Ms. France Bonsant (Compton—Stanstead, BQ)
moved that Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I am once again very proud to introduce Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (family leave), at second reading.
This bill would amend the Canada Labour Code to allow employees to take unpaid leave from work for a period of 52 to 104 weeks for the following family-related reasons: 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; the disappearance of their minor child; the suicide of their spouse, common-law partner or child; or the death of their spouse, common-law partner or child during the commission or as the direct result of a criminal offence.
This bill also amends the Employment Insurance Act to allow these employees to receive benefits for up to 52 weeks while on leave instead of the 15 weeks currently provided for sickness benefits.
In December 2007, the Quebec National Assembly showed the way by passing Bill 58, which allows employees and their families who were the victims of a criminal act or who are mourning a suicide or have a missing child to take unpaid leave and keep their jobs for a period of up to 104 weeks.
Unfortunately, the current federal legislation results in discrimination against people whose jobs fall under the Canada Labour Code. Since these people do not have their jobs guaranteed, they can take only 15 weeks of sick leave. The failure of the federal legislators to act in this regard has created two categories of workers: those who can get through difficult times with their jobs intact and those who are forced to choose between losing their jobs and returning quickly to work.
It is one thing to allow people to take some time off and return to the same kind of job, but the result will be the same if they do not have enough income to meet their needs: they will have no other choice than to return quickly to work. It is particularly difficult for them to rebuild their lives. In the view of the Bloc Québécois, which has always been very concerned about victims and their families, the federal government should immediately follow Quebec's lead for a number of reasons.
We know very well that suicide, violent crimes and disappearances are tragic events that are very difficult for the families of the 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.
It is terrible to think that, at present, these people are left to their fate and have to keep working during this period as if nothing had happened because they have to meet their family’s needs as we all do. These people need time to get over such difficult events and gradually rejoin the work force at their own pace. Denying and ignoring that is simply adding insult to injury.
Sadly, several disappearances and murders have shaken Quebec in recent years. I think of Cédrika Provencher, Nancy Michaud, Alexandre Livernoche, Julie Surprenant, Julie Boisvenu, Jolène Riendeau and Natasha Cournoyer. We can also think of the 14 victims of the tragedy at the École Polytechnique, as well as the shootout at Dawson College that claimed the life of young Anastasia De Sousa.
In my riding of Compton—Stanstead, Isabelle Bolduc was assaulted and murdered in 1996. Last Friday, the incident in which Whitney et Tracy Hannah were shot to death in Belleville, Ontario, is another example of these terrible tragedies for the families.
I have given but a few examples, but it is for the relatives, friends and loved ones of all these families that I am fighting today and calling on the cooperation of all parties. After all, because of the pain and suffering and other impact of violent acts, are the victims' families not victims themselves? Grieving following a disappearance, murder or suicide takes longer than in other instances, particularly when rape or violence has taken place. There are more feelings of frustration, rage and powerlessness. This is especially true when a crime or suicide is involved.
This reality has been recognized by several members of this House, including Conservative members. For instance, the hon. member for Thornhill expressed with conviction compassion and concern for the lives of victims. Moreover, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada as well as the Minister of Public Safety made an official commitment in April 2009 to support the loved ones of victims. The former public safety minister and member for York—Simcoe said this, and I quote:
|| This Government recognizes that crime places a heavy toll on individual victims, their families, communities and society-at-large. Supporting victims takes a collaborative effort, and this Government is committed to continuing to work with our partners to help victims of crime—
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour said:
|| All members here certainly sympathize with those whose loved ones have been victims of violent crime. There is no question about that. It can take a long time for anyone to fully heal from that kind of tragedy.
There were symbolic measures to go with these fine speeches. This government even established the annual National Victims of Crime Awareness Week in 2005 and organizes symposiums on that occasion. Such well-intentioned events look good on the calendar and provide great photo-ops, but how do they provide tangible help to the victims' families?
