Widow wants changes to EI benefits

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A Westville woman wants to change how the government issues EI benefits to terminally ill Canadians.

It’s an ordeal Kathy MacNaughton witnessed first hand. In 2014, her common-law spouse, David Fraser, died at age 50 following an eight-month battle with esophageal cancer. When Fraser’s health status changed to terminal, Employment Insurance benefits became sick benefits, which were only available for 15 weeks. When they ran out, CCP benefits went into effect. A steady decline of income came with each change in benefit type.

On top of all the stresses one would expect knowing a loved one is terminally ill, the couple now had to face a financial struggle. MacNaughton feels not only was this not fair, it wasn’t necessary.

Fraser lost his battle well before his original EI claim would have run out, and MacNaughton feels that people in his situation — terminal patients — should be entitled to their full claim rather than sick benefits. So she began David’s Cause to fight for the rights of terminally ill people.

“These people, these terminal people, are never going to draw unemployment again,” she said. “They’re dying. They will probably die before their unemployment runs out.”

MacNaughton said she isn’t looking for a handout, and isn’t looking for government to retroactively make things right for her spouse.

“This is not about David dying,” MacNaughton said. “This is about what we went through when he became terminal. It’ll never help David, I don’t expect to recoup from this. This is for people in David’s situation … it was so stressful to go through that. We didn’t need the added stress of ‘where are we going to get the money’.”

MacNaughton said she and Fraser were “lucky” given that she was working and had medical coverage, and that Fraser had applied early for CCP benefits. She expressed concern that many Canadians do not know that being sick results in a one-year wait for CCP benefits, or that being terminally ill results in four months of waiting.

She sees the increase of compassionate care to six months as a good thing, yet it also seems to undermine her cause. “It’s a great change, because your partner should be able to be with you and take care of you in those last days. But it just doesn’t make sense. It’s just not fair.”

MacNaughton began campaigning for a change in EI payout shortly after Fraser’s death, reaching out to her MLA Tim Houston, then to Peter MacKay who was MP at the time, and finally to current Central Nova MP Sean Fraser. She said each has done their part to try to help but she still isn’t seeing much progress within government.

Among the many emails she has includes two emails from the same government agent — one issued during Stephen Harper’s final term as prime minister, and one during Justin Trudeau’s current term — effectively laying out the same narrative of sympathies and an outline of what programs are in place for people in Fraser’s situation. MacNaughton hasn’t found these nearly identical replies helpful to her cause.

Under the advice of MP Sean Fraser she has written to Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of Families, Children and Social Development, MaryAnn Mihychuk, previously the minister of Employment Workforce and Labour, and Jane Philpott, minster of Health, but without any real outcome.

MacNaughton explains her proposed amendment to EI wouldn’t affect the budget, as it is a program paid into by employees. She also expresses concern over an EI surplus and alleged misuse of those funds by government.

At this point, she said, it’s no longer about sharing her story with people. It’s now a matter of raising awareness as well as using media — social and conventional — to reach the people who can potentially create the changes she wants to see.

MacNaughton collected 300 signatures for a petition in under a week.

“I just thought it’s going nowhere in government,” she said, “so maybe if I go to the media somebody in Ottawa is going to see this and say ‘wow, she might have a point’.”

Kathy MacNaughton clutches a photo of her spouse, David Fraser, who passed away in 2014. She formed David’s Cause and has been fighting for terminally ill people to receive EI benefits. (Cameron photo)

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