National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy Act

An Act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy

Sponsor

Mark Gerretsen  Liberal

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

Status

Second reading (Senate), as of June 14, 2017

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Summary

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

The purpose of this enactment is to provide for the development and implementation of a national maternity assistance program strategy to support women who are unable to work due to pregnancy and whose employer is unable to accommodate them by providing reassignment.

Elsewhere

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.

Votes

June 14, 2017 Passed 3rd reading and adoption of Bill C-243, An Act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy
Oct. 26, 2016 Passed 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.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

June 7th, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

moved that Bill C-243, An Act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy, be read the third time and passed.

Madam Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak once again to my private member's bill, Bill C-243. I would like to begin with a couple of quick thanks, and then I will address the substance of the bill.

First of all, I would like to thank the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities for the careful study of the bill. I appreciate the efforts of all members of the committee, and I look forward to speaking to their proposed amendments shortly.

I would like to thank the nine witnesses who took the time to present constructive feedback to the committee for consideration. The witnesses represented a diversity of backgrounds, including women's advocacy groups, skilled trades organizations, and of course, Melodie herself, the welder in my community who inspired the bill. I hope that all of them will continue to be part of the important discussions going forward and if my bill is passed, their voices will be a critical part of the development of an effective national maternity assistance program that reflects all areas of the labour market, including women working in hazardous jobs.

As today will be the last opportunity to speak to Bill C-243 in the House, I would like to thank all members who have supported the bill from the beginning. Bringing forward legislation is one of the most important things that we do as MPs, and I truly appreciate all members and all parties who took the time to get involved in one way or another.

As one final thanks, I would like to take the opportunity to thank a staff member in my office. I know that all MPs greatly value the work that our staff do. There is one individual, Mr. Steven Patterson, who works in my office who started working on this file when I was told that I had a private member's bill coming up very early on. He was still a fourth year student at Queen's University studying politics. He started writing this bill from his dorm room in residence. He worked with me when we were challenged on royal recommendation, and in my opinion, put forward one of the smartest and best cases against royal recommendation that the House has seen, and further continued to work as this went through committee. Unfortunately, Mr. Patterson will be leaving me to go to law school, which was pretty much inevitable in the fall, and I want to greatly thank him for his participation in this. A warning to anyone out there who crosses paths with lawyer Patterson in the future, they want to make sure they are on his side because otherwise they will most likely be on the losing side.

I want to provide some background on this issue, and then get to the committee's amendments. My goal with the bill was to address one of the barriers for women who want to enter a so-called non-traditional job. I believe that we need to level the playing field, so that women have an equal opportunity to participate in all sectors of the labour force.

I am pleased to see that budget 2017 includes strong measures to do exactly that. Specifically, budget 2017 proposes to allow women to claim EI maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date, which is expanded from the current standard of eight weeks if they so choose. While there are some small differences between this and my original bill, this change introduces exactly the kind of flexibility that I and so many others have been advocating for with the bill.

Budget 2017, which was introduced one day before the committee began its study of my bill, obviously has implications for the future of Bill C-243. Therefore, I support the committee's decision to remove the employment insurance provisions of Bill C-243 found in sections 6 and 7, as with the passing of budget 2017, they will have essentially been addressed.

It is important to note that these changes leave the first part of the bill, the national strategy, essentially unchanged. The bill in its current form specifically calls on the Minister of Employment to develop a comprehensive strategy to ensure that pregnancy is not a barrier to a woman's full and equal participation in all aspects of the labour force. To be honest, this has always been the most important part of the bill as the changes to EI were only ever intended to be a first step and not a final solution.

The strategy would give the government a proposed mandate to engage in broad consultations, and to consider more comprehensive and long-term solutions. The other amendments, such as adding greater emphasis on gender equality, are also consistent with the goal and purpose of Bill C-243. I support the decision of the committee, and I would urge all members of this House to vote yes on Bill C-243 at third reading.

I want to reiterate why I feel having this debate and developing a strategy is so important. Many of the discussions we have in this place and throughout the country about equality in the workforce, as it relates to gender equality, specifically for some reason seem to focus on including more women as doctors, lawyers, business leaders, and politicians.

While well-intentioned, these conversations often neglect the fact that many women want a career in other fields, including physically demanding jobs like skilled trades and construction. These are good paying jobs and according to Statistics Canada, employees in the trades earn an average hourly wage that is about 6% higher than other occupations.

While the wages are good, in many cases there is a shortage of labour to meet the demand. Over the next 5 to 10 years, 40% of current tradespeople will need to be replaced, and the Conference Board of Canada has predicted that one million skilled workers will be needed by 2020. This skills gap would hurt Canada's competitiveness, but more important, it is an opportunity. In my opinion it is an opportunity for a win-win. We have the opportunity to get more women involved in skilled trades, and in lines of work that have a higher demand, and at the same time we have the opportunity to fill these vacant positions that will be created very soon.

Finally, the national strategy proposed in Bill C-243 is an opportunity to promote gender equality while addressing this very real economic challenge.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

June 7th, 2017 / 5:35 p.m.
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NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for introducing this bill.

We have never doubted his conviction on this. At the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons With Disabilities, it was a pleasure to hear from Melodie Ballard, who is the person behind this bill.

My colleague talked about a national strategy for all women. We know very well that, here in the House, we can only legislate for women whose jobs are under federal jurisdiction, so it is clear that this bill will apply only to certain specific job categories.

My colleague himself told the committee that he sees this as merely a first step. Is his underlying goal to provide real leadership as a way to help the provinces introduce their own preventive withdrawal programs?

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

June 7th, 2017 / 5:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague actually answered the question with her comments. This is a first step, and this is about engaging with the provinces.