Not only are these types of measures inadequate, but the Conservative members are talking out of both sides of their mouths. According to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour:
|| The employment insurance program already responds to the needs of Canadians in these difficult circumstances. Most provinces already offer a variety of supports...such as coverage of medical expenses, as well as access to counselling services.
I invite him to say that to families who have lost a child or a spouse to crime and ask them whether the medical coverage pays for groceries, rent and household expenses.
What is more, this government says that provincial compensation measures such as IVAC are enough for these families. But is $3,000 really enough to cover a family's expenses for months? As a mother, I would say no. The government is lying when it says that 15 weeks of employment insurance with a bit of additional compensation can cover the needs of a family as it heals from such a tragedy. The reality is that in 2010, people who are filled with sorrow have to return to work as though nothing ever happened.
Despite that, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour went on to say:
||[Justice Canada] already offers a variety of programs and services, including...the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.
That is all very well, but a structure that costs $1.5 million a year and serves “to ensure the federal government meets its responsibilities” is really not enough. What families need is not more administrative layers, but rather money to live on. Bureaucracy is being fattened up, but the relatives of victims who want to take time off work to look after their family and deal with their pain remain just as badly off.
With last week's budget, the government provided for some $6.6 million over two years to increase support for victims of crime. Not only is this sum an affront, but what it covers and how it will be allocated remain a mystery.
Emailed questions to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development are returned unanswered for reasons of security.
This dubious excuse is used so often for so many reasons by the members opposite that it is meaningless.
Not only is this bill furthest along in the legislative process, but it provides a much better response to the needs of the families of victims of crime than the bill referred to by the Conservatives in the latest throne speech. The potential Conservative bill—which does not yet exist—will be much more restrictive, since it will provide special benefits only to the families of murder victims. The Bloc's bill, on the other hand, includes the families of victims of crimes causing death and of suicide victims.
The potential Conservative bill promises these people access only to employment insurance sickness benefits, that is, to 15 weeks of benefits. The Bloc calls for benefits that could extend to 52 weeks, when the situation requires it.
On December 10, the Conservative government, the one that keeps saying how it wants to help victims, said that it would vote against Bill C-343. It added that it would introduce its own bill excluding any type of new EI benefits. If that happens, the public will rightly understand that this government prefers to fill prisons with minors rather than help those who really need it. That is a serious mistake. If the Conservative government were consistent, it would support this bill without hesitation and turn its words into commitments for affected families.
Since they came to power, these Reform Conservatives have talked ad nauseam about being tough on crime. Law and order for them is nothing less than a government priority. They loudly proclaim that their goal is the well-being and security of the public, focusing their speeches on cracking down on criminals. The measures adopted prior to prorogation on prison terms are law and order measures only. The parents and partners of victims are left to their own devices and too often forgotten. This is why it is not enough to fill the prisons. Support must be given to those affected by these crimes.
If the members of this House oppose this bill, they will no doubt say that these measures will cost the government too much, with the extension of EI benefits from 15 to 52 weeks. The members opposite are saying that the bill will cost over $400 million. As usual, they are either miscalculating or lying deliberately. Fortunately, the type of tragic event requiring 52 weeks of benefits does not happen often. There have been fewer crimes committed in recent years, which considerably reduces the number of such incidents and thus the number of people needing EI benefits for 52 weeks.
Similarly, there are not many people who would become eligible for EI after the adoption of the bill. Everyone reacts in his or her own way to the loss of someone, but for some eligible people, a loss of income is not an option. We can also see that for some people, remaining at work is a way to get back to a normal life after a while. There are also people who do not work or who cannot find an insurable job or who do not work enough hours to be eligible for benefits. For all those reasons, the $400 million projected by the government is far too high. It is certainly a far cry from the Conservative government's defence budget.
Employees and employers are contributing enough to EI to allow families affected by such traumatic events to collect benefits. The government does not pay into EI. The $56 billion surplus that simply vanished from the EI fund makes the low cost of the bill all the more obvious. It is clear that if the government really cares for victims and their families, it will not hesitate for one second to support the bill.
