Intern Protection Act

An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (unpaid training)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.


Laurin Liu  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Defeated, as of April 22, 2015
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the definition “employee” in Parts II and III of the Canada Labour Code to include persons receiving training with or without remuneration and specifies the conditions under which training without remuneration is permitted.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


April 22, 2015 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

June 2nd, 2015 / 10:20 a.m.
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Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

I think we'll leave the artistry to members on our side.

Earlier this year we found out through an access to information request that the federal government hired just 22 out of its 1,000 interns since 2008. So we know that internships often don't result in paid employment and also contribute to a cycle of youth underemployment and youth unemployment. Unlike the bill that the NDP proposed, Bill C-636, C-636, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (unpaid training), the current proposed budget implementation act doesn't actually restrict non-academic internships.

So, Claire, could you just talk about the risks of the allowance of unpaid academic unpaid internships and the effect that it could have on labour and the labour market?

June 2nd, 2015 / 10:10 a.m.
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Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to first address a question to Mr. Gleason.

Before tabling our Bill C-636, Bell Mobility, one of Canada's largest and most profitable telecoms, ran a controversial unpaid internship program that took advantage of hundreds of unpaid, non-academic interns.

Would the current bill, the one we're discussing now, stop such large-scale unpaid programs, or would it facilitate them?

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 22nd, 2015 / 5:30 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-636, under private members' business.

Call in the members.

The House resumed from April 20 consideration of the motion that Bill C-636, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (unpaid training), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 20th, 2015 / 11:50 a.m.
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Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to today's debate on my Bill C-636, which would apply the same employment protection standards to unpaid interns that salaried employees get and establish clear rules and conditions governing unpaid internships.

In an article published in Le Soleil on June 18, 2014, entitled “Prévenir le cheap labor”, Brigitte Breton wrote:

Ottawa had to tighten the rules for its temporary foreign worker program because employers were misusing it to the detriment of local workers. It now has to be vigilant about unpaid interns by becoming aware of the role they play in businesses and protecting them from abuse.

I can tell the House that Canadians who commented on my private member's bill shared that same sentiment.

I invite my colleagues from all parties to vote in favour of this bill. In my five-minute right of reply, I will respond to some of the arguments that were made during the debate.

First of all, according to the Conservatives, the bill will prevent employers from hiring unpaid interns who are new Canadians and those transitioning to new careers, thus taking away a stepping stone to a new job. Essentially, this is the argument behind the idea that there should be no limits on the use of unpaid internships and that they should not necessarily have an educational value. I disagree. Employees, whether they are new Canadians or people transitioning to a new career, must most definitely be paid if they are doing work that benefits an employer. Entry-level jobs must not become unpaid internships. I completely disagree with my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, who says that immigrants should not be paid for the work they do.

The Conservative members raised another concern, namely that the bill does not include a definition of training. However, there is already a common law definition of training in the Canada Labour Code, which already refers to training outside of internships. On the face of it, I would not oppose a clarification of what constitutes unpaid training, and we could study this if the bill is sent to committee.

The Conservatives also claim that the bill would make it easier for employers to stop paying some salaried employees. That is absolutely not true. The bill will in no way increase the use of unpaid internships. On the contrary, it will limit the use of unpaid internships as a replacement for paid work.

Lastly, I want to say that I was so grateful to hear that the Liberal Party will support my private member's bill. Although some Liberal members expressed concerns that this bill could prevent non-profits from hiring unpaid interns, this bill will in no way affect volunteer work. The only sectors that will be affected by my private member's bill will be sectors under federal jurisdiction, such as telecommunications, transportation and banking.

The past has taught us that it is very important to have a framework governing the use of unpaid internships, especially within multinational companies that have no shortage of financial resources to hire staff.

While the Liberals would rather wait for the Conservative government to take action, the NDP knows that now is the time to do something. I hope that my response has clarified some of the points that came up during the debate.

Some witnesses testified in committee. They told us that too many young Canadians are being exploited because there is no federal legislation for unpaid internships. Interns in Canada deserve protection, and now is the time for Parliament to take action.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 20th, 2015 / 11:40 a.m.
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Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to support Bill C-636, which was introduced by my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. As the youth critic, I have worked on this issue a lot over the past few years with her and with the member for Davenport, who is doing amazing work on this issue, such as in the case of the family of Andy Ferguson, a victim of the terrible working conditions that interns endure.

We need to take a step back. It is interesting to see that the government will not be supporting this bill despite the fact that it is in line with one of the recommendations in a report adopted by the Standing Committee on Finance. The report recommended updating working conditions for interns in federally regulated companies.

I would like to provide a bit of background. Last year, the Standing Committee on Finance met about 10 times to study youth unemployment. One of the meetings focused almost entirely on unpaid internships. Throughout the study, and during that meeting in particular, witnesses unanimously stated that things have to change. They recognized that under the right circumstances, unpaid internships can benefit young people starting their careers or in the middle of their studies who want to know more about a certain kind of workplace. However, everyone in the committee agreed that things have to change. Interns are not protected by the same laws as every other worker under the Canada Labour Code. That is a huge problem, especially in an economic climate where the youth unemployment rate is twice the national average and youth underemployment is becoming more widespread.

Youth unemployment is obviously very concerning to us, but youth underemployment, where young people are overqualified for the jobs they have, is more and more of a problem. A Statistics Canada report that came out at the same time as the study we were doing at the finance committee said that it was at levels that had never been seen before in Canada. This is really concerning. These internships are unfortunately proliferating more and more.

One of the examples that many witnesses brought forward during the study was that young people working internships should be an opportunity for them to get a foot in the door, but instead it was turning into an opportunity for certain companies to use young people as coffee runners and photo copiers, which we do not want to see. These internships need to be an opportunity for young people to get the experience necessary to help them in their pursuit for meaningful jobs later on.