My objective here has always been to have a dialogue, to get the discussion going. It will never be the responsibility, or no government would be compelled to have to implement the recommendations. This has always been about a strategy. It has been about reaching out to the provinces, looking at the amazing model that Quebec currently has, and trying to have a broader discussion throughout the country as to how we can change the way that women are taken care of during pregnancy, so that we can better affect the labour market.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

June 7th, 2017 / 5:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, this is absolutely the right direction that we should be going in for women if we want and expect women to get into non-traditional fields, so I commend the member on introducing this bill. He has done an excellent job on his research, and I am fully behind it.

This bill would allow women 15 weeks of maternity benefits before their due dates in many jobs, not just welders or working in a toxic paint factory but a variety of jobs. When I was on maternity leave with my last child, I took a month off prior to the birth, because I was on my feet all the time and was having a lot of pain. Having that flexibility is really important.

Currently, as the member stated, eight weeks are available prior to the birth, but 15 weeks is better because different jobs affect people differently, whether it is toxic chemicals, paints and solvents, or pesticides in the agricultural field. All of those things have to be taken into consideration. It does not necessarily apply only to fields involving toxic substances or fields of non-traditional work. Many people may work long hours while standing. It could be a person working at Walmart who works at a cash register for eight hours a day. Doctors have said that standing all day can also harm babies and cause slower growth. I commend the member for introducing this legislation.

I sat on the human resources, skills and social development committee for parts of this bill, and I am concerned that the committee gutted sections concerning employment insurance. I know in budget 2017 the government included an additional 12 weeks rather than eight, but not the 15 weeks, as the member put forward. I had people explain to me that it is because a pregnancy may go longer. It is great to say that a pregnancy could go longer, but I know as a woman, as do others, that not a lot of pregnancies go longer than 50 weeks. They are usually 40 or 42 weeks, and that is when the doctor gets involved and performs a cesarean section or induces delivery. A woman will not be pregnant for as long as was said to me, so I do not know why the government felt it was necessary to reduce it from 15 to 12 weeks. I do not know why the government did that.

That being said, there is a provision that can be taken into consideration, which is more of a red tape issue that will have to be dealt with. Any person can take 15 weeks off in sick benefits. If a woman needed to take off those weeks, she could take up to 15 weeks of sick benefits. From reducing it from 15 to 12 weeks, the government has added an additional layer of red tape, because women would be required to go to Service Canada, present a doctor's note, and change it from sick benefits to maternity benefits. I am really questioning why the government needed to reduce that.

All it has done is put the onus back on mothers. When women are expecting their babies, the last thing they should have to worry about are financial concerns. They need to worry about preparing for the baby, making sure they have cribs and a bunch of other things, especially if they have other children. I wish the government had kept the 15 weeks, as the Conservatives and NDP supported in committee. However, it is 12 weeks in the budget. I support the 15 weeks, but, unfortunately, it was changed.

I sit on the status of women committee, where members talk about how they can make sure there is fairness and equity for women. A lot of it has to do with education and putting women in occupations that have higher earnings, but at the same time, we know some of those occupations are welding or construction jobs, things that may put pregnancies at risk. It is very important that women have that flexibility, and this is a great measure. We know that preterm births can occur if women try to work right up to their due dates, as well as high blood pressure. At any time, what is most important is to always consider the baby and the mother as paramount in the decision as we move forward.

When we talk about women, we need to recognize that equality does work when we have legislation like the one put forward by the member for Kingston and the Islands. This is an excellent first step to job equality and equity for women.

We have seen many women try to get into positions in the STEM fields, science, technology, engineering, and math. If we want women to prevail, if we want women to have financial independence, having good-paying jobs is one way to do that. The government can assist with this by ensuring we have a balance between pay equity and equality for women, as well as rights for families. This is a great opportunity.

We also have to take into consideration that many mothers may have other children at home. Having those 15 weeks, potentially, would be very good. We need to understand that a woman may not only be lifting heavy loads at work, but she also may be having to lift a 40-pound two year old at home. We have to do anything we can do to prevent a preterm birth, anything we can do to prevent harm to any child. This bill has done a great job on that.

At the end of the day, we are very supportive of this. We want to see pay equity. We want to see good benefits from the federal government. There was a big discussion about whether the bill needed a royal recommendation. I come to the House, having dealt with employment insurance for 11 years. I feel I bring something that many of the members of Parliament are learning about and maybe becoming more aware of in their constituency work. Its really important that when we look at this, we ask ourselves what we can do. I have seen many women who needed to take time off work.

The need for royal recommendation seems to be silly to me. If a woman takes 15 weeks off before the birth, she will not be granted those additional weeks after. All we are doing is moving the range.

In the 2017 budget, there is the thought that women do go back to work early and may not take the entire parental leave portion of the maternity leave. Therefore, they may be using more benefits, if they are taking benefits prior to that. That may be a concern of the government, but we need to look at what is best for children, mothers, and families first.

I commend the member. This is an excellent bill. It is a great start for women's equity and equality in our country. I thank him for all the work he has done on this. I just wish it was the 15 weeks, as it was in the original bill.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

June 7th, 2017 / 5:45 p.m.
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NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, as the critic for families, children, and social development and for employment and workforce development, I recommend that my NDP colleagues vote in favour of this bill. However, there are still several aspects of this bill that concern us, as New Democrats.

Clearly, we appreciate the spirit of the bill. However, what ultimately happens with this bill will depend on the consultations conducted by the government.

Even if the government passes this bill, it will be too early to determine whether the government will implement an adequate and serious strategy, especially considering that at second reading, it voted against this bill. Furthermore, it was essentially gutted when clauses 6 and 7 were removed in committee. All that is left is consultation.

We are also concerned by another amendment brought forward by the Liberals in the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, HUMA. The report calls for the consultation findings to be provided to the House not in two years, as was originally stated, but in three years, after the bill takes effect, that is, after the next election. If the Liberals seem to be in no rush to hear the findings of these consultations, there is cause for concern about what comes next.