If, however, the government votes against the bill, the public will conclude with good reason that it is totally indifferent to the families of victims. People will not soon forget because they have always been very sensitive to that issue.
Mr. Ed Komarnicki (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I appreciate that the member for Compton—Stanstead has an interest in this particular bill. When my colleague read the portion from the throne speech, one could hardly say that it is a message of indifference. In fact, it is a message of compassion.
I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-343. The bill proposes amendments to the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act and would provide for unpaid leave for federally-regulated employees whose family members were victims of violent crime. It would also create a new EI benefit to provide temporary income support to eligible family members who take this unpaid leave.
Our government empathizes with those who have lost loved ones due to violent crimes or suicide. It can take a long time for anyone to fully heal from this kind of tragic loss. People need time to work through their stages of grief and to learn to cope. There is no particular magic formula for what is the right amount of time to deal with this kind of trauma or turns of events. That is especially true when grieving families are victims of violence.
What we need, therefore, is an approach that is flexible enough to meet the unique needs of families in these circumstances. We need an approach that is compassionate. We also need an approach that is as accessible as possible for those who need this kind of assistance. Looking after the needs of citizens who fall victim to violent crime is a priority for this government, has been a priority of this government and will continue to be a priority of this government.
As indicated in the remarks I made in the House on December 10, 2009, our government is concerned about the impact of violence on all Canadians. We are taking action in a manner that is balanced and fair. There have been several references to this bill indicating that this legislation is based upon legislation that was recently implemented in the province of Quebec. This legislation provides a strong example of how a government can support those who are suffering from a violent criminal act. It is my understanding that the Quebec legislation was largely due to the successful efforts of the Murdered or Missing Persons' Families' Association and, in particular, its past president, Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu.
Members may recognize his name as Mr. Boisvenu was named to the Senate by the Prime Minister on January 29, 2010. Mr. Boisvenu was recently part of the announced legislation to strengthen the National Sex Offender Registry and the National DNA Data Bank yesterday with the Minister of Public Safety, and just days ago, he helped announce legislative amendments to strengthen the way the young offenders system deals with violent repeat young offenders. We welcome him to the Senate and wish him every success as he continues to work on behalf of victims of crime to ensure they receive the support they deserve from every level of government.
The member for Compton—Stanstead is to be commended for bringing this issue before the House. We can all see the intent of this bill, which is to give comfort to families who are in a situation that can only be described as heartbreaking. That intent is laudable.
For any family member, the loss of a loved one is painful. It is almost unimaginable when that loss involves a child. I do not think any member of the House or any citizen of this country would ever expect a grieving family to simply carry on after a few days off. There needs to be more time to heal and a comprehensive plan to support these individuals as they come to grips with the impact this violent criminal act has had on their lives. I will be frank. We need to be broader in our approach than this bill permits.
Members on this side of the House understand the need to support victims of crime. This is why our government has had such a strong record of helping individuals whose lives have been fundamentally changed by violent crime.
It was our government that created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. This position was created to better meet the needs of victims of crime in areas of federal jurisdiction. It was with great pride that in April of 2007, the Minister of Justice named Steve Sullivan as the first ombudsman. Victims can contact this office to learn more about their rights under federal law and the services available to them or to make a complaint about any federal agency or federal legislation dealing with victims of crime.
In addition to its direct work with victims, the office of ombudsman also works to ensure that policy-makers and other criminal justice personnel are aware of victims' needs and concerns, and to identify important issues and trends that may negatively impact victims. Where appropriate, the ombudsman may also make recommendations to the federal government.
It was our government that contributed $52 million to the victims fund to improve the experience of victims in the criminal justice system. This fund provides individual victims of crime with emergency funding to prevent undue hardship when there is no other source of financial assistance. It also provides funds for family members of homicide victims to assist them with the expenses incurred to attend early parole eligibility hearings or National Parole Board hearings. This is in addition to the support for NGOs that encourage the development of new approaches, promote access to justice for victims of crime, improve the capacity of victim service providers, foster the establishment of referral networks and increase awareness of services available to victims of crime and their families.
