On June 7, 2010, my colleague Fin Donnelly, Member for New Westminster–Coquitlam, British Columbia, introduced a bill in the House of Commons to improve the employment insurance system. Bill C-526, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (special benefits), would amend the Employment Insurance Act by extending the maximum period for which special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 52 weeks.

This change would address a major weakness in the employment insurance system. As it stands now, those with chronic illnesses are entitled to just 15 weeks of benefits when they have to leave their jobs due to illness. This is clearly insufficient since many illnesses, such as cancer, require up to a year of treatment. This places those individuals in financial difficulty and is a source of worry when they should be focusing all their energy on getting well.

This is what happened to Marie-Hélène Dubé, of Montreal, who was diagnosed with cancer three times in five years. Each time, Ms. Dubé received these benefits but the 15 weeks ran out quickly. This had a serious impact on her finances and she even had to forego certain treatments due to their high cost. To educate the public about the inadequacy of these benefits, which have not changed since they were first established in 1971, Ms. Dubé started a petition calling on the government to increase the special benefits available under employment insurance. So far she has collected over 200,000 signatures. Her petition is available at: http://petitionassuranceemploi.com. All you have to do is print, sign and mail it. I urge you to sign this petition to send the message to the government that Canadians want change and greater protection.