Jobs are important and experience is valuable. Once again, this has to do with the issue of youth unemployment. Just look at TD Bank's 2013 annual report, which indicates that young people who are unemployed or working in jobs they are overqualified for have a very hard time making up for that lost income in subsequent years. This is known as wage scarring. I do not know the French equivalent; perhaps it is “cicatrisation des revenus”. This is a very serious problem. When young people are unemployed or working in jobs that are below their skill level, they lose income, which they have to try to make up for later. In other words, the consequences of unemployment and underemployment are felt for many years.

These situations create a vicious circle. Just look at what is happening in our communities: new businesses are opening, entrepreneurs are starting up businesses, schools are being created to provide jobs for teachers. This is true in my community, as it is in all communities. All of these things determine whether young families will come and settle in a community. Young people will have a hard time starting a family or buying a house if there are no jobs to give family members the tools needed to be consumers and active participants in the economy.

That creates a vicious circle, which has to start somewhere. Even though we are talking about a circle, there is still a starting point, and in this case, it is young people who work in unpaid internships. It is very important to point that out.

I find it interesting that some Conservative members are saying that the bill goes too far, when quite the opposite is true. Student groups and intern advocacy groups are saying that unpaid internships should basically be abolished. We compromised by recognizing the role that unpaid internships play in society, but we want there to be some protection.

It is therefore interesting to hear members say that we are going too far when we are prepared to recognize that unpaid internships do indeed have a role to play, as long as there is some kind of compensation in the form of a learning experience. That goes hand in hand with worker protection, which is something that these interns do not have right now.

When we look at the question of going too far and what has been said by the government, I go back to the report that came out of the finance committee. This is a report on which all committee members agreed. One of the recommendations specifically said that something needed to change. The government members agreed to this.

In a 10-minute speech it is difficult to go back over all not only the witness testimony, but what some government members had to say. Many Conservative members of Parliament on that committee said that this concerned them. It concerned them when they thought of their kids or grandkids.

We know the willingness is there. It is unfortunate that we hear all these nice things, like the Conservative members congratulating my colleague for bringing this bill forward, that they know it is an issue, but that they will vote against it. This just does not make sense, particularly in the context, as I have said several times in my speech, where we have been willing to reach across the aisle and take a few steps backwards, not going as far as some folks might think we need to go, and a willingness to say that we should get this first good step done and at least get the minimum protections for people who work in this environment of unpaid internships, where they do not have those basic protections to which all workers are entitled.

I go back to the example of tragic story of Andy Ferguson, a 22-year-old who died because he was taken advantage of in the context of his workplace.

Some members might ask why these folks do not say no, and that is the danger. That is why so many members are talking about the youth unemployment and underemployment, because in this desperate context that exists, where young people want to get that work and want to get that foot in the door, they are willing to do whatever it takes.

It is all to their credit, but that is where the door opens to abuse. That is why we as legislators have to take that responsibility in hand to ensure this abuse does not happen, that young people are not taken advantage of when they do whatever it takes to eventually get, not even in the context of an internship but using it as a tool, a good paying job in the economic times in which we live.

This clearly shows that when members talk about youth unemployment, it is directly related to unpaid internships and the work environment because young people will not say no. They will take whatever they can get, and as I said, it is all to their credit. They are prepared to work and do what it takes to get a good job and at least get a start on their careers.

I am repeating myself, but as legislators, we have the fundamental responsibility of ensuring their basic safety and protection. After all, that is the primary mandate of any government.

The Conservative members made this recommendation at the Standing Committee on Finance, where they worked with us to make a change.

Why then are they not supporting my colleague's bill? It would be a step in the right direction in that it would at least provide some protection for our young people, the next generation, who just want to work and get good experience so that they can fully contribute to our economy. I think that is extremely important.

I am very pleased to support my colleague's bill. There is still a bit of time left before the vote. I hope that the Conservative members will remember what they said at the Standing Committee on Finance and that they will see the light.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 20th, 2015 / 11:30 a.m.
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Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.


Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on this important issue.

Safe, fair, and productive workplaces are essential for creating jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity. To that end, paid and unpaid internships allow students, recent graduates, new Canadians, and those transitioning to new careers to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to find good jobs.

Whether paid or unpaid, internships are seen as an important way to improve employment prospects and outcomes. In fact, in November 2014, an Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada survey found that four out of five employers think that “...internship students add value to their company as a source of new talent and as future employees with workplace skills”.

The issue of unpaid internships is an important one, and I would like to address some of the concerns raised by the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles in her private member's bill, Bill C-636.

To begin, I would like to say that we certainly agree with the bill's intent. Protecting interns in the federal jurisdiction is a worthy objective, but the bill does raise concerns.

In my previous role as the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Labour, I had the opportunity to go across the country. I consulted broadly with student groups and unions from coast to coast to coast. That added a lens to this conversation that I think is very important. Certainly it had the support of the government in terms of that process. However, there are some issues that truly are not dealt with in the bill that are of significant concern.

Every year, thousands of people, whether students, recent graduates, new Canadians, or people looking to make a career change, pursue internships to acquire the experience they need to find good jobs. I think we have recognized the issue around the actual data. There are some gaps, but there is currently an estimate of between 100,000 and 300,000 interns.

Internships can be a good transition from school to work, but we need to be alert to their unintended consequences. Again, as I mentioned, the bill is well intentioned, but it has serious weaknesses that really make it unrealistic in terms of us supporting it.

For example, the bill as written would allow employers to offer unpaid training but only if the training had been previously approved as part of a secondary, post-secondary, or vocational degree or diploma program. As I went across the country, I heard from many people who were not in that situation but had spent a month or a couple of weeks as interns, and it was their pathway into employment. To arbitrarily cut off those new Canadians and people looking at making a transition from those opportunities truly does not make much sense. This means that unpaid internships would not be available to individuals who were not enrolled in educational training programs, which could have a significant and negative impact.