It is important to remember in the context of this debate the significant role provinces play, both in administrating the criminal justice system as well as providing supporting for victims of crime. This bill can only apply to federally regulated industries, which comprise around 10% of the Canadian workforce. That is why the provincial and territorial implementation component of the victims fund is designed to encourage implementation of federal, provincial and territorial legislation for victims of crime. This would include Criminal Code provisions, such as victim impact statements and testimonial aids as well as support for adherence to the Canadian statement of basic principles of justice for victims of crime.
However, our work is not done and we have committed to doing more. That is why the following piece was included in the Speech from the Throne:
|| Our Government will also offer tangible support to innocent victims of crime and their families. It will give families of murder victims access to special benefits under Employment Insurance. It will introduce legislation to give employees of federally regulated industries the right to unpaid leave if they or members of their families are victimized by crime. And our Government will introduce legislation to make the victim surcharge mandatory, to better fund victim services.
This is not a new commitment by our government. During the first hour of debate in the second session of this Parliament on December 10, 2009, I signaled the intent of the government to bring forward its own legislation to assist victims of crime and their families.
While there may be similarities between the broad direction the government has indicated and the member's bill, I do not wish to unduly get the member's hopes up. When I spoke to the bill in the second session of this Parliament, I indicated that the government cannot support the bill. That position has not changed. While we share a common purpose, there are significant details in this bill that will inadvertently increase the cost of such a program or have unintended consequences.
There is also a need for a more comprehensive approach to this issue. While having time off to grieve is essential, our government has taken a more participatory approach to the criminal justice system. We have worked across multiple departments to address the needs of those affected by crime. Without revealing any details of the coming government announcement, I can only say that the government's approach will be more encompassing when addressing the needs of family members.
The member across may question why we would not simply be able to amend her bill at committee. The problem is that the government's proposed changes would go beyond the scope of her bill, and once that scope is established at second reading, it would be procedurally impossible to amend it at committee stage. That is why it would make good sense simply to have this bill traded down the order paper or be defeated at second reading and to support the government's legislation when it is introduced in the House.
For these reasons, we cannot support the bill. I would urge all members of the House to put off consideration of the bill until the government has a chance to table the measures that were mentioned in the Speech from the Throne.
Canadians take great pride in being a society that cares for the most vulnerable and lends a helping hand to those who need it when faced with adversity. In that regard, there is much potential in the bill, but I would urge all members of the House to wait for the government's proposal to be introduced in its place.
Our government has deep sympathy for family members of victims of violent crime, and our legislation and legislative record demonstrate this. Not only are we providing victims of violent crime with the tools they need, we are also finding solutions to help protect our citizens from becoming victims of crime in the first place.
Mr. Robert Oliphant (Don Valley West, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I commend the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead for presenting the bill. I thank her for her hard work and for her bringing this discussion to the chamber.
I think it is unfair, as the parliamentary secretary has suggested, that we wait for a government bill, which we have not seen. We have intent from the government, but I want to commend the member for going beyond intent and actually bringing something, a hard piece of work for us to discuss and to consider.
I am still working out my own personal thought about the member's bill, but I sense it is important legislation that would benefit discussion at committee. Therefore, I expect I will support it going to committee for a thoughtful response.
The members from the opposition side of the House have suggested there are some amendments that we might like to see. I understand the hon. member has indicated that she and her party would be open to listening to some of those thoughtful exchanges.
I come to this bill less as a member of Parliament, but more from my experience as a United Church minister. I have worked with families that have gone through great loss and some of those losses have been as a result of crime. I have worked with victims of crime and members of families of victims of crime. I very much appreciate the intent of the bill and its understanding that in those times of great loss, in those times of grief, in those times of wonder, it is important we recognize that an injury to one is indeed an injury to all and that we, as a society, have to help the individual, which do through our government.