If the Liberals want a real maternity assistance strategy and want to make it a priority, why are they extending the consultations?

Canada has no global strategy that allows women to continue to support themselves during pregnancy. Federally regulated employees are of particular concern to us. We need to think about how we can create a real social safety net for them.

Quebec's safe maternity experience program was introduced in 1981 following a Supreme Court ruling that unequivocally found that the work environment was at issue in the case of a preventive withdrawal, and not the pregnancy itself. That is why Quebec's program is funded entirely by employers. They cover the cost, because they are the ones who control the working conditions.

I will give a concrete example. I was the executive director of a community organization for troubled youth for quite some time. We had a lot of young female staff members, and there were a lot of pregnancies. It was considered a high-risk occupation because of the contact staff had with troubled youth, so pregnant workers usually took preventive withdrawal at around week 14 or 16 of their pregnancy.

We have to understand what that actually means in Quebec. For the first five business days after she stopped working the employer paid the worker her regular salary. For the next 14 days, the employer paid 90% of her salary, which was ultimately reimbursed by the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail. Accordingly, there was continuity in the employee's pay. Then the commission paid the employee 90% of her net income until the risk subsided.

In some workplaces the workers return to work when the risk period is over. As soon as the worker gives birth, she receives maternity benefits that are not affected by the preventive withdrawal.

At the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, Roch Lafrance from Union des travailleuses et travailleurs accidentés ou malades delivered very informative testimony.

In my riding, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, there are two organizations that help workers on preventive withdrawal, namely Mouvement action chômage de Saint-Hyacinthe and Regroupement des accidentés de la Montérégie, which is part of the organization that testified before the HUMA committee. That organization has a solid 36 years of experience, since the safe maternity experience program has been available in Quebec since 1981.

They have seen different situations over 36 years. This program is quite popular in Quebec, both with employers and with employees who have benefited from preventive withdrawal.

Based on this experience, they presented us with three recommendations, which I would like to share with the House.

First, they stressed that the pregnant worker’s right to preventive withdrawal is not a right to maternity leave. When preventive withdrawal is included in employment insurance, it displaces maternity leave. This is an issue because preventive withdrawal is not maternity leave. The reason for preventive withdrawal is the working conditions that pose a danger to the pregnancy or the unborn child, rather than the pregnancy itself. This is an important point. This is why the matter pertains to working conditions. As I was saying earlier, the costs of such a system in Quebec are fully covered by employers, because they are the ones who set working conditions and decide whether the worker can or cannot keep working.

The employment insurance program is not the right vehicle for such a program that truly helps pregnant workers. The employment insurance program is a communal fund that employers and employees pay into. The government has not contributed a penny to it since the 1990s. It is an insurance program that protects against job loss. The more the scope of the employment insurance program is expanded, the more the program’s very foundations are distorted.

Furthermore, the bill is completely silent about the process for administering such a program. In Quebec, when an employer makes a preventive withdrawal request because the pregnant worker is deemed to be at risk, the CLSC physicians are the ones who study the request. It is truly a medical issue, and the risks have to be assessed from a medical perspective. What will happen when a medical certificate is challenged, for example? Will employment insurance officials analyze the challenge to the medical certificate?

Regarding preventive withdrawal, it is really important to have a specific process that falls within the medical field. This requires special expertise that the employment insurance program administrators do not really have.

What is more, there is really not much point in granting preventive withdrawal just 12 or 15 weeks before the woman gives birth. From Quebec's 36 years of experience in this regard, 94% of preventive withdrawals are granted before the 23rd week of pregnancy. In many occupations, preventive withdrawal is granted at the beginning of the pregnancy because the pregnant woman is vulnerable to certain viruses at that point.

I talked earlier about the advantages of Quebec's preventive withdrawal program, where workers receive 90% of their salary. Obviously, if preventive withdrawal benefits are allocated under the EI program, pregnant workers will be financially penalized because they will receive only 55% of their salary. What is more, since they are starting their EI maternity benefits earlier, they will have to return to work sooner.

In closing, it is important not to give women the impression that they will be off work longer under such a program. If we want to help women, we really need to support the provinces in implementing a real preventive withdrawal program. These consultations need to be done as quickly as possible.

Since Quebec has a program that has been working for 36 years, there will be no need for extensive consultation. The government just needs to look at it to see that it is working. Why should these women have to wait three years?

The NDP is concerned about that fact that the government is addressing a health and safety issue under the EI program.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

June 7th, 2017 / 5:55 p.m.
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Spadina—Fort York Ontario

Liberal

Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-243, as put forward by my colleague from Kingston and the Islands, and to commend him for the work on this legislation and for raising awareness of this extraordinarily important issue about equity and equity for women in the workplace.

It is a sign of the times and the generational change starting to happen in the House as we see men step up in ways that are extraordinarily progressive. They find imaginative ways to address not women's issues, but societal issues that have a gender component to them and the gender analysis that is required to start to create a more equal society and also bring women into places where they perhaps would not have had the opportunity to work as a result of some of the challenges, especially younger women in their child-bearing years.

The bill focuses on the health and safety of pregnant workers in the workplace. In particular, the bill would mandate the Government of Canada to invite provinces and territories and relevant stakeholders to consult on the prospect of a national maternity assistance program.

I have a couple of quick notes in response to the previous speaker.

As the bill moved through the process of introduction, committee, through the budget process, and now onto the floor for third reading, a doctor's note is no longer a mandatory requirement as part of this provision, as the issues that were raised and the concerns that were highlighted have been dealt with through the collaboration of cabinet talking to the private member's bill. The committee heard some excellent evidence to make the bill better as well.