In addition, the bill would extend labour standard protections to all interns, except for minimum wage, in some cases. What we heard from employers is that this does not make sense, because what they are talking about is unpaid overtime, holiday pay, and paid annual vacations. There are a lot of wage-related provisions that would be impossible for employers to apply to a person not receiving a wage. Again, it is reflective of some concerns in terms of the structure of the bill.

Also, the bill does not actually explain what it means by training, and it would not give the government any regulatory authority to do so. I think that is a critically important piece: what is training, and how would we create regulations around it? Therefore, the term training is ambiguous and open to interpretation and could lead to unintended consequences. For example, there could be a loophole that would allow unscrupulous employers to stop paying regular employees who are undergoing work-related training of a similar nature.

Again, it is the government's responsibility to support safe, fair, and productive workplaces. We support our interns, both paid and unpaid, who participate in short-term workplace-related learning experiences that can help transition them to employment. The employer has a fundamental responsibility to provide a healthy and safe workplace.

According to the Canada Labour Code, employers are obliged to inform anyone granted access to a workplace of any known or foreseeable hazards, and provide them with the necessary protective equipment and train them how to use it. As parliamentarians, if we go into a mill in our riding, we are all aware that we have an introduction to safety equipment. Even for casual visitors to some of these work sites, employers have important obligations to anyone who enters their work site.

If an intern contacts the labour program to file complaints, the labour program takes the necessary steps to ensure that the health and safety of everyone in the workplace is protected. Currently, standards under the Canada Labour Code apply if it is established that an employment relationship exists. If an employment relationship exists, the individual, including an intern, is entitled to full labour standard protections.

For example, unpaid interns can contact the Labour Department to file a complaint alleging that an employment relationship exists and that they are owed wages, including wages for any overtime worked.

Our government is committed to doing more to help those who are traditionally under-represented in the workforce, such as youth, to get the job training they require. We are delivering on that promise.

Economic action plan 2014 included $40 million to support 3,000 paid internships between 2014 and 2016. In the riding I represent there has been a number of interns supported in that way. I also know there are many programs out there. Many of us probably have daughters or sons of colleagues and friends who are supported through some of the work placements that are arranged through the universities. Therefore, there is a good number of very important opportunities.

Every year our government invests over $10 billion to support post-secondary education, including financial assistance through Canada student loans and grants, and programs for first nations and Inuit students. We invest over $330 million in the youth employment strategy each year to help youth develop work skills and receive real life work experience that are aligned with the evolving realities of the job market.

Locally, I met with a group of young adults who were in that program, the youth employment strategy, and they were saying yes, because they were finding enormous benefits in not only what they were learning, but the actual practical support they were getting in workplaces.

We provide support dedicated to apprentices, like the apprenticeship incentive and completion grants, and the new Canada apprentice loan we announced in January 2015.

Internships also play an important role. They are a good way to provide important short-term workplace-based learning experiences and support successful transitions from school to work, or, as we mentioned earlier, transition from career to career, which still has some serious flaws in recognizing a more wide importance of the internship concept.

As we have talked about, I held consultations across the country with stakeholders to ensure that we understood the environment in which interns were working. What we heard will help us with the policies that take into consideration all of the necessary factors to protect interns in federal jurisdictions.

We need to ensure that rights and responsibilities related to interns are appropriate and that they are clear and understood by employers, educational institutions and interns.

To this end, we have the intention of moving forward to address concerns and protect the interests of unpaid interns in a meaningful way.

We believe Bill C-636 would go too far and would discourage employers from offering legitimate, meaningful unpaid internships that would meet the diverse learning needs of interns.

For this reason and others I have outlined today, we cannot support the bill. We urge our fellow members to vote against it, although I do want to commend our colleague across the floor for the conversation she has engaged in with the bill, because the intentions are admirable.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 20th, 2015 / 11:20 a.m.
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Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly do not want to deter my colleagues in their enthusiasm for my presentation, which is, of course, always welcome.

As I was saying, there was a very interesting round table in Parkdale—High Park that the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles participated in. She gained a great deal of support from intern organizations and from youth and students in our community. They were very enthusiastic about Bill C-636. They talked about how the average level of student debt is about $28,000 on graduation. That is a huge burden for young people to be saddled with when they are just starting out in their working lives.

We know that persistently high youth unemployment in Canada, due to the lacklustre economic performance of our economy and the lack of clear policies and initiatives from the federal government, has been a serious burden and a challenge for young people in our society today. Many, in fact, are quite excited about and happy to take on internship programs and feel that they will help them get important experience as they begin their working lives, but they need some basic protections. They need some clear rules, and that is what Bill C-636 is all about.

I was very glad to hear my colleague across the aisle agree with the NDP that there should be a growing number of paid internships. We think that this is an important step forward, and we are glad to see that government members agree with us about the need for paid internships. However, we are very disappointed that they do not support an effective measure, which this bill is, to protect interns and set clear rules for them.

What are we talking about here? We are talking about basic protections in the workplace such as protection from sexual harassment and protection related to health and safety. We know that young workers are especially vulnerable to workplace accidents. They have a higher accident rate. Interns and young people just starting out are not even covered by basic health and safety legislation, and that needs to change.

They need reasonable hours of work. It is easy for young people who are hungry to get into the workforce to be exploited. What they need are clear hours of work, rest days, and recognition of statutory holidays.

We also need clear rules, which this bill lays out. The internship should be beneficial to the intern and not just to the employer. It needs to be educational and linked to the intern's program of study. The employer needs to inform the intern about the hours of work, the kinds of work he or she will be undertaking, and whether or not the intern will be paid. There should be record keeping of the hours they are working.

The reality is that because of the lack of federal rules, there has been exploitation of young workers. Often entry-level jobs, which in the past were paid, are being replaced by paid internships. The reality is that interns deserve the protections anyone would expect if they were paid, which many people are not.

Let me give a couple of examples. Last year, Bell Mobility was forced to close down an internship program after public scrutiny exposed that it had hosted more than 280 unpaid interns and had forced them to work overtime. These interns were essentially performing the work of paid employees and probably should have been paid. In fact, some of the interns are seeking back wages.

