Speech – 2021.05.06 – Bill C-220 – Compassionate Leave


Bill C-220 – Compassionate Leave

May 6, 2021

Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-220 being brought forward by my colleague from Edmonton Riverbend. The member and I go way back. We, in fact, served together in the Alberta Legislature and now we share the same privilege of serving together in this House.

As an Alberta MLA, I brought forward legislation that created the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry and my colleague from Edmonton Riverbend strongly supported my efforts then.

He then brought forward the Alberta compassionate care leave legislation which I, in turn, was happy to be a strong supporters of. Both pieces of legislation passed successfully in Alberta and now we are both here in Ottawa and we continue our work. When we came here, I introduced legislation that would improve our national organ and tissue rates by adding the question to our income tax form. In fact, it comes up tomorrow for a final hour at third reading.

Now, the member for Edmonton Riverbend has his federal compassionate care leave bill before us here today in the final hour of debate here today, so we both are now on the cusp of hopefully seeing our legislation pass the House this week. I find it very fitting that we find ourselves here today given our shared history with provincial and federal legislation.

We have shown that sensible legislation, compassionate legislation is something that all parties can support. Bill C-220 originally proposed to extend the compassionate care leave program which federally regulated employees can use to take up to 26 weeks of work off to take care of a terminally ill loved one. The bill was later amended at committee to allow for federally regulated private sector Canadian employees to take a leave of absence from their job for up to 10 days following the death of a family member. The 10 days can be taken within six weeks of a funeral of a deceased family member.

I believe that these changes will benefit working Canadians by giving them that extra time during a very difficult period one may face. It also allows them the flexibility to take it when they can. I hope that this is just the first of many ways the government examines how it can make the grieving process easier for families. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how critical it is that people are supported in the loss of a loved one.

I am really pleased that we are recognizing the importance of compassionate care leave as this is something that I am all too familiar with. I did lose my wife, Heather, to breast cancer a number of years ago and I was fortunate to have had the ability to take time off from work to support my wife before she died and just as importantly to support my three young daughters after her death. I could not imagine for a second what it would have been like if I did not have the support I did at that time.

I was a member of the Alberta Legislature at that time and I cannot thank Premier Ed Stelmach and my colleagues enough for their support back then. The premier especially went out of his way to make it as easy as possible for me to focus on my family and I will forever be grateful. He even rearranged cabinet to allow me to stay closer to home and my colleagues picked up on some of my workload and the member for Edmonton Riverbend was one of those colleagues and I will never forget that.

I want to take a moment to thank our home care registered nurse, Donna Dyer, who played a critical role in supporting my family and my wife. Donna helped us with our needs and most importantly, she made Heather comfortable in her final days. We thank her to this day and I only hope those who must go through what we did are lucky enough to have someone like Donna assigned to them.

Grief is something we all experience differently. It is almost impossible to put some sort of appropriate mourning or grief period into legislation, but we have to find a reasonable balance between need and resources. I think that the bill is an excellent first step, but I would like to see the legislation reviewed after a few years to ensure that it is meeting its goals.

I recall that a few months after I lost my wife, I met this guy at some event. He was a firefighter, in fact, who, coincidentally, had lost his wife too around the same time I did. Tragically, she had died suddenly in a car accident en route to the grocery store. After chatting with him for a bit, and I will never forget him saying to me that at least I was lucky enough to be able to say good-bye to my wife. That really resonated with me. It was true. Yes, I was able to say good-bye to my wife, and I was lucky enough to say good-bye, and he did not have that opportunity. He was not able to say good-bye, and I just cannot imagine how difficult that would be. It made me realize that the grief that we were both experiencing at the time was very much different.

Yes, there are many factors that can affect the depth and the length of the grieving process. Was the death foreseeable, or completely sudden and unexpected? Did the family have the opportunity to say good-bye? Does the person’s death dramatically alter the financial situation of the family? These are all factors, but the biggest determination in how people grieve is the level of support that they get from family and friends. This bill, Bill C-220, would ensure that people would at least have some level of support from their government, and that is a really good thing.

Death is something that we all have to deal with at some point in time. We all lose a loved one or a close friend. Sadly, as we get older, it becomes more and more frequent but it does not make it any easier. As the Willie Nelson saying goes:

It’s not somethin’ you get over
But it’s somethin’ you get through

    For those who are struggling with grief, there is help available. It is important that they reach out and ask for it. They can google mental health hotline Canada; they can call the 1-800 number 1-833-456-4566; and youth can call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. Hopefully, one day, thanks to the member for Cariboo—Prince George, they will only have to call a three-digit number, the 988 number, to seek help.

In closing, I want to reiterate my support for Bill C-220. The member for Edmonton Riverbend has brought forward sensible, compassionate legislation that would help many Canadians. I am pleased that his efforts have been welcomed by all parties in this House of Commons, and I wish him all the luck in the world as he moves this bill off to the Senate. I hope that we can make this legislation a reality before the next election.