Additionally, some of the flexibility that took away the pressure on the need for royal consent has given the bill more flexibility and, in doing so, has also accommodated the situation where an unexpected pregnancy, which also produces a child more quickly than expected, can now be accommodated in a way that protects the woman's right to ensure income continues to come into the household so the family is sustained and supported properly.

On top of that, we have also taken a number of other steps around EI reform and revision to make EI more flexible but, more important, more easily accessible with respect to the time from application to receiving benefits. This too was an important component that was added to the process as we were seized by this issue, in large part because of the presentation by the member for Kingston and the Islands.

We are looking to support pregnant women in the workplace. We are also ensuring we minimize and deal with the risks to their health and to the health of their unborn children. We are also ensuring that when the employer is unable to accommodate them through reassignment, there are mechanisms in place to support the family, the mother, and the child.

I would like to again state that the government supports Bill C-243, as amended by the standing committee. I will also take a few minutes to talk about some of the other measures contained in budget 2017 that also deal with this issue and work to protect the health and safety of pregnant workers and nursing employees, with which is also an important issue our caucus is seized.

Starting in 2017-18, $886.4 million will be spent over five years, and $204.8 million per year to make employment insurance caregiving, parental, and maternity benefits more flexible to meet all of their diverse needs of families. There is more to this issue than simply the situation facing pregnant workers.

With budget 2017, we are helping working parents face the challenges that come with a growing family and we are offering more flexible arrangements to pregnant workers. We are proposing to make employment insurance parental benefits more flexible.

Budget 2017 introduced choice and flexibility for parents. Parents will be able to choose the option that best suits their needs based on their work, their family situation, and their child care circumstances.

Under the proposed changes, parents will have two options: receiving El parental benefits over a period of up to 12 months at the existing benefit rate of 55% of their average weekly earnings, or over an extended period of up to 18 months at a benefit rate of 33% of their average weekly earnings. In either case, eligible parents will receive roughly the same level of support.

Investing in El parental benefits to make them more flexible is expected to amount to $152 million over five years starting in 2017-18, at the rate of about $27.5 million per year. Parents will continue to be able to share these benefits, and that is an important component as well.

Through budget 2017, we also proposed additional supports for caregivers. We proposed to create a new employment insurance benefit that would last up to 15 weeks. This new benefit will allow Canadians to care for an adult family member who is critically ill or injured, a benefit we pay to people caring for an adult family member who is critically ill but is not at the end of his or her life. This is a first for employment insurance.

Any of us who have dealt with family situations involving complex illnesses know that the severity of those illnesses do not necessarily give one a prescriptive timetable in which to take time away from work. This flexibility and acknowledgement of some of the challenges facing Canadian families is part how we are making EI more accessible, flexible, and fair. This new benefit supplements the existing compassionate care benefit, which continues to provide up to 26 weeks of benefits for those who leave work to care for family members in end-of-life situations.

Parents of critically ill children will continue to have access of up to 35 weeks. They will now be able to share these benefits with more family members as part of the flexibilities. To implement these measures, budget 2017 proposes to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

Additionally, our government is also proposing to amend the Canada Labour Code to ensure that workers in federally regulated sectors have the job protection they need while they are receiving caregiving, parental or maternity benefits. Of particular interest in the present debate is the proposal in budget 2017 that will also allow pregnant women to claim El maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date, up from the current eight weeks, if they so choose. This is how we have worked with the member to ensure his goals are realized. This investment in additional flexibility is expected to be about $43.1 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, and about $9.2 million a year thereafter.

The collaboration between the member for Kingston and the Islands, our government, and members from both sides of the House was valuable to advancing this private member's bill's policy agenda. For those of us who have watched private members' bills move through the House, sometimes with friction, sometimes with quite easy support, the work that the member did on this bill to ensure it not only got represented in the budget when it ran into some difficulties around the financing issue but by also working at committee with his colleagues to ensure he had an impact with his private member's bill, speaks well to not only the focus, but the integrity and the hard work of the member in question, and we thank him. In fact, families across the country owe this member a debt of gratitude.

We are making these changes to the employment insurance system because we care about the well-being of Canadian workers. We made those improvements because Canadians asked us to make these changes.

Last year, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the member for Kingston and the Islands launched online consultations with Canadians on employment insurance around maternity, parental, and caregiving benefits. They asked how people felt about the idea of developing more flexible maternity and parental employment insurance benefits. However, we also requested their views on the idea of offering more inclusive benefits and leave provisions under the Canada Labour Code for Canadians caring for family members. This was all part of the process to develop this bill and ensure we got as much input as possible. Consultation does matter. It is not just a buzzword; it actually is something we do to improve legislation with Canadians for Canadians.

When asked about their challenges while being on maternity or parental leave, people mentioned that finances were their main concern, especially those who were in single-income families, and those with twins and multiple births. Difficulties finding suitable and affordable child care and problems qualifying for El benefits, while being self-employed or working on contract, were also brought up. More than half of the participants said that they would prefer taking longer combined maternity and parental leaves for up to 18 months at a lower El benefit if we could make that happen. In terms of caregiving benefits and leave, participants mostly talked about the financial, personal health, and emotional burdens of having to deal with these things without proper government supports.

Our government also hosted a stakeholder round table last November. Participants included representatives from the medical community, health charities, family advocacy groups, unions, and business associations. With respect to maternity benefits and leave, one of the things we heard was that early maternity leave was a health and safety issue and a human right. We also heard from stakeholders that changes to caregiving benefits and leave were needed to make those less restrictive as well.

We made sure to consult on potential changes to employment insurance with our partners, including the public, and numerous stakeholders. The implementation of Bill C-243 will have us engage provinces, territories, and the relevant stakeholders regarding the prospect of a national maternity assistance program.

Canada's employment insurance special benefits can be of support to eligible Canadians through important life events. Each year, these benefits help thousands of eligible Canadians to prepare and care for a new baby. We are happy to help. We are happy to partner with the member to support the bill. We want these benefits to remain appropriate for Canadian workers to help them balance their responsibilities.