Another example that came to light is the terrible tragedy of a young man named Andy Ferguson, who, in 2011, as an unpaid intern at an Edmonton radio station, had been working long, back-to-back shifts. When he went home one night, he fell asleep at the wheel and was killed in a traffic accident.

The federal labour program investigation determined that he was not an employee and therefore not covered by the Canada Labour Code. That must change. We need to make sure that young people have basic workplace protections.

In March of last year, 2014, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance produced a report on youth employment in Canada. I was pleased to participate in that report. Recommendation no. 9 states:

That the federal with the provinces and territories to ensure the appropriate protections under relevant labour codes.

That is an important recommendation. That would include the Canada Labour Code.

The Canada Labour Code provides basic protections on things like hours of work, the right to refuse dangerous work, and freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace, but as of right now, these protections do not apply to unpaid interns.

Unlike many provinces, the federal government has no rules governing the use of unpaid internships to ensure that young Canadians are not exploited. This must change.

What New Democrats want is adequate protection for all workers, whether they are interns or paid workers. We want to limit the use of unpaid internships to those that are educational and of benefit to the interns so that they get something out of them and they really are a stepping stone to a career. We want active enforcement of updated labour laws, and we want Statistics Canada to track the use of unpaid internships. What we do not know about and are not measuring we cannot take action on.

This is a basic issue of intergenerational equity. As people who have already been active in the workforce, who have established their careers and track records, we need to make sure that the next generation of young people has the same opportunities and can use their educations, gain that foothold in the workplace, and get the kind of experience they need to have successful careers.

I would urge my colleagues across the aisle to reconsider their negativity on this issue of internships and to support Bill C-636. Let us do the job young people would expect us to do as their parliamentarians.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 20th, 2015 / 11:20 a.m.
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Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their enthusiasm in support of this important bill from our colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. I would like to thank her for all of her work with respect to seeking protection for interns. I especially want to thank her for coming to my riding of Parkdale—High Park and participating in a round table on the issue of internships. She was very diligent and spent quite a bit of time meeting with folks in our community who are very supportive of Bill C-636, the bill we are debating today. We met with students from the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Intern Association, the University of Toronto, and with unpaid interns who certainly would be affected by this bill. What we heard is that—

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 20th, 2015 / 11:10 a.m.
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Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, let me start by thanking the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles for bringing forward Bill C-636. I think everyone can agree that the goals of the bill are important and well-intentioned. It is not a partisan issue. It should be something that we want to get right. All legislators should want to get this particular issue right, so I am happy to stand to speak to it today.

The bill highlights a legitimate issue that up to now has not been considered through the normal tripartite process to amend the Canada Labour Code.

We are confronted with a situation where we know that unpaid interns have been exploited and we know that the protections under the Canada Labour Code are ambiguous at best. We also know that the number of unpaid interns appears to be on the rise, with no real regulations, especially in the federal sector, to ensure that interns are truly being provided with a valuable learning experience to improve their employable skills and that they are not just a way for employers to replace paid employees to improve their bottom line.

After having consulted with many stakeholders in the federal jurisdiction, I believe there is a consensus about the goals of the bill, but I have some concerns as to the best means to achieve those goals in a fair and balanced way that would minimize the unintended consequences.

Given that the stakeholders agree on the intent of the bill, I feel it deserves to go to committee where we can hear from all stakeholders on how best to realize the goals that the bill sets to achieve.

When we talk about internships, it means many things to many people. Depending upon the jurisdiction one is in, an unpaid intern may or may not have basic labour standards protections. I think everyone would agree that an unpaid intern should be protected from an unsafe work environment or be afforded rights to rest and hours of work rules, to be covered under the employer's sexual harassment policy that is required under the Canada Labour Code.

These are common labour standards that are clear for paid employees, but for unpaid interns are very unclear. When we have weak or unclear laws that are the only protection for vulnerable groups of people, we have fertile ground for exploitation.

We know that the number of unpaid internships appears to have increased over the last decade, and especially since the recession. I say “appears” because we do not have that hard data.

My colleague, the member for Kings—Hants, has done a great job on this file. He was one of the first people to talk about unpaid interns and the need for accurate statistics, and the establishment of clear standards that would safeguard legitimate opportunities while protecting unpaid interns against exploitation.

Timely, accurate, and relevant labour market information is fundamental to good public policy, and people have been calling upon the government to track unpaid internships for several years now. During the finance committee's study on youth employment, a number of groups advocated exactly for this.

As Claire Seaborn, president of the Canadian Intern Association, and a strong advocate for better internship laws, said, “You can't fix a problem if you don't know what the problem is”.

However, we all know the current government's aversion to collecting data for evidence-based policy, preferring instead to use policy-based evidence. This perhaps explains why it has done nothing to improve data collection or strengthen intern protections.

We know that today's job market for youth is very weak. In fact, we have lost 150,000 youth jobs since before the recession, and the youth unemployment rate is almost double the national average. This has led to more youth becoming desperate for work and feeling pressured to accept unpaid internships to get work experience.

As the number of unpaid internships has grown, with no rules in place and unclear protections, so too has the anecdotal evidence of exploitation by employers. That is why Bill C-636 is needed to ensure basic workplace protections in the Canada Labour Code, with those protections being clearly extended to unpaid interns. In addition, rules on what information the employer must provide to the intern on the internship would help to clarify the relationship for both parties.

Although I agree with the intent of the bill, I do have concerns regarding the process we are using to propose an amendment to the Canada Labour Code. Labour laws are complex, and ones that work well are based on a delicate balance between the interests of the employees and the employers. They are developed through an informed, fair, and thorough consultative tripartite process that seeks, in part, to minimize any unintended consequences. The Liberals believe in the established tripartite process between labour, management, and government, which has served our federal sector well for amending the Canada Labour Code.

