Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to explain to my colleagues why it is so important that we pass Bill C-464.
This legislation will have major implications for Canadian families. It will have a profound impact and affect the day-to-day lives of numerous Canadians.
Bill C-464 proposes changes to the Canadian Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act that would offer better coverage for parents blessed with multiples.
The birth of a child brings such joy, but it also comes with anxieties and hard work. As wonderful an event as childbirth is, it comes with a set of responsibilities that require a tremendous amount of time and energy from the parents. And those responsibilities increase tenfold when multiples are involved. Taking care of an infant is a tremendous job; taking care of two, three or even four infants is even more demanding.
Unfortunately, the current legislation makes no distinction between these two types of childbirth. Whether one child or multiple children are brought into this world, parents receive the same coverage and support. That is a major flaw that Bill C-464 addresses to bring justice to parents of multiples and to truly encourage parents to have children.
The current legislation works well enough for those who are expecting or adopting a single child. They receive employment insurance benefits for up to 35 weeks of leave. The amount varies, but it is up to 55% of regular salary, to a maximum of $501 per week. Generally speaking, this helps new parents take care of their child during the first weeks of life, but for those who have twins, for example, it is often insufficient, given that they have twice as many demands.
As anyone who has experienced a multiple birth knows, having twins presents twice as many challenges. Parents have two mouths to feed. They have to buy twice as many clothes and twice as much food. Sometimes they have to renovate their house or even move, not to mention the fact that two children require twice as much time from their parents. These details cannot be ignored. Psychologically and physically, multiple births also demand more of parents. They have to care for, feed and nurture two babies.
I think I speak for all parents in Canada when I say that it is a challenging experience. However, our current legislation does not recognize that. It treats parents who have one baby the same as those who have two or more. But that is definitely not the reality. This only makes sense: two children, twice as many needs.
I can think of a number of good reasons to provide concrete assistance to parents who have multiple births. It is important to note, for instance, that compared to 1991, the number of multiple births in Canada has risen by 50%. At present, over 3% of pregnancies in Canada are multiple pregnancies, and we can only expect the number of multiple births to increase in the years to come.
We have to help these people. These parents need to be able to look after their children properly. We will be providing concrete assistance to Canadian families who truly deserve it. As elected members representing Canadians, it is our duty to support these families and to encourage them to add to their family for the common well-being of our society.
Not only is it the right thing to do, but it simply makes sense because it will help our society in the long term. A society that looks after its children is a healthy society, and families with less debt contribute to Canada's economic development. That is why Bill C-464 increases the maximum number of weeks of parental benefits to 70 in the case of multiple births or adoptions. It is simple: 70 weeks divided by two gives each parent 35 weeks of benefits to stay at home and take care of their children together.
We would all agree that this is a much more appropriate period of time given the responsibilities associated with the arrival of two or more children at once.
Promoting gender equality is another important reason. We have come a long way in that regard in the past few decades, but we still have work to do. Giving the same rights to all parents, no matter how many children they welcome into their family, is a step in the right direction. I am also thinking of the fathers. We must not forget them. In a potentially difficult situation, they have to be given the same support as mothers. Making it possible for fathers to stay home with their families also helps mothers and the entire family to better cope with this challenge.
Bill C-464 does exactly that. It allows the father and the mother to take enough time to deal with the challenges of a multiple birth.
I know that I am speaking on behalf of parents who have experienced a multiple birth when I say that Bill C-464 will be of great assistance to them.
Multiple Births Canada is a Canadian organization that focuses solely on this issue. After studying the main provisions of the bill, the organization provided its unqualified support. The associations of parents of multiples in Montreal, Quebec City and Trois-Rivières also back Bill C-464. Need I say that we have strong support from Vancouver to Halifax for this bill?
Naturally, as is the case with any public policy, there is a cost associated with passing Bill C-464. In these uncertain economic times, we absolutely have to ensure that we make good use of taxpayers' money. We all agree with that. That is why I am pleased to inform you that Bill C-464 is an affordable and very effective initiative. With a modest amount of money and some goodwill, we can improve the quality of life of many Canadians and, at the same time, improve the economic health of Canadian families in these difficult economic times.
It is important to remember that the bill proposes changes to employment insurance. Taxpayers as a group will not have to foot the bill for this; workers will pay for it themselves. I sincerely believe that this is a fair, feasible and cost-effective measure. The public as a whole will not bear the burden of this new policy. It will be placed on those who will benefit from it. This is an honest and low-cost way for us to offer better coverage to parents.
What kind of money are we talking about? Experts have estimated that this change to employment insurance would cost approximately $27 million a year. As my colleagues are aware, Canadian workers already pay into employment insurance. They are entitled to these benefits. We must remember that this is not just an expense; it is an investment in the health of our families and in lowering household debt, and it is a tangible incentive to increase Canada's already too-low birth rate.
Workers who adopt or give birth to two or more children are also entitled to support. They do not deserve inferior treatment simply because they had a multiple birth. They also pay into the employment insurance system every week. It only makes sense to be fair and practical and to offer Canadian families appropriate coverage that is suited to their needs.
I believe that it is our duty as a society to help those who choose to start or expand a family. I know that my hon. colleagues here in this House share this determination to improve the lives of our constituents. The current system works well for most new parents. However, as I have already explained, there is a glaring deficiency when it comes to multiple births, which have been on the rise over the past few years.
That is why Bill C-464 seeks to help young families who are facing this big responsibility. This bill is thoughtful and efficient and would provide financial assistance to families who are greatly in need of it. The household debt of families with more than one child is often too high. Bill C-464 responds directly to that need.
We are all well aware that the issues that Canadians care about most are the economy and the importance of family. I can assure hon. members that Bill C-464 very effectively addresses both of these concerns.
It is through helping families—the heart of Canadian society—that we will improve the lives of Canadians. By so doing, we will also help Canadians get out of debt: a family with less debt is a family that can more effectively participate in Canada's economic development.
We are also responding to Canadians' demands by promoting gender equality within families. Such gender equality also benefits all Canadians who just want to thrive within their families.
Another issue that is of concern to Canadians is the dramatic drop in our country's birth rate. No doubt, one reason for this drop is that families are in tight financial situations and cannot afford to have a lot of children. Once again, Bill C-464 responds to this concern because it encourages Canadian families to have more children and provides security in the case of multiple births. Encouraging families to have children is a very good thing to do in a country with a declining population.
Finally, Bill C-464 is being introduced in the House today in order to meet the needs of parents that are not taken into consideration by employment insurance, despite the fact that, in the case of multiple births or adoptions, parents need twice as much help. This is a fair, sustainable and pragmatic bill.
For all of these reasons, I am quite convinced that passing this bill would be very helpful to thousands of Canadians.
I ask my colleagues to set side all political gamesmanship and work together to develop and improve our society as well as our economy. This is how we will move forward. Let us take advantage of this historic opportunity and deliver a clear statement that Canada is a country that is concerned about the welfare of families from coast to coast to coast.
Once this legislation has been passed, we will be able to look back with pride at what we have accomplished. Future generations will be grateful.