Our government is on its way to make a fundamental change to the landscape for working women and men in our country all for the better, and in particular for our country' s children.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

June 7th, 2017 / 6:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Long Liberal Saint John—Rothesay, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege for me to here on behalf of my riding of Saint John—Rothesay. As members know, I love my riding. It is an industrial riding and a union riding.

I am here today to speak to Bill C-243, put forward by my colleague from Kingston and the Islands. The bill raises important issues, such as health and job security.

Just as important for our government is our commitment to help the middle class and those working hard to join it. To respect this commitment, we have to give all workers in the country an equal opportunity. The government recognizes that pregnancy should not be a barrier to full employment. We recognize that we must ensure workplace health and safety for pregnant workers.

The Canada Labour Code has provisions that guarantee safe working conditions to all workers in federally regulated sectors, including pregnant and nursing employees.

We also believe that pregnant workers should be able to benefit from more flexibility when the time comes to take their maternity leave. This is particularly true in cases where pregnant women have to stop working earlier than expected because of the risks their job could pose to their health or that of their babies.

I will take the few minutes I have to talk to the House about what our government is doing to help these workers, as well as their families, across the country. In particular, I would like to elaborate on the measures proposed in budget 2017 to increase the flexibility of El special benefits. The special benefits under the El program help parents balance work and family life.

Each year, this program helps thousands of eligible Canadians prepare and care for a new baby or take care of a family member who is critically ill. It is our responsibility to ensure that these measures remain appropriate and accessible for Canadian workers seeking to balance their professional careers and personal lives.

Let us start with parental benefits.

Starting a family presents certain challenges, especially for working parents. Measures set out in budget 2017 offer these parents flexibility. Parents will be able to choose the option that best suits their needs based on their work and family situation.

Under the proposed changes, parents will have two options. For the first option, which corresponds to the standard 35-week period for parental benefits, claimants can receive El parental benefits at the current rate of 55% of their average weekly earnings for a period of up to 12 months. For the second option, the extended 61-week parental benefits period, claimants can receive El parental benefits at a rate of 33% of their average weekly earnings over a period of 18 months.

These changes represent an investment of $152 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, and $27.5 million per year. In addition, parents can continue to share the benefits.

Moreover, we are proposing to allow pregnant women to apply for El maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their expected delivery date, if they wish to do so. This means more flexibility compared to the current standard of eight weeks. This additional flexibility is expected to amount to $43.1 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, and $9.2 million per year.

In budget 2017, we are also offering more support for caregivers. We are proposing the creation of a new El benefit for a period of up to 15 weeks. This new caregiver benefit will allow Canadians to care for an adult family member who is critically ill or injured.

These benefits would be provided to people caring for an adult family member who is critically ill but not at the end of life.

This is a first for employment insurance. We are very proud of this measure. I must add that this new benefit would supplement the existing compassionate care benefit for people caring for family members who are critically ill and in end-of-life situations.

Parents of critically ill children would continue to have access to up to 35 weeks of benefits. They would now be able to share these benefits with more family members.

For some time now, we have wanted to increase the flexibility of the different types of parental benefits to better respond to families' needs. We made sure to do this right. That is why we worked together with all of our partners. I am talking about Canadians and numerous stakeholders. Together we studied the possible changes to employment insurance. Most of all, we listened to people from coast to coast to coast, and the changes we are making are the ones people asked us to make.

Last fall, we held on-line consultations with Canadians. We asked them how they felt about the idea of offering more flexible EI maternity and parental benefits and leaves under the Canada Labour Code. We also asked them for their views on the idea of offering more inclusive caregiver benefits and leaves for Canadians caring for a family member. We also hosted a stakeholder round table last November. Among the participants were representatives of the medical community, health charities, family advocacy groups, unions, and business associations. We made a commitment to take measures to improve EI benefits, and that is what we are doing. These changes would ensure greater financial security for Canadian workers and their families when they need it the most.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that our government is making a real difference for workers, especially female workers, across Canada. We are taking this action because their well-being, health, and safety are of the utmost benefit and importance to us. Giving everyone an equal opportunity means the middle class and those working hard to join it will be better off.

I can certainly say first-hand from the riding of Saint John—Rothesay that the response to this bill has been outstanding. Workers who are thrilled with these proposed changes come into my office every week, and I am honoured again to speak to these changes on behalf of my riding of Saint John—Rothesay.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

June 7th, 2017 / 6:15 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, what a pleasure it is to rise again to address a very important piece of legislation that my colleague has brought forward. I first must applaud my colleague for advancing an issue that is important to his constituents and individuals for whom he is trying in a very effective way to advocate. He, along with the others who helped him bring this bill forward to where we have it today, has done an incredible job in making sure that we have advanced this debate. My understanding is that it is because of those efforts that we will continue to see this discussion take place in the weeks and months ahead, as the minister responsible will have the mandate to do the consultation that is so extremely important, because as we move forward, we want to make sure we are moving in the right direction on this very important issue.

For many years we often talked about EI, EI benefits, and the way we have evolved from a time when somebody who was laid off or released would have virtually no benefits whatsoever. Then we had a government that ultimately brought in a national program. As some provinces attempted to deal with it, we had a national government that recognized that there was a need to work with Ottawa in an attempt to bring forward a program that is really there for the worker.

When I think of the many different programs that government administers, for which government is ultimately responsible, I like to think that this is one of those programs that is probably at the very heart of protecting the interests of workers.

Over the years we have seen changes that have been made to tune it up, to improve the program, and we have something here today that is adding progress to that debate, that ongoing discussion, with the idea that we will see some very tangible actions in the not too distant future.

It is with pride that we think of the last budget and some of the things we have already incorporated into the EI program, something I believe we would all like to see enhanced in whatever way we can. It is important to provide opportunities for individuals to have the choice about when it is in their best interests to start receive those benefits.

