Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to speak this afternoon to Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave).
I want to thank the member for Compton—Stanstead for tabling this important legislation.
The bill amends the Canada Labour Code to allow employees to take unpaid leave from work for the following family-related reasons: (a) the inability of their minor child to carry on regular activities because the child suffers a serious physical injury during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence, (b) the disappearance of their minor child, (c) the suicide of their spouse, common-law partner or child, and (d) the death of their spouse, common-law partner or child during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence.
The bill also amends the Employment Insurance Act to allow these employees to receive benefits while on leave.
I want to say very clearly that I support this bill, and I think it is a very important improvement to our social service network here in Canada. I support this bill because I believe that it is a significant measure that actually helps people who are victims of crime.
We hear a lot of talk in this place, especially from the Conservatives, about supporting victims of crime but here we have a measure that is a real and tangible assistance. I think it is very important to note that the member for Compton—Stanstead has gone out ahead of the pack, ahead of the government on this issue, and developed an idea that has real meaning for victims of crime.
Helping people in these circumstances, when someone they love, a child, a spouse or partner is directly affected by a criminal act or when they take their own life, is most appropriate. It is one of those areas where we, working collectively as a community, can act to be of significant assistance.
Ensuring that people have time, that their employment is protected and that they have income while they deal with the consequences of a serious crime is a good thing. I think the member for Compton—Stanstead put it very well in her speech. She said:
We know very well that suicide, violent crimes and disappearances are tragic events that are very difficult for the families of victims. These events cause great psychological distress for many relatives and parents. The victims' families wait and worry, mourn and frequently feel depressed, often over extended periods of time.
In cases of murders and disappearances in particular, more than two years can pass between the criminal act and the resolution of the investigation. During this period family members are deeply affected. They cannot pursue their regular activities. They have access to support and help but they have no financial support. Additional financial worries are the last thing they need.
I think the member put it very eloquently in that quote from her speech in the first hour of debate on this bill. We know that there are many needs associated when families are victims of crime in our society. We know that there are many ways that we can offer assistance. We know there are gaps in that assistance. This bill goes a significant way to fill one of those major gaps.
There are some people who would say that we cannot afford such a measure, and I think we have heard that kind of commentary from the government benches. I would say that I think we cannot do without it. We cannot afford not to do it. I think it is very important.
Others will say that it is too generous, that it places too much of a demand on employment insurance resources. I just think that is nonsense.
We know that in the past the federal government has collected far more in EI premiums and employer contributions than was ever spent on the program. I think $57 billion is the figure to be exact. That money could have easily be spent on improving the EI program, protecting workers, supporting families and communities, but Liberals and Conservatives used it to pay off the deficit that they were responsible for running up.
We could have had a program that supported workers during a recession. We could have expanded EI to assist workers when their families were victims of crime. However, no, we took that money from workers and employers, said we were going to use it for EI, and used it for another purpose altogether. That was not right or fair.
This bill before us today shows us an appropriate use for the EI fund. I doubt that few workers, when pressed, would not support helping others in the way that this bill proposes.
The current Conservative government seems to be heading down the road again where we are increasing premiums for workers and for employers, increasing the payroll taxes that they pay for EI. That is a measure that has been announced in the recent budget and will come in this coming year. Employers and employees will pay more into the EI program starting next year, there again, building a new surplus in the program and it is predicted to balloon to $19 billion in only a few years.
This might be okay if the money were being directed toward improvements in the EI program, but there is no guarantee of that in what has been proposed. If more people were made eligible for EI, if the qualifying periods were reduced, that would be a good thing, but that is not what is going on here. If the benefits that are paid to unemployed people in Canada were improved that would be a good thing, but again, that is not what is being proposed with this increase. If the waiting period were eliminated that would be a good thing too, but again, that is not being proposed by the government with its increase in payroll taxes.
We know that is not the intention of what is going on with the increase in EI premiums. Again, we are about to face 800,000 Canadians ending their EI claims, coming off EI in the next few months and there is no program in place to extend that, no program to continue or extend support for those people. Many Canadians are going to be in crisis as a result of that. If we were using the resources that are collected from Canadian workers and employers to improve the EI program that would be one thing, but there is no plan to do that.
I think Canadian workers and employers would accept increases if they knew that there was a benefit to be hand, if there were a benefit to workers who might lose their job, if there were a benefit to employers to ensure that the people who work for them are taken care of, if there were a benefit to communities to ensure that people continue to have an income to spend in those communities to support other businesses and local economies.
There is not much question that Canadian workers and employers would support that kind of program. The bill provides a very specific benefit. It provides benefits to workers and families who have been victims of crime and we know that is a very significant moment in anyone's life and it is a time when they can use all the support and consideration that can be mustered for them and this bill would be a significant addition to that.
We know that employers would benefit from this kind of measure because employers would not necessarily lose an employee in whom they might have invested training, who knows their business, who knows how to do the job. If they are the victim of a crime and are forced to leave that position, there is a loss to employers, a loss to a business in that situation and the bill would help to ensure that does not happen in the future.
The bill would also assist communities because communities want to help people who are in these circumstances. They want to make sure that their neighbours are taken care of. They want to make sure that the people next door have the support they need when this kind of tragedy strikes them and the bill would provide those benefits, so it is a very significant measure in that way.
I am happy that the Canadian Labour Congress has supported an earlier version of the bill. I am sure it supports this bill too because it knows it is a measure that supports Canadian workers and improves the lives of Canadian workers and communities. It knows it supports the Canadian economy, that it supports Canadian employers and that is why it has given this measure its support.
We know it is of limited scope. The Canada Labour Code unfortunately only affects certain workers in Canada, workers in federal jurisdiction, people who work in transportation, communications and banking for instance, but this would set a new standard for support of workers and one that hopefully other provinces will copy. We know Quebec has certain programs in place already, but this will stimulate activity to support families and workers who are the victims of crime in other jurisdictions. It is a measure that we should move forward on.
Again, I want to thank the member for introducing this legislation and I am happy to say that I will be supporting it.
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