The private members' bill process is a poor means to make laws concerning such a complex system. That being said, the need to ensure basic labour standard protections for vulnerable youth participating in unpaid internships is something that everyone I have consulted with appears to agree on; for example, protections against unsafe work environments, unreasonable work hours, or sexual harassment.

I have consulted with many stakeholders, including employer and labour groups, respected labour law experts, and intern and student representatives. The problem is not that they do not believe unpaid interns should have Labour Code protections, but rather how best to provide these protections to ensure there are no unintended consequences in other aspects of the Labour Code that apply to the workplace.

Labour laws are complex, and when parliamentarians seek to amend them, it should be done with great care and through an established process that allows thorough review and consultation. I have concerns about amending the Canada Labour Code through this private member's bill which is outside of the established tripartite process. That being said, we are confronted as parliamentarians with the fact that we have ambiguous laws concerning unpaid interns and evidence that exploitation is taking place. It is incumbent that we move, as legislators.

We also have a government that has not yet taken any appropriate action. My colleague has said that legislation is coming forward and that the parliamentary secretary undertook an ambitious study across the country. When the government undertakes its own studies with witnesses that the government wants to hear from, obviously it is not going to get the quality of work that should be done in the committees of this House. That is where the work should be getting done. However, under the current government, we have seen that committees have been neutered. An issue as important as unpaid interns, giving opportunities to the young people in this country to gain valuable work experience, is work that this House should be seized with. Instead, we are seeing the Conservatives once again skirting this issue.

To summarize, we believe that any change in the Canada Labour Code should be done through a tripartite process. We have seen the government undertake private members' legislation, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, to amend the Labour Code. We did not agree with them or support them.

With the Conservatives' lack of action on unpaid interns, at least we should be looking at the situation. That is why we will be encouraging our members in the House to support Bill C-636, to get to the root of it and hopefully help young Canadians who are looking for very valuable job experience.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

April 20th, 2015 / 11 a.m.
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Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley Nova Scotia


Scott Armstrong ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to address the proposed amendments to the Canada Labour Code put forward by the hon. member.

We are here today to discuss protection for interns in the workplace. Let me start by saying that this government fully recognizes that safe, fair and productive workplaces are essential for creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. We have held true to these priorities over the years. We have made sure that the employment of young Canadians has been a driving force behind new measures that we have introduced and behind our support for successful existing programs.

Clearly, we know how important it is to help young Canadians participate in the workforce. That is why economic action plan 2014 included $40 million to support 3,000 paid internships between 2014 and 2016. The funding will be delivered through the NRC's industrial research assistance program, specifically its youth employment program through ESDC's youth employment strategy.

It is also why we provide a range of other programs to help young Canadians succeed. For example, our government invests over $10 billion every year to support post-secondary education, including financial assistance through Canada student loans and grants, and programs for first nations and Inuit students.

I mentioned the youth employment strategy. In total, we invest over $330 million each year to help youth develop work skills and receive real life experience that aligns with evolving realities of the current job market. We are committed to helping young Canadians age 15 to 30 get career information and the skills they need to get good jobs and to stay employed.

Eleven government departments, agencies, partners and communities deliver this initiative. It provides small and medium-size enterprises with the financial assistance they need to hire highly skilled post-secondary graduates. Internships allow post-secondary graduates to gain valuable on-the-job experience.

In 2012, the youth employment strategy helped to connect 60,000 Canadian youth with the work experience and skills training needed to succeed in the job market.

We also provide support dedicated to apprentices, such as the apprenticeship incentive and completion grants, and the new Canadian apprenticeship loan which we announced in January of this year.

Apprentices and designated Red Seal trades can apply for up to $4,000 in interest-free loans per period of technical training. For many, this money could mean the difference between completing their training or not completing it at all. Apprentices can use it to pay for tuition, tools or equipment, or to help support their families while they complete their programs.

For thousands of young Canadians who choose a different path, paid and unpaid internships allow them to acquire on-the-job experience in many different fields, the experience they need to find jobs and the experience they need to participate actively in our economy. We want to ensure that they are protected in the workplace and that these legal protections are clearly spelled out. On behalf of these thousands of young people working hard to build their futures, I do not think it is too much to ask that we have clear rules to protect all workers, including interns. At the same time, we do not want to put measures in place that would discourage employers from offering short-term paid and unpaid internships to help young people get important job experience. We need employers to have skin in the game. We need to find this middle ground.

In our view, the bill before us goes too far. It discourages employers from offering legitimate and meaningful opportunities, and for this reason we will be opposing it.

One of the shortcomings of Bill C-636 is that it would only permit internships for secondary, post-secondary and vocational students who are doing internships as part of their degree or their diploma program. It would exclude other individuals, such as recent graduates, new Canadians and those transitioning to new careers who are not enrolled in specific education programs that would require them to have an internship.

We have to remember that internships in Canada represent many different things, from co-op work to field placements, to practicums, to school-to-work transition programs, all of which provide short-term workplace-based learning.

Any amendment to the Canada Labour Code should take into account the different ways that internships work in different parts of the country, in different sectors of the economy. Also, Bill C-636 would extend labour standard protections to all interns, except for minimum wage in some cases. Part III of the code covers issues such as paid overtime and paid holidays, which obviously would apply only to interns receiving wages but not to unpaid interns. We can see how this can be confusing when it comes to employers' obligations to interns and interns' expectations of employers in the workplace.

Also, the bill does not define key terms such as “training”, or provide legislative power to do so. This could have the unintended consequence, for example, of making it easier for employers to withhold pay from employees involved in some forms of workplace training.

I am sure we can all agree on one thing: internships, whether paid or unpaid, are of great value to the young people who are participating in them, to the employers who have the opportunity to have interns in the workplace and to the overall economy.

We certainly appreciate the intent behind Bill C-636, however, we believe this is not the right bill to achieve our collective goals of protecting interns. We believe that a more comprehensive approach will be needed.

