New polling results show that 88 per cent of Canadians support an extension to Employment Insurance sickness benefit to at least 26 weeks from the current 15 weeks. The Canadian Cancer Society has long advocated for this important measure to ensure people living with cancer have more paid time off work to heal and recover from their treatment. Extending the length of the EI sickness benefit would bring them into alignment with the amount of paid time off given to caregivers through the compassionate care benefit.
“When Canadians face cancer, too often the challenges they face are not just medical, but also financial,” says Kelly Masotti, Vice President of Advocacy at CCS. “The average length of treatment for people with breast and colon cancer — two of the most commonly diagnosed cancers for Canadians — ranges between 26 and 37 weeks. We must provide additional support for people living with cancer; no one should be forced to choose between a paycheque and cancer treatment.”
The support demonstrated in the polling results is great news for people like Kathy MacNaughton who know all too well that the current 15 weeks provided under the sickness benefits are not enough for a loved one diagnosed with cancer.
Kathy’s husband, David, learned he had esophageal cancer on December 3, 2013 – his 50th birthday. From that point forward, their lives changed forever. David took a break from his work as a carpenter to focus on treatment and began receiving coverage through the federally provided EI sickness benefit. However, the benefit covered only a fraction of his pre-cancer earnings and he went from making almost $6,000 a month, to $1,600 to $852 in a matter of four months. The 15 weeks covered under the EI sickness benefit came to an end but David was unable to return to work because the cancer became terminal.
"Other than the cancer, the biggest thing on David's mind was how he was going to contribute financially," says Westville, Nova Scotia resident Kathy. "He should have been living his life and not worrying about money."
After David died, Kathy has since become an advocate for an extension to the EI sickness benefit. “The goal of my advocacy is to make the government understand that most people with cancer face similar financial strain as we did when David was diagnosed,” says Kathy. “Fifteen weeks isn’t enough – this is a problem that needs to be fixed.”
In addition to an extension to the benefit, the polling results showed that Canadians support the cost of a lengthened benefit to be paid by either employers or out of their own pocket. A total of 87 per cent of respondents support a 5-cent increase to employer-paid premiums in year 1, and a 1-cent increase the following year, to fund the longer sickness benefit period. Support for this approach is up 2 percentage points since February 2020 when CCS last polled Canadians on the same issue. Meanwhile, there is strong and growing support for a salary-contribution approach: 82 per cent of Canadians support paying an extra 5 cents out of every $100 they earn to fund an increase to 26 weeks, up 5 percentage points since February 2020.
“These polling results show us that Canadians understand the importance of longer sickness benefits for people living with cancer,” says Masotti. “For years we have been telling the government that 15 weeks is simply not enough time for most cancer patients to undergo treatment and recover.”
During the 2019 election, the Liberal Party of Canada committed to an extension of the EI sickness benefit. This commitment was reaffirmed in the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion's Mandate Letter, handed out in December 2019. CCS supports the efforts of the Bloc Quebecois and NDP to increase the benefit beyond 26 weeks, as it will ensure Canadians facing a life-threatening disease will receive more time off to heal and recover.
COVID-19 has only exacerbated the need for an extension as the pandemic exposed gaps in the healthcare and employment insurance system and the need for support for people who are sick and vulnerable.
“An extension of the EI sickness benefit to at least 26 would be an incredible step forward,” says Kathy.
“Having that extra paid time off work would have meant a lot to David. I know it would mean a lot to other Canadians like David.”
“It is time to alleviate this burden on people who are living with a disease as serious as cancer,” says Masotti. “That’s why we are calling on the federal government to follow through on its commitment to extend the sickness benefit to at least 26 weeks. People living with cancer can’t afford to wait any longer.”
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between January 29 and February 1, 2021, on behalf of the Canadian Cancer Society. For this survey, a sample of 2,000 Canadians were interviewed. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ±2.5 percentage points. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.