I would like to read a couple of very tangible points that were introduced in the last 2017-18 budget, dealing with how we have enhanced EI benefits and leaves for parents. It is important to recognize that the Government of Canada is moving forward on those commitments to better support Canadian families by increasing the flexibility of maternity and parental EI benefits to better reflect the needs of Canadian families. This is something we have seen in a number of different measures, but this hour is to focus on some of those specifics.

These changes will provide more flexibility to pregnant workers to better take into account their particular health and workplace circumstances when choosing when to begin their maternity benefits. That is the type of flexibility that will have a real, tangible impact for many Canadians in all regions of our country. In fact, according to the “Employment Insurance Monitoring and Assessment Report 2014/2015”, there were approximately 169,000 maternity claims that were paid $1.1 billion in benefits, and 191,000 parental claims, of which 86% were by women and 14% by men. This group was paid $2.5 billion in benefits.

That gives a sense of the number of recipients in this program and the amounts that both workers and employers are contributing into what I believe is a very worthy program.

Between October 6 and November 4 of 2016, consultations were held to hear Canadians' perspectives on more flexible EI, maternity, and parental benefits and corresponding leave provisions under the Canada Labour Code, as well as their experiences in balancing work and caring for newborns and recently adopted children. A round table discussion with stakeholders was also held in November 2016. A summary of the consultations was posted online in February 2017.

I would like to emphasize the importance of flexibility. A pregnant woman now has the flexibility to claim benefits earlier, before the child is born. I have listened to many members talk about the importance of that flexibility in the work environments that women often find themselves in, whether it is on a cement floor in a factory, behind a welding machine, or any other job. Whether it is the woman's decision or the advice of medical professionals, it may be in the woman's best interest to use more maternity benefits before the child is born. This takes place, and we recognized it in the last budget. That is one of the reasons we made that change and provided the flexibility that is so critically important.

It went from eight weeks to 12 weeks to build in additional support. We need to recognize that not all pregnancies are the same and that not all women are engaged in employment in the same manner.

Nowadays, more and more fathers want to be at home to provide the care. It was very encouraging to see the number of fathers, which was roughly 14% back in 2014-15, and I suspect the increase in fathers wanting to take those early years is because they are so very important. I have been in politics for many years, and one of my regrets was not having as much time as I would have liked with my children, now young adults, when they were infants. Having that additional flexibility and allowing both parents the opportunity to share those life experiences after a child is born or providing a mother the opportunity to have additional weeks of leave prior to the child being born, for whatever reasons, we see as a very strong positive.

One of the common themes of this government is to assist Canada's middle class and those aspiring to be part of it in a very tangible fashion. Some of the actions in the last budget refer specifically to EI and making the necessary changes.

I will bring it forward to what we are talking about today, which is that there are always areas where we can improve.

We can in fact do better. I believe my colleague has provided that to us tonight, the ability to have that discussion, explore the issue, maybe listen to what other members have to say on the record, and look at what has been said in committee. We understand that there have been some amendments and changes since the bill was before the House last. That is one of the ways we believe the standing committees can play a very productive role.

I appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts and words on this particular piece of legislation.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

June 7th, 2017 / 6:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will not say much other than to thank everybody who participated in the debate this evening, as well as the people who have taken the opportunity to participate leading up to this point.

This really is about trying to put the dialogue in place to change the discussion we are having about women in the workforce, particularly women who work in hazardous jobs. I hope the bill will pass and that the discussion can begin.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2016 / 6:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Bryan May Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-243, an act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act. My hon. colleague has done a fine job with this bill, and I want to commend him for that. This is an incredibly important topic. I am glad that he has focused on it, and has given me the opportunity to speak to it.

In particular, I was impressed to learn the story behind this bill. It was inspired by the story of a female welder in his community. He listened to the concerns and personal experiences of his constituent, Melodie, and took action by presenting a solution in the form of a private member's bill. That is how politics should be done. We are elected to this House to represent our constituents and the issues they bring forward, and this bill is a perfect example of that.

The purpose of the bill is to remove barriers to women's full and equal participation in all sectors of the labour force. This is absolutely fundamental to the principle of gender equality. The provisions in this bill would greatly benefit current and future women who work in the skilled trades: construction, engineering, resource extraction, manufacturing, and many other fields.

This is why it should be no surprise that it has been supported by a diverse list of stakeholders from across the country, and I would like to take this opportunity to name a few. They include women's advocacy groups, such as the National Council of Women of Canada, the Canadian Women's Foundation, the Canadian Federation of University Women, the NSERC Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering, the Office to Advance Women Apprentices, Women in Science and Engineering Atlantic, and Women Building Futures.

They all recognize that this bill is a positive change toward achieving gender equality. The Canadian Women's Foundation, for example, said that this bill advances women's equal participation in all sectors of the labour force and helps to ensure that the decision to become a parent does not exacerbate women's economic inequality. This is indeed a positive step to improve gender equality in Canada.

Representatives of the construction, skilled trades, and engineering community have also come out to enthusiastically support this initiative, including the Canadian Construction Association, Canada's Building Trades Unions, Engineers Canada, Women in Work Boots, Engineers without Borders, Canadian Welding Association, National Trade Contractors Coalition, and Canadian Apprenticeship Forum.

Collectively, these groups represent tens of thousands of members from across the country. Their support stands as a true testament to how this bill is resonating with stakeholders. The bill has earned this support because its objectives are very clear. Overall, it seeks to prevent a situation where a woman has to choose between having her dream job and having a family. This is an objective that I and, I am sure, all members of this House can support.

It achieves this important goal in two parts, which together address both an immediate issue and the need for a long-term, comprehensive maternity assistance strategy. The first part proposes a modest change to the Employment Insurance Act that would greatly improve the flexibility of maternity benefits.

