period of time in order to care for a gravely ill child, parent or spouse who is at significant risk of dying.
I would emphasize that Canada is one of the few countries in the world to offer compassionate care benefits to workers. Unlike Canada, most countries that do have compassionate care programs restrict them to parents caring for sick children.
The design of this benefit was based on research and analysis indicating that family members are key caregivers and, in particular, that the vast majority of Canadians facing these situations are caring for a child, a parent or a spouse.
The Canada Labour Code was amended to provide the necessary job protection for compassionate care benefit claimants, up to eight weeks, which allows for the two week waiting period under EI and six weeks of paid benefits. The six weeks of benefits can be shared among eligible family members or can be taken by one eligible family member. This gives families more choice in providing care to gravely ill relatives.
A full evaluation, part of the government's commitment to reviewing the provisions of the benefit after its first year of availability, is under way. I have to point out to my colleague that good public policy requires that. If we are going to make changes, we have to make them based on the benefit of real experience. We now have one year of real experience.
This evaluation of the program, with results expected soon, will provide a better understanding of the benefit's performance and identify possible areas for improvement that might increase access to the benefit. It is important that evaluations of government programs be founded on careful analysis of program data in order that the conclusions drawn and solutions proposed address the experience of clients.
Recently a policy review was undertaken to identify early opportunities to improve the benefit within existing policy parameters. Based on experience gained in the first year of the program, the government is already looking into expanding the definition of those who qualify for the benefit.
I should also point out that the benefit is only one tool for supporting caregivers. We must be sensitive to the fact that some individuals look elsewhere for the means of helping sick relatives. We are exploring a wide variety of comprehensive caregiving strategies.
This government is committed to the principles of fairness and equity for all Canadians. Accordingly, making improvements to the compassionate care benefit in a timely manner is a priority for us, as I know it is for my colleague opposite. I would like to thank him again for his work on this issue.