Brant MP Phil McColeman’s family was thrown into crisis 24 years ago when McColeman’s son, Jordan, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia at the age of two.
“We were prepared by a medical team at McMaster (Hospital oncology department) to not expect him to survive,” McColeman said. “Within the first 12 hours following his diagnosis, Jordan received more than 20 needles of toxic chemicals to arrest the blood cells gone wild.”
On Wednesday, McColeman rose in the House of Commons to make a speech championing the federal government’s proposed Helping Families in Need Act, which hits close to home for him and his family.
Jordan – now 26 – joined McColeman in the gallery.
The bill was announced in downtown Ottawa and tabled in the House of Commons on Sept. 20 by federal Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley.
“I am speaking for a lot of families,” McColeman said in an interview with Brant News. “We were not in a unique situation.
“This is the first time I have spoken publicly about our family’s story. Four Canadian children are diagnosed with cancer each day. This means four families will have their lives changed irreversibly. Having Jordan in the gallery was one of the most rewarding things. Today is one of the best for me as an MP.”
If adopted by members of Parliament, the bill will amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code with measures aimed at helping Canadian families in need balance work and family responsibilities, according to a media release recently issued by the federal government.
The changes include more access to sickness benefits for parents receiving EI parental benefits, EI benefits for parents of critically ill children and the introduction of the Federal Income Support for Parents of Murdered or Missing Children grant.
As part of the bill, the Canada Labour Code will be amended to allow unpaid leave for parents whose child dies or disappears as a result of a suspected Criminal Code offence or who need to care for a critically ill child.
Currently, to be eligible for sickness benefits under the EI program people are required to be available to work.
People on parental leave from their jobs are not considered to be available for work and as a result, they do not qualify for sickness benefits.
“Our government will provide financial support to families in these situations,” McColeman said. “They want to be with their child and that is the best medicine for the families and the children.”
The bill includes a new EI benefit to provide income support for up to 35 weeks to eligible parents caring for a child under 18 years old with a critical illness or injury.
McColeman knows the difficulty of having a critically ill child.
“Jordan made it into remission about two weeks after his diagnosis,” McColeman said. “Then, he underwent two years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He was in hospital for a total of more than 270 days, while neither myself or my wife Nancy left his side. After treatment, he had numerous follow-up appointments.”
But the treatment took a toll on his son, McColeman said.
“The cranial radiation and aggressive chemotherapy left him with brain damage,” McColeman said. “There were many side effects, including his cognitive ability.
“Jordan expresses himself with unconditional love and he has been endearing himself to many of my colleagues on Parliament Hill over the last two days.”
Once passed, the amendments would take effect in January next year.