In particular, Bill C-243 proposes an amendment to the El Act which would allow women, like Melodie, who work in dangerous jobs, to begin their 15 weeks of El maternity benefits as early as 15 weeks before their due date. This is seven weeks earlier than the current rules permit. The other component of maternity leave, the 35 weeks of parental benefits, is effectively unchanged by this bill. These hours would still be available once the child is born, and are still available to both parents to use as they see fit.

The combined 50 weeks of total benefits does not change in length or cost. Instead, women in dangerous jobs would have the opportunity to use more of their existing hours during their pregnancy rather than after the child is born, if this is something they choose to do.

This measure would not expand the number of maternity weeks or the amount of benefits that one is entitled to. Similarly, it would not reduce the eligibility threshold for receiving benefits.

Getting a slightly earlier start to maternity leave would help women who are currently in the terrible situation of having to choose between working in an environment that might be hazardous, and protecting the health of their unborn child. This is a decision no one should have to make, and I am glad to see a bill that would make EI flexible enough to accommodate these situations.

Easing the rules on when someone can begin their maternity leave is a good start, but it obviously does not remove all of the barriers to women's equal participation in the labour force. That is why I am pleased to see that the bill also calls on the Minister of Employment to consult with Canadians and provincial stakeholders on the prospect of developing a comprehensive national maternity assistance strategy.

The bill lays out some specifics for what these consultations would cover, including an assessment of the demand for such a program, existing programs, potential costs and benefits, and any legal, constitutional, or jurisdictional implications.

If the bill passes second reading, which I hope it does, these are areas that the committee could look into. As chair of the HUMA committee, I would be interested in studying these areas, and hearing from my colleagues on the committee to see if there are other areas that we could add to this list.

The bill purposely leaves the parameters of the study broad. It calls on the government to study the issues of maternity assistance without prescribing what the outcome should be.

In summary, the issue identified by the member is a serious and important one. The idea of a national maternity assistance program deserves to be studied, and that is exactly what the bill calls on the government to do. I agree wholeheartedly with the objectives of both parts one and two, and urge my colleagues to support the bill, so that they may be studied further at committee.

When we think about gender equality in the workplace, we should not limit that decision to politicians, lawyers, and the business world. We need to recognize that many women want to be welders, construction workers, or engineers. Every career option should be open to all Canadians whether they are a woman or a man, and no one should have to choose between having a family and having a job.

Our labour market is changing and we need to take a hard look at our EI system, and see if it is keeping pace in 2016. Frankly, in 2016, it is simply unacceptable that the decision to have a family should be a barrier or financial disincentive to a woman entering her chosen profession. It is shocking and disturbing to think that this decision could lead to financial hardship to the point of losing one's home. Clearly, this happens and, in fact, it did happen in the case that inspired the bill.

In mid-2014, Melodie was working as a welder in Kingston, Ontario, when she became pregnant. She consulted with her medical practitioner, and they agreed it would be unsafe to continue welding during her pregnancy as her work environment would be unsafe for her unborn child.

My colleague has put forward this bill to prevent this from happening to others, and I am proud to strongly support him and Bill C-243, a national maternity assistance program.

I hope all members will think hard about Melodie's compelling story, and how this important bill can improve gender equality throughout Canada and in their communities.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2016 / 7:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-243, which would provide for the development and implementation of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amend the Employment Insurance Act in order to allow a claimant to begin using her maternity benefits 15 weeks before the week in which her confinement is expected if her employer is unable to reassign her to a job that does not pose a risk to her health or to that of her unborn child.

It is interesting to take a closer look at this private member's bill. Two aspects of the preamble to Bill C-243 really jump out at me.

First, in 2014, women represented 47.3% of the labour force compared to 31% in 1976, which is an increase of over 10%. The most interesting aspect of that increase is that it involves more women participating in skilled and non-traditional occupations previously held by men.

Second, a woman’s pregnancy should not act as a barrier to full participation in the workforce, adversely affect her employment, inflict financial hardship, or compromise the pursuit of her chosen career. I believe that women should be able to choose. Personally, I did not take all the maternity leave I was entitled to. That was my choice, but that is not the issue.

Many factors are at play. First of all, the bill already has some restrictions. I would like to see the 15 weeks become transferable, and not added to the 35 weeks that women are already entitled to after having a baby. As everyone in the House knows, a private member's bill must be cost neutral for taxpayers. If this bill were to result in any additional cost, it would be out of order.

The main thing that would make me support this bill would be for the 15 weeks to be transferable and not added to the 35 weeks already available. Let me explain. If a pregnant woman cannot continue working because of her pregnancy and she decides to take her leave 15 weeks before her due date, I have no problem with that as long as, after the delivery, that same woman does not take more than 20 weeks of maternity leave. That would give her a total of 35 weeks of leave, as is the case under existing legislation. Similarly, I have no problem with a pregnant woman taking 10 weeks before the delivery and 25 weeks after the delivery, or 12 weeks before and 23 weeks after.

In short, I see this as a 35-week period that can be shifted around the due date as long as the total number of benefit weeks does not exceed 35. When these conditions are met, I can give my full support to this bill. It is vital that we protect the health of the biological mother, the pregnant mother, as well as that of the unborn child. There can be different reasons for going on maternity leave early, for example, a job that requires sustained physical effort that can pose a risk to the mother, or the mother's inability to meet the physical demands of the job, which prevents her from functioning normally. These are situations where she should be able to take her maternity leave before the birth. Furthermore, going on leave earlier because her health prevents her from doing various duties allows the employee to return to work before the end of the 35 weeks of maternity leave after the child is born.

This improves the employer's profitability and the woman's job performance. What is even more important is that she will be healthy while doing her job and she will be able to do it.