On this side of the House we want to ensure that young Canadians continue to have access to on-the-job training through internships. We do not want to take away any opportunity for our young people to hone their skills and broaden their experience in the workplace. In fact, I am sure that many of us know young constituents who are getting the much needed on-the-job training through an internship with a local business. Interns, both paid and unpaid, deserve occupational health and safety protections and appropriate labour standards.

I must ask my fellow members to keep in mind that interns are not always students. There are other groups who benefit immensely from these opportunities. For example, interns can include people returning to the labour market after a period of absence, recent immigrants who seek to gain essential Canadian workplace experience which they may not have received in their previous country. New Canadians, recent graduates and others considering a career change who are not enrolled in specific educational programs should not be left out of the game, but Bill C-636 would prevent employers from offering legitimate, meaningful learning experience to some of these people.

These are only a few of the things we need to consider in deciding how best to support interns in the workplace. With this in mind, earlier this year, we held consultations with stakeholders across the country to better understand how we could help interns get the most out of their placements. What my colleague, the former parliamentary secretary heard when she conducted these consultations very ably, was information that will help inform the legislation we intend to introduce, legislation that will better protect interns in the federal jurisdiction and clarify workplace rights and responsibilities for interns, employers and institutions.

We have made it a priority to provide Canadians with the workplace experience and skills they need to find jobs in high-demand fields and succeed in the job market. Bill C-636 simply does not meet this challenge.

For the reasons I have outlined, I would urge my colleagues to oppose the bill.

The House resumed from February 17 consideration of the motion that Bill C-636, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code (unpaid training), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 17th, 2015 / 6:05 p.m.
See context


Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place on behalf of the good people of Davenport in the great city of Toronto to speak on this very important bill, Bill C-636, the intern protection act.

It is important to say at the outset that all workers deserve workplace protection and that they deserve to be paid for the work they do. However, today we are seeing more and more young people working for free as unpaid interns.

Let us put this into some context. Youth unemployment is twice the national average. Young people are carrying unprecedented student debt. At the same time, young people are finding it more and more difficult to find entry level positions in the field for which they trained. Entry level positions are increasingly becoming unpaid positions.

It is one thing for a young person to not be paid. It is another thing if they do not even have the same rights and protections as employees, because unpaid interns are not part of the definition of an employee in the Canada Labour Code. This bill, the intern protection act, would change that.

What members of the House must really ask themselves tonight is whether they think it is fair and fine that an unpaid intern does not have the same rights to workplace health and safety protections as other workers. Is it fair and right that an unpaid intern does not have the same protection as other workers from sexual harassment in the workplace? Is it fair and acceptable that unpaid workers, most of whom are young workers, women, racialized, and immigrant, do not have the same rights as other workers to refuse unsafe work, to be trained how to handle unsafe work, or to have a cap on the number of hours they work?

Finally, is it acceptable that so many of our young workers are being forced to work for free, delaying their own ability to launch as independent adults? They are held back from becoming fully contributing members of our economy and society. As a consequence, many of these workers are also delaying moving out of their parents' home, starting families, and buying their first home.

Today, I stand here in this place on the 26th birthday of Andy Ferguson, a young Albertan who, after working two back-to-back extended shifts, was killed in a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel on his way home in the early hours of the morning. Mr. Ferguson's brother reached out to me, and we talked on several occasions about how we could turn this tragedy into a bill that would help young workers right across the country who are in a cycle of unpaid work that they have no control over, no agency in, and no protection from.

This bill would be a historic bill that would extend the same workplace protections that all workers expect to have, and most do under the Canada Labour Code. However, unpaid interns do not have them, because they are not included in the definition of what an employee is.

It is important for the government members tonight to realize that the Brad Wall government of Saskatchewan announced new rules prohibiting the use of non-educational unpaid interns. The labour minister, Don Morgan, said:

We’ve said, interns, you’re going to get paid. Ones that would not get paid would be a student learner, where it’s part of their course....

The finance committee did a study on youth employment, starting in March 2014. Among the recommendations, recommendation 9 was to tighten the rules around unpaid interns to bring them greater protections.

As many have pointed out tonight, there may be upward of 300,000 people working as unpaid interns in the Canadian economy.

As well, it is important to clarify tonight that we are talking about interns in federally regulated sectors, including telecommunications, broadcasting, banking, financial, transportation and crown corporations.

In the bill we ask for the same rights and protections that other workers have. Is it fair that all workers get the same rights in a workplace protected under the Canada Labour Code? That is not what is happening. It is really up to us to change that, to make it right.

I look at the members in the House, and I know many of them have adult children and many of them have constituents for whom this is a burning issue. How, in our economy, can we expect young people to work for free?

Many would like to conflate or blur the issue around good internships and important training opportunities for young people. We have seen and heard the stories of quite profitable, powerful private companies, corporations, public companies availing themselves of free labour in this current economic situation in which young people find themselves.

The bill would ensure that internships would be for educational purposes, that they would be the primary benefit of the intern and that they would not replace paid employees. Some will say that means they will not have an opportunity.

We are saying that we need to ensure, especially in companies that can afford to pay young workers, these unpaid internship entry-level positions should be paid positions, as they have been for generations upon generations. I do not think anyone in this place would disagree with the fairness of that.

We know there are many well-run internship programs. Some of my colleagues tonight have referenced some of them. However, we also know that there is abuse in the system. We need to step in as a responsible Parliament and take a look at the things we can do to protect young workers, to encourage the economy to invest in young workers and to stabilize the economy for young workers.

This is an important step in the right direction to see that all workers, all young people, have the same protections as everybody else in the economy and that they get paid. If we are building an economy where we increasingly are encouraging a system and an economy where young people are forced to work for free, we are not doing what we need to do to shrink the income inequality gap and we are gaming the system for those who have the opportunities and the capacity to spend sometimes several years working for free, while others cannot afford that same opportunity.