I am very much of the understanding that when I pay my taxes, it is my opportunity to share. When I pay my EI premiums, it is my opportunity to share in a collective opportunity, where we together recognize that each one of us could be a victim, and by the grace of God most of us are not. Therefore, we pool our resources together to help those who have been victims of crime or who are less fortunate in a variety of ways.
There is a long history in the way we have understood victims and offenders in crime. Originally, in most of common law, we understood that there were two parties in the crime, the victim and the offender. Over time, we changed our opinion to understand that the crime was not so much a crime against just the victim, it was a crime against Her Majesty, against the state.
Over recent years, we have seen a shift in that understanding to recognize there are many partners in that moment. There is an offender, the state and a victim. There has been a growing movement of victims' rights and an understanding that victims need care. They need to be supported, they need understanding and they also need financial resources.
It is very important to understand that at various times, various parts of the law need to change to adapt to a new understanding of what it is.
The government is proud to say that it stands with victims of crime. It has put some rhetoric in its throne speech. We will await that law. However, at the same time, this legislation is worthy of our support to take it to the next stage, to committee.
There is also something else besides simply that. The bill recognizes some of the changing demographics going on in the workplace and in society. It understands that when a child, for instance, has been the victim of a crime, the caregiver is probably not a homemaker at home. In 70% of Canadian families, the caregiver is a parent, mother and/or father, who is actively engaged in the workforce. Therefore, there needs to be protection, both under the labour laws and also under employment insurance provisions, to ensure the person can maintain his or her part of the livelihood that is necessary to support the family.
The hon. member has brought forth thoughtful legislation that recognizes the changing demographics of our labour force. We are behind the times in that. We still, especially on the other side of the House, tend to think of women being at home and men in the workforce. Therefore, when there is a family tragedy, that woman will still be able to help. That is not the case in most families. If it is a woman's choice, that is fine. However, most families need two incomes to maintain the family's standards of living.
The changes addressed both in labour law and in EI reflect our need to be part of that. We need to open our eyes to the fact that those demographics have changed.
This piece of legislation indicates that our EI system is not working. There is something disjointed. Opportunities that exist in one part of our country do not exist in other parts of our country.
It is interesting, maybe a little ironic, that the member from the Bloc Québécois is offering a Quebec solution to a national problem. I thank her for doing that, for offering the Quebec model in labour law to the rest of us in Canada who could benefit by putting that in national standards. For a long time the Liberal Party has argued that national standards are absolutely essential, that we maintain those across ten provinces and three territories and we celebrate them. I thank the hon. member for recognizing that for the rest of Canada, the federal legislation with respect to labour is falling short of the Quebec standard. We are being asked to raise the standards, especially with respect to federally regulated bodies, industries and agencies.
I want this bill to go to committee. We will be able to understand that EI is income replacement that needs to be understood as an insurance system. We pay premiums into that system. At various times in our lives, we need to take money out of the system. It is an employment insurance system, but it is not fairly understood.
I hope that as we open up the discussion on employment insurance, we might understand also that workers in Ontario are generally disadvantaged in this system. If we open up the discussion on EI, we can go a bit broader on this. We might start to look at the number of hours for EI qualification in Ontario, which is significantly higher than in other parts of the country. That means welfare demands, for example in British Columbia, Ontario or Quebec, are rising because people's EI benefits are running out.
This indicates that the government is failing to open up a grander discussion about EI, to recognize that employment insurance is not only used to help people in grand economic cycles, but also to help individuals and families who are struggling with real problems such as putting food on the table and putting a roof over their heads.
Getting back to this piece of legislation, it is important to recognize that there are still some difficulties in some of the definitions of family leave that would be offered. There has been some discussion about whether or not a parent is as important as a child as a victim of crime. Those who find themselves in the sandwich generation may have to take care of children and also elderly parents, and may be required to leave their place of work. They would want a guarantee that they would get their job back, but also would have income replacement during that time of grief or of loss.
I hope that the hon. member is open to consideration of the definitions and that they may need to be expanded and fine-tuned. We would welcome that kind of discussion with her at committee.
