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Alberta MP and his wife push to change laws related to multiple sclerosis

Multiple schlerosis affects MP David Yurdiga personally. His wife, Kathy, lives with the disease.

David Yurdiga hopes his private members' motion will make life better for people with MS

David Yurdiga, Fort McMurray-Cold Lake MP, with his wife Kathy. (Twitter/ David Yurdiga)

A political push is underway to change federal laws that would help patients with multiple sclerosis stay employed.

Fort McMurray-Cold Lake MP David Yurdiga introduced a private members' motion before the House of Commons that he says would "ensure there is a safety net" to protect people who suffer from MS and other episodic disabilities.

MS is a debilitating disease that attacks the central nervous system and leaves people with various symptoms such as numbness, impaired speech and diminished muscle co-ordination.

And it affects Yurdiga personally. His wife, Kathy, lives with MS.

Like arthritis or HIV/AIDS, MS is classified as an episodic disability because its symptoms appear and then disappear.

When Kathy was diagnosed with MS she was unable to work at her job as a bookkeeper.

"I was instantly disabled," Kathy told CBC. "I went from a healthy working person to a person who couldn't function."

Thankfully, she said, her family-run business was able to accommodate her but she realizes others aren't as lucky.

Government policy change needed

The MS Society supports Yurdiga's motion, which passed first reading on Friday.

The society says 77,000 people in Canada have the disease. The Conference Board of Canada estimates about 60 per cent of people with MS are unemployed.

Julie Kelndorfer, director of government relations for the MS Society, said most government programs, like EI and the disability tax credit, have high eligibility requirements that don't offer enough flexibility for people living with MS and episodic disabilities.

Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world, Kelndorfer notes, but people living with MS and other episodic diseases find it difficult to find jobs with flexible arrangements.

Kelndorfer said changes in government grants and flexible work schedules could allow people with MS to remain employed and support their families.

"We know that people with MS want to work but they struggle to continue to work," Kelndorfer said.

If the House of Common's passes Yurdiga's motion, the standing committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities will begin reviewing all legislative and policy changes that could help people with MS and other episodic disabilities.

The House of Commons should receive those recommendations by May 2019. 

Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

About the Author

David Thurton

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.