We need to look at ways in which we can ensure that as many young people as possible can gain access to the economy, can have safety and the knowledge that they are protected in their workplace, to have that agency. We have heard stories and seen examples where that just simply is not the case.

In honour of the memory of Andy Ferguson and the good work his family has done to try to bring this issue to the fore, I urge all my colleagues in the House to really take a look at the bill and to ask themselves whether the way we have set this table for young workers is fair. I am sure when they ask that question in an honest way, they will discover that indeed unpaid interns deserve the same protections and the same rights as employees under the Labour Code.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 17th, 2015 / 5:55 p.m.
See context


Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight to speak to Bill C-636, which seeks to clarify the law regarding unpaid internships.

I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, for introducing this bill and giving us a chance to discuss the issue of unpaid interns.

Too many Canadians, particularly young Canadians, are caught in a vicious cycle of not being able to get a job because they do not have work experience and are not able to get work experience because they do not have a job. It is that catch-22 that we are hearing more and more about in our communities and our own families.

At the same time, many areas of Canada do not appear to have clear laws regarding unpaid internships. This legal ambiguity, combined with a weak labour market for young Canadians, places unpaid interns in a vulnerable position. The concern is that in many cases employers are using this ambiguity as a loophole around minimum wage laws.

More and more vulnerable Canadians are forced to accept unpaid work simply in order to gain work experience. The situation facing unpaid interns appears to have gotten worse since the recent financial crisis, because young Canadians are finding it harder to land their first job in their field of study.

I say that it appears to have grown since the financial crisis, because we do not know how many unpaid interns there are in Canada and we cannot manage what we do not measure, as the saying goes.

Unpaid interns are not included in the labour force survey. They are not counted as employees because they do not receive a wage. They do not count as unemployed unless they are available and actively seeking work, which they cannot do if they are already committed to a full-time internship. Therefore, we do not have good data on unpaid internships.

We do not know exactly where unpaid interns are working. We do not know if there are more of them in certain provinces or industries, but we do know that young Canadians are facing a huge unemployment rate.

Statistics Canada recently revised its employment data going back to 2001. The revised numbers reveal a number of problems with the job market, particularly for young Canadians. The fact is that young Canadians face huge challenges in today's workforce.

For example, compared to before the downturn, more Canadians now fall into the category of the long-term unemployed, those who have been unemployed for over a year. The number of Canadians who do not have a job and have been actively seeking and searching for work for at least a year is twice that of 2008.

The situation is worse for young Canadians. The percentage of young Canadians with paying jobs has fallen from 60% to 56%. There are 160,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians today than in 2008. There are now three times as many unemployed young Canadians who have been looking for work for over a year.

Young Canadians and the long-term unemployed are desperate for new work experiences, which makes them vulnerable to being pressured into unpaid work.

Last June, the Standing Committee on Finance released a report on youth employment in Canada. As part of our study, we heard testimony on the issue of unpaid internships.

I wish to thank Claire Seaborn and her colleagues with the Canadian Intern Association for their extraordinary contribution to public information on this problem.

At committee, we heard from both employers and prospective employees about the need to clarify the law, particularly when it comes to student placements that are part of an academic program. Witnesses told the committee that we should look to British Columbia and Ontario as provinces that have best practices in terms of providing clarity on the definition of what is an acceptable internship, what is an exploitative internship, and protection for Canadians.

For example, in Ontario, an intern is considered an employee and is entitled to minimum wage unless all of the following six conditions are met: one, the training is similar to that given in a vocational school; two, the training is for the benefit of the intern, who receives some benefit from the training, such as new knowledge or skills; three, the employer derives little if any benefit from the activity of the intern while he or she is being trained; four, the training does not take somebody else's job; five, the employer is not promising a job at the end of the training; and six, the intern has been told he or she will not be paid for his or her time.

After hearing the evidence, the finance committee recommended the following:

That the federal government collect data on unpaid internships in Canada and work with the provinces and territories to ensure the appropriate protections [are taken] under relevant labour codes. Moreover, the government should study the impacts of unpaid internships.

Unfortunately, we have not seen any progress from the government since then. It has not directed Statistics Canada to start collecting data on unpaid internships.

We have heard from some organizations, and the Canadian Federation of Students I think said that there were 300,000 unpaid interns in Canada, and we know anecdotally that the numbers have grown. We know from our own families and communities and a number of colleagues and friends whose children are working as unpaid interns. However, we do not actually have good data on this. Therefore, number one, we need to have Statistics Canada measure the number of unpaid interns on an ongoing basis, so that we understand the scale of the problem.

Bill C-636 appears to emulate many of the conditions set out by the Province of Ontario, which is something that, on the surface, we would support. However, we do have some concerns.

The Liberals were the first party to call for greater protection of unpaid interns, but this is something that the New Democrats have also been raising. We recognize that the federal labour law system is complex. It is built on a delicate balance between the interests of labour and management. We also recognize the potential for unintended consequences when we are changing the Canada Labour Code and labour laws of the country through private members' bills. This is something that is always a concern, and it is unfortunate that the government does not move forward with something in terms of a government bill.

One concern we hear over and over again is that young Canadians are desperate for work experience. While there is a greater need for protection, it is critical that we do not regulate away legitimate programs that help vulnerable young Canadians enter the job market. There is a risk that clause 4 of Bill C-636 might in fact do that. For example, there are risks of excluding programs run by community groups to help vulnerable Canadians gain work experience, and not all these programs are linked to an academic program.

During the current Parliament, a number of MPs on the opposition side have expressed concerns about amending the Canada Labour Code through a private member's bill. I would like to quote the member for Trois-Rivières who said:

As far as I know, changes to labour relations legislation have never been introduced via a private member's bill....

In the past, changes to the Canada Labour Code have come about following discussions between employers and workers, not when an MP stands up to say that he has made the discovery of the century.

Therefore, when it comes to amending complex laws, a government bill is generally preferable, because under the rules of the House, it is subject to greater debate and analysis in Parliament.