As we go through this, we end where I began, and that is to recognize that the Liberal Party is a party that stands with victims of crime. We are concerned about the incidence of crime. We recognize that the best way to address that is to prevent crime in the first place. We do not want to sweep up after a crime, which sometimes we need to do because the government has failed to prevent crime.
We need constantly to look at the continuum of this problem and recognize that we need to increase spending on the prevention of those things which could lead to an economic crisis for a family later. Our aim is to ensure that the government actually spends its full budget on the prevention of crime so that we can help people and stand with them in solidarity.
I look forward to a further debate on this issue.
Mr. Jim Maloway (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this private member's bill, Bill C-343.
It was only December 10 that we were all assembled here. Primarily the same players who are making speeches tonight were making speeches that night. After that whole process, the Prime Minister prorogued the House, and here we are back again to repeat where we left off.
I have to commiserate with the member when the parliamentary secretary says to be patient, that the government is going to deal with the issue, is going to bring in a bill that she will like, so maybe she should drop her bill and give the government leeway to bring in its own bill. The same result may happen again. The Prime Minister may prorogue the House or we may get into an election and the government will escape once again.
I am mindful of the social programs in Canada being somewhat behind those in other countries. For example, the national health care system in England, I believe, was brought in in 1949 right after the war when the economy was in bad shape. England had the foresight to bring in a national health care program. In Canada it was 1966.
France has a terrific health care program, social program. For those members who have not seen Michael Moore's movie Sicko, I think it is worth seeing. He profiles France's system, where people who have cancer are treated. This particular gentleman, after his recovery, was sent to the Riviera for three months to recover. In France, pregnant women have people who come in and do the laundry and cook meals. Members can see it is a totally different thought process, a different approach than we have in North America.
In France, the Scandinavian countries and England, the approach is more to try to stay healthy, and people get through their lives and are more productive if they are healthy in body and mind. The North American approach seems to be the opposite. It is basically the rat race, the little hamster on the wheel. We race our way to the end of our lives, perform our work and have as little government as possible.
Canada has the right wing, the neo-Reaganites I guess we would call them, trying to roll back the clock. I can just imagine if these people had a majority government. The country has been saved now twice from a Conservative majority, and I really am very happy about that. Hopefully we can save the country in the future from a Conservative majority. The Conservative agenda is to roll things back. We see it right now with the race to the bottom in corporate tax rates. There is no enemy out there, but I guess the Conservatives see one.
The United States has a corporate tax rate of 35%. What did the Conservative government do? It took the rate down to 15%. That is supposed to create jobs, but it has no proof that that is being done.
Just look at the parliamentary secretary's arguments. I read Hansard and I was here when he spoke back on December 10. He was talking about how this bill is going to cost $400 million and saying, whoa, that is scary and we cannot do this. First of all, how does he quantify that?
With all the crime bills the Conservative government is bringing in, the parliamentary secretary has said the crime rate will go down. If that is the case, then all the great crime bills it is going to bring in will reduce the crime rates in the country, so the cost for the bill should be even less. But no. He obviously has a different view of where the crime rates are going because while the proponent of the bill suggests that the cost will be around $50 million, he says it is $400 million. He has it eight times as high. What does he think, that the crime rate is going to go up eight times, that we have to incur costs because of this bill?
I would recommend to the government, and I would certainly recommend to the House, that we proceed with this bill to second reading, that we make any amendments that we need, that we proceed and pass this bill, and get it as far along the way as possible while the government is considering its options.
I must say to the government, while it is considering its options, it should look at England, France, and countries that have really developed social programs, when it is developing its program, it should try to come up with and bring in ideas that work.
We already know that corporate tax cuts do not necessarily produce results that the government thought it would. We know that mandatory minimums, that were tried 25 years ago by Ronald Reagan, have resulted in huge expansive private prisons in the United States, filled to the capacity with inmates. The crime rates have gone up. There are so many prisoners that the governor of California, who we just saw a couple of weeks ago at the governors conference, is letting people out. The state cannot afford to keep them anymore.
