Employment insurance: the laborious journey of a bill

The Canadian legislative apparatus is an ocean liner that does not turn easily and does not move at full speed. And even if part of the crew is sometimes ready to collaborate to effect a change of direction, it is the captain and his first officers who have the last word on the destination and the time of arrival.

This image may not be 100% accurate, but it nevertheless seems to partially represent what is currently unfolding on Parliament Hill in Ottawa with Bill C-215 to amend the Health Insurance Act. sickness employment so that people with serious illnesses receive up to 52 weeks of unemployment insurance.

The current benefit limit is set at 15 weeks, then should be stretched to 26 weeks during the summer, which is still not enough, hammer the opposition deputies.

Sponsored and supported by Conservatives Jacques Gourde and Bernard Généreux, Bill C-215 was tabled and presented for first reading in December, before being given second reading and debate on Wednesday 30 March. The Conservative, New Democrat and Bloc MPs then spoke with a common voice to push the government in place to act as quickly as possible.

“Only the Liberals don’t seem to get it. They did not commit to voting against it, which must be emphasized, but they did raise concerns. However, they have already voted for a similar bill when they were in opposition”, protests the deputy for Montmagny-L’Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, Bernard Généreux, who took advantage of his right to speak to share the reality of citizens of the region through their fight against the disease.

“Among the Conservatives, it’s true, it took 10 years to change things within the party […] but we now agree that it is a compassionate measure, which touches the family and which comes to seek our values, he shares. It’s not a question of being left or right, it’s a question of sensitivity towards the sick and vulnerable.


Even if the majority of parliamentarians walk hand in hand for a rare time, the rest is not easy. Several other steps will have to be taken before there is a possible implementation of the law. There will be a second reading vote (in June), then a committee study and report (in the fall), before a third reading, further study and adoption by the Senate.

All this to reach the final point: the granting of Royal Assent, a decisive step which, to be taken, will require the support of the government, or at least of a few ministers.

It will therefore take months before knowing whether or not unemployment insurance benefits, in the event of serious illness, will continue beyond the 26 weeks announced by the Trudeau government in its 2021 budget.

“It is true that it is heavy, very heavy, concedes Bernard Généreux about the federal legislative process. But when we want, we can. A bill can be passed in just a few days with political will. Currently, however, it is not a priority of the government.

“The Liberals are also amplifying the problem,” he continues. They believe it will cost a lot more than the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates, according to which the fiscal impact of extending from 15 to 50 weeks would be in the order of $1.3 billion in 2025. They also fear abuses, as if people with cancer, mostly women, want to take advantage of the system, while doctors dictate the length of absence from work. They just don’t have any arguments.”

According to the figures he presented in the House of Commons on Wednesday, this billion dollars would result in an increase of 6 cents to the usual contribution of the employee which is $1.62 per $100 of insurable earnings.


Bill C-215 is the fourteenth to be tabled on the issue, since Marie-Hélène Dubé of Louperivoise began her fight to change things in 2009. It is not the first time that the one of the bills reached 2nd reading before it was defeated or “died on the order paper”. This is essentially what happened to the last bill put forward by the Bloc Québécois when the election was called.

She does not hide that the heaviness of the parliamentary process is frustrating and that is still the case today. “I don’t understand where the problem is,” she says. It has been demonstrated more than once that the needs are major. People also mostly agree to contribute more. So where is the problem? It doesn’t make any sense. It has to become a priority.”

The one who is the instigator of the most important petition in the country – which has collected more than 618,000 signatures – however keeps hope and wishes to cling to the positive. “What’s interesting this time around is that the time we have is going to allow us to bring this file back to the fore, to keep working on it and to remind people that the fight is not finished, since there is no fear of new elections for a few years.

“It will also allow you to take the pulse, to speak to an elected official, to another. It will open up opportunities”, she underlines, specifying to count on many allies, including Louis Sansfaçon, the father of Émilie who participated in the fight before being carried away by cancer.

Bernard Généreux also admits that the next few months will allow elected officials to move the file forward. He also assures that the Conservative Party will not let go.

According to him, only the “royal assent” stage could pose a problem, but he does not rule out that discussions could be started with the government in office. He also recalls that royal assent was recently obtained for a bill tabled by Conservative MP Larry Maguire. “We want to put pressure on the government and the members of the cabinet,” he said.

However, he remains lucid: we will still have to be patient before the boat arrives safely, since the steps allowing the implementation of the new law cannot be taken before 2023.

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