Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to speak to this bill. Before I begin, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time.
My parents know what it is like to have a sick child at home. It was very difficult for my family at the time, and not only in terms of finances. It is especially worthwhile that the bill provides something for parents in this situation.
We in the NDP support Bill C-44 to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Employment Insurance Act, the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations. These new measures will allow workers to take leave and receive employment insurance benefits if their child were to become critically ill or die, or disappear as the probable result of a crime.
Bill C-44 makes a number of amendments to the Canada Labour Code in order to increase the amount of leave parents can take, which I think is a very good thing. We do not always disagree with the members opposite. The bill allows parents to extend their maternity and parental leave by the number of weeks that their child was hospitalized, and to extend their parental leave by the number of sick days taken during the parental leave, and the same goes for time spent serving in the Canadian Forces reserve.
It grants unpaid leave of up to 37 weeks for parents of gravely ill children. It also grants 104 weeks of unpaid leave to parents of children who are killed as a result of a crime and 52 weeks of unpaid leave to parents of children who disappear as a result of a crime. It also extends the period of unpaid leave that can be taken as a result of illness or injury without the fear of being laid off after 17 weeks, which is also worthwhile.
I must point out that the Canadian Caregiver Coalition congratulated the federal government on the new, extraordinary employment insurance benefit that it proposed for parents who take a leave of absence to care for a child who is critically ill or injured. We are talking here about parents but, in all cases, caregivers are the invisible backbone of our health care system. We must not ignore that fact, and we must help these people. They take on various key roles in caring for children, parents or other family members who need assistance as a result of an injury, a long-term illness or a disability. The coalition estimates that approximately 5 million Canadians provide unpaid care to their loved ones, many of whom are their children or other family members.
We support this initiative, which is designed to help families of murdered or missing children so that they do not have to worry about money. When parents have a sick child at home, they do not need the added burden of worrying about how they will make ends meet, how they will pay for food, their rent and their child's medication, which is extremely expensive. This is a worthwhile measure for parents and for sick children who need their parents.
I would like to speak a little bit about my own experience. I had a little sister who was sick when I was young. My mother was able to stay with her, but how many times have I seen parents who are heartbroken at having to leave their child alone at the hospital because they have to go to work? It is an indescribable feeling. I am not a mother; I can only imagine what I would be like.
We support this initiative to extend parental leave and to provide financial benefits to parents of sick children, whose priority is to be full-time parents.
We also support the new right to combine special employment insurance benefits. Thus, a parent who becomes ill or is injured while on parental leave will not have to give up time with their child. Parents with sick children often suffer from burnout.
Support for this bill has nothing to do with ideology or partisan politics. It is a matter of helping the families who need help, both parents and children, since we know that when we help parents, we automatically help their children.
However, I find it deplorable that these measures do not address the more challenging issues with employment insurance, such as Canadians' lack of access to employment insurance benefits. We have been working on this for a long time. We want a comprehensive reform of the employment insurance system.
These are worthwhile measures, but we could do even more. We want employment insurance to be accessible to and effective for all Canadians.
As for the provisions that will enable parents to apply for sickness benefits while receiving parental benefits, the minister estimated that this could help about 6,000 Canadians a year. Although I think this is a good measure—I have said that from the beginning—about 870,000 unemployed Canadians are unable to receive regular employment insurance benefits. Moreover, this bill does not address some important issues, such as the fact that about 500,000 Canadians received regular employment insurance benefits in July 2012, while there were over one million unemployed Canadians that same month. This means that more than 800,000 unemployed Canadians were not entitled to employment insurance. In fact, fewer than 4 out of 10 unemployed workers receive employment insurance, which is the lowest rate ever.
For example, in Saint-Hyacinthe, in my riding, the current unemployment rate is 6.7%, and in Acton Vale, also in my riding, the rate is 7.9%.
In the past year, there has been no real change in Saint-Hyacinthe's unemployment rate . On the same day last year, the unemployment rate was practically the same. This year in the winter period, when there is usually an increase in the unemployment rate due to seasonal workers, there was an unusual spike in the unemployment rate. The same phenomenon was also noted in the Acton Vale region. These are rather eloquent examples of the problems related to employment insurance.
It seems that unemployment rates are not declining, which means that more and more people must resort to employment insurance. In its current form, the employment insurance program is not accessible or effective.
The measures in Bill C-44 are good and might be effective, but I do not believe that they benefit enough people. In fact, parents could find themselves in this situation and not be entitled to employment insurance.
It goes without saying that we support these measures because we believe that they could help alleviate the suffering of some parents in need. Unfortunately, these measures will not help enough people.
In conclusion, we will support these measures, but there must be adequate funding for them. We need to completely reform employment insurance and include such measures.