That being the case, I will be supporting the bill before us because I think it is an important debate. It is one that we should have as a Parliament. We should at least let the bill move forward so that we can dig deeper into this issue and ultimately provide the government with more pressure to actually take action in addressing this important issue of unpaid internships in Canada, which reflects the general malaise we have for youth employment in this country.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 17th, 2015 / 5:50 p.m.
See context


Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address Bill C-636, proposed by the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles regarding unpaid internships.

Let me be very clear that the government places a high priority on safe, fair, and productive workplaces. These are an essential part of Canada's continued economic growth and prosperity, our number one priority, and internships play an essential role when it comes to providing Canadians with opportunities to gain the skills and experience they need to join that workforce.

There are currently estimated to be several hundred thousand interns in Canadian workplaces, many of whom are working toward degrees or diplomas through secondary or post-secondary educational institutions, but not all of them. There are also new Canadians, recent graduates, and people pursuing a career change or looking to return to the workforce after a period of absence, among others. I think we can all agree that no one wants to see them exploited or left unprotected.

However, the bill could put serious limits on prospective interns. Unpaid internships would be available only to current secondary, post-secondary, or vocational students who are receiving the training as part of their degree or diploma program. This change could leave in the dark prospective unpaid interns who fall outside these limitations, or anyone not involved in an education program with an internship component. Those trying to transition to future studies or employment, like new Canadians, recent graduates, or those looking for a mid-career change could lose an invaluable stepping stone to meeting those goals.

I am sure that prospective interns would have serious concerns about the number of meaningful internship opportunities available to them. The bill also does not define training, which is very much an issue of concern.

The bill could have the unintended consequence, for example, of making it easier for employers to withhold pay from their existing employees who are involved in workplace training.

Another issue is that Bill C-636 is somewhat inconsistent in that it would provide all interns with labour standard protections, except the minimum wage in some cases. This means that labour standards like paid overtime and paid holidays would apply to interns receiving wages, but also to unpaid interns.

There is real potential for confusion about the obligations of employers and the expectations of interns. I am sure we could all agree that internships, whether paid or unpaid, can be extremely valuable. Our government has been saying for some time now that we want to ensure that young Canadians continue to have access to the on-the-job training they need, and internships are an important part of that training.

At the end of January, my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour, consulted the stakeholders in cities across Canada and across industries to gain a deeper understanding of how we can best support interns. Those meetings will help inform the current environment and help us better understand how best to protect interns in the workplace.

We are talking about balanced measures to make sure that Canadians continue to have the opportunity to get the skills and experience they need, including through internships, and to make sure that all interns are protected while doing so. We are investing $40 million to support up to 3,000 paid internships in these high-demand fields, and $15 million annually to support up to 1,000 paid internships in small and medium-size enterprises.

That's not all we're doing to support young workers. We also provide a number of programs to help our young people learn and develop necessary skills for their future careers, including Canada student loans and grants for post-secondary students, and the new Canada apprentice loan for apprentices.

Our government is committed to providing Canadians with the workplace experience and skills they need to find jobs and succeed in the job market.

This brings me to the point in my speech where I will talk a little bit about my personal experiences when it comes to internship programs. A little while ago, when I was chair of the Canada-Poland Parliamentary Friendship Group, I had the notion brought forward to me by young people in Canada, primarily of Polish ancestry.

Our institution has a great history when it comes to internships. We have the internship program on Parliament Hill, where young people from Canada come here to work in MPs' and senators' offices. We have internship programs, such as the Ukrainian internship program, where young Ukrainians come here to work in our Parliament. It is regrettable that we do not have reciprocity on that particular issue with Ukraine, wherein young Canadians could also go to do the same thing. We also have the Jewish internship program here on the Hill. That is part of a community that participates in these internships.

Some of these internships are paid, some of these internships are unpaid. It is happening right here, all around us, in all of our offices.

I am wondering what the effect of this legislative change might be. The member of Parliament sponsoring the bill never mentioned once any of the potential consequences of the legislation when it comes to these kinds of internship programs

Each political party has the ability to have its own internship programs. We have a Conservative internship program and I am sure the other political parties have ones as well. I do not know what the other parties do. They do not pick up the phone and tell me what they do behind their closed doors, which is unfortunate. I do not know why they do not do that.

These are some of the concerns that we have.

Trinity Western University has an internship program here as well. I do not remember the exact name of it, but young people from that university are also coming here.

This prompted me to reach out to the Polish community a few years ago and create Canada's first ever bilateral internship program. The problem that I see with all of these other internship programs here on the Hill is that they are all unilateral. They are all one-way. Through my ability to get the Polish community involved, we have created a society and an agreement with the Polish parliament, and at this point in time we have had a number of young Poles come over and intern in offices here in our Parliament. Young Canadians of Polish heritage have had the same opportunity to do internships in the chancellery, the Polish parliament, as well.

We have a lot of knowledge on the Hill about the impact of these internship programs and how valuable they are and how unique each one is in its structure and how they are set up. While I understand the sponsor's intent with the bill, we have to be careful if we start to tinker with some of these things.

While the protection is nice, and no one would disagree with that, if we do not get it absolutely right, any legislative changes that would deny young people an opportunity to participate in a parliamentary internship program, or to create a bilateral parliamentary program between parliaments, or to give young Canadians an opportunity not only to intern here but also to intern anywhere in the world as part of those bilateral exchanges, is not something we would want to do.

Canada is a great country. It is a land of opportunity and hope. Internship is just a part of that. It is a rite of passage for many young people so they can get the valuable skills and experience they need, and get those first references on their resumés when it comes to moving on and advancing their careers. We have cooperatives and internship placements and all kinds of other things emanating from our public education institutions. However, we have to be careful.

I will reserve judgement on the member's bill until we have had an opportunity to discuss it further, but at this particular point in time, while I do not question the member's motive, I do question the unintended consequences as we see so many times from legislation from the NDP.