Can you not learn from the mistakes of others? Do you not know that if you develop the prison system the way California has and fill it up with people, you are going to bankrupt the country and you will not be able to keep the people in prison anyway, at the end of the day?
Mrs. Maria Mourani (Ahuntsic, BQ):
Madam Speaker, my Bloc Québécois colleague, the member for Compton—Stanstead, who has been fighting to have this bill passed for three years now, introduced Bill C-343, which would provide assistance for the families of victims of crime or suicide.
As a mother, I am very honoured to speak to this bill. I must mention that this bill has the support of a number of individuals and groups, including the Murdered or Missing Persons' Families' Association, whose current president told me that he supported the bill and wanted to see the Conservatives support it.
I think that when we are talking about human life and suffering, partisanship no longer matters. This bill is based on the recognition of a fundamental human reality, since up until now, families of victims of crime or suicide had to continue to work through their suffering, as though nothing had happened.
In a modern society like ours, workers who are confronted by tragedies like this must be able to have their jobs guaranteed. The federal government must follow Quebec's lead. Two years ago, with the passage of Bill 58, Quebec helped guarantee the jobs of these family members for up to two years. With Bill C-343, workers under federal jurisdiction will be protected, as are workers in Quebec. It is a matter of justice.
The bill does even more than that. As I said, the bill helps guarantee jobs, but it also allows these families to take a leave from work and to receive employment insurance benefits for up to 52 weeks. That would enable these people to deal with their suffering and work through their grief, although that can take a very long time. At least something would be done for them. Accordingly, the bill also proposes changes to the Employment Insurance Act.
On the face of it, this bill is not only important, but absolutely crucial for the families of victims of crime. How could anyone vote against it? I simply do not understand. Who could vote against this kind of bill, which proposes important measures for these families? Who? The so-called champions of law and order, who claim they want to work for victims and help victims? As usual, it is nothing but words, words, words. When the time comes to take real action and support a bill that, logically, should be supported, they do not want to. They do not show up.
Personally, and many Bloc members think the same thing, I would have thought that this bill would get the support of at least one Conservative—not two, one—at least the person who has publicly supported it from its inception and even helped create it. That would be only too logical. But yesterday we learned that the senator, the one Conservative who could have supported this bill, had gone back on his word. Suddenly, the bill was no good and, according to him, it was completely useless. He added that the Conservative solution, mentioned in the throne speech and the budget, is much better and that the Conservatives no longer needed to support this bill, which is completely useless.
But that is not true. What the Conservatives are proposing and what this bill proposes are two completely different things. What they are proposing—or what we think they might propose—is an ombudsman, as my colleague mentioned earlier. So far, he has said the ombudsman position has been created, but upon reading, we learn that it will be created. It has not even been created yet.
I do not know what he is talking about. I am not sure he even knows what he is talking about. There is no ombudsman, and if there is one, I would like to know. We would all like to know.
What are we being offered? $3.3 million. An ombudsman would cost $1.5 million. This would leave $1.8 million for the families of murdered children or other family members. There is nothing, however, for the families of family members who have been kidnapped. Naturally, there is nothing with respect to suicide. There is nothing for children who might have suffered severe injuries. Nothing. Can it be said that our bill and these proposals are one and the same? No. Logic dictates that they are not the same.
Our bill is much more generous. Incidentally, I thank the other two opposition parties for recognizing it outright.
Our bill was drafted with this person. To say that it is completely useless is tantamount to saying that the bill is useless to those having to cope with the disappearance of minor children, the death by suicide of a spouse, common law partner or child, and the families with minor children who have become disabled as a result of a crime, that it is useless and irrelevant to them. To say that this bill is completely useless shows contempt for all the families of victims of crime other than murder. I am sorry to say that I would never have expected such a degree of partisanship in this House.
Let us be clear. The Conservatives' proposal set out in the throne speech and the budget is a clunker, as they are called in the automotive industry. The reality is that we do not want their clunker.
As I said, we have the support of the new president of the AFPAD, the murdered or missing persons' families' association.