I am repeating myself only because I really want members to understand why I am supporting this bill. In fact, I will only support it if we are going to move the benefit weeks and not add benefit weeks.

First, this will ensure the health of both the mother and child. Second, shifting the benefit weeks improves the productivity of the employee, who can make the most of her capabilities. Third, this optimizes the production and profitability of the various companies. Finally, and probably what is most important, it ensures that the woman is free to make her own decisions based on her own situation and needs during her pregnancy.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2016 / 7:10 p.m.
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NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to participate in this debate.

I agree that Bill C-243 is a step in the right direction. However, it has a number of serious flaws.

I like the idea of giving women who work in hazardous work environments more flexibility with regard to their preventive withdrawal and maternity leave. That being said, I think it is short-sighted and inhumane to require women to choose between having a safe pregnancy and taking time to adjust to life with a new baby.

I would like to point out that the Liberals promised to hold public consultations to determine the specific terms and conditions of this new program. Although we appreciate the fact that organizations and stakeholders will be consulted, it would have been better if they had been consulted sooner. The government is asking us to vote on a bill that is not yet complete.

The bill cannot really be finalized until the consultations set out in the preamble of this bill are complete. However, we do not have any information on these consultations or the consultation strategies. What is more, the member for Kingston and the Islands admitted from the outset that the bill we are debating today is not sufficient to meet the objective of establishing a comprehensive program.

I would like to remind the House that the member for Kingston and the Islands' predecessor voted against the NDP bill introduced in the previous Parliament. The bill would have extended Quebec's safe maternity experience program to Quebec women working under federal jurisdiction. As a result, some female workers in risky workplaces in Quebec were unable to benefit from a program whose merits Bill C-243 actually praises. The NDP is asking the government to make the safe maternity experience program available to Quebec women in federally governed workplaces.

I get the sense that the Liberals are sending up a smoke screen on this file and several others. They are not proposing a comprehensive strategy to ensure safe workplaces for pregnant and nursing women.

On the surface, this bill seems like a good thing for expectant mothers, but women are not actually gaining any new benefits. The benefit period will not be any longer. The bill merely lets women decide when to collect their benefits, but even that is not really up to the women themselves; it is up to doctors.

There is one thing that concerns me about this. A pregnant woman who does not get reassigned to more appropriate work will have to sacrifice some time spent with her child. All it takes is complications arising during delivery for the health of the mother and the baby to be at risk. Consider an emergency C-section or an irregular heartbeat. Many complications can arise. If a woman takes her maternity leave 15 weeks before the delivery, she will have only two weeks to rest, recover, spend time with her baby, and enjoy the early stages of family life.

As a young new mother myself, I can assure the House that that is not enough. Bonding with one's newborn is crucial, as all the studies now show. For many women, it can also take several weeks to recover from the delivery. Adjusting to becoming a parent, getting everything you need, these things do not just come to you by snapping your fingers. The more time babies can spend with their mothers and their parents, the better it is for everyone.

The Liberals like to brag about being feminists, but integrating women into the workforce also means adapting high-risk work environments. We are calling on the government to take the necessary steps to get concrete commitments from employers.

Transferring pregnant women becomes even more important considering that they do not receive their full pay when they are on maternity leave. Most of the time, employment insurance parental benefits cover only 55% of the weekly salary. That is just over half. Forcing women to stop working instead of transferring them is condemning them to uncertainty.

It is imperative that we encourage employers to assign pregnant women to tasks that pose no danger to them or their fetus. The health and safety of pregnant and nursing women is a collective responsibility, and business leaders, as well as legislators, have an active role to play in this.

The legislation currently stipulates that “the onus is on the employer to show that a modification of job functions or a reassignment that would avoid the activities or conditions indicated in the medical certificate is not reasonably practicable”.

The expression “not reasonably practicable” is rather nebulous. All the employer has to do is claim that he could not manage to find tasks that did not pose a risk and the pregnant woman will be forced to stop working. She has to choose between a healthy pregnancy and quality time with her newborn. It seems contradictory to me to force women to make such a difficult choice without forcing the employers to make every effort to assign them to other tasks. It is time to stop absolving business leaders of this responsibility.

Another major problem that this bill fails to address is the fact that not all women get parental leave. To get parental leave one must first be eligible for employment insurance. This excludes a number of workers, including self-employed, seasonal, and part-time workers.

What is more, this bill further highlights the polarization of the labour market: female workers with a permanent job will get parental leave, whereas women working on contract will be excluded. We are creating more uncertainty for working pregnant women.

Generally speaking, women are over-represented in the category of workers with precarious jobs. Two-thirds of part-time jobs are held by women. Furthermore, the vast majority of workers who earn minimum wage are women.

In 2014, only 29% of unemployed women received regular employment insurance benefits, whereas 44.8% of men, almost 45%, qualified for benefits. That means that women with precarious jobs are at an even greater economic disadvantage because of their pregnancy.

Revenue-neutral policies are not a solution. To maintain our social safety net, we must invest in social programs. We must ask the right questions and establish the best priorities. All women should have access to proper maternity benefits. It is a societal choice.

Rather than introduce half measures, it would be worthwhile using the Quebec model for both workplace health and safety and maternity leave.

The government is proposing to address a workplace health and safety issue with a tool that provides parental leave. The NDP is calling on the government to introduce a real national maternity assistance program, rather than hijacking the parental leave system.

I am disappointed by this bill's lack of ambition. The employment insurance system is discriminatory because it does not reflect the realities of all women. They should not have to bear the cost of child bearing alone. Children are our future. In order to ensure that future babies develop properly and are in good health, all women who work in hazardous work environments must be able to avail themselves of preventive withdrawal and have a decent maternity leave. That is why the NDP is calling on the government to adopt a real maternity assistance program for women in high-risk occupations.

The NDP would also like women from Quebec in the federal workplace to have access to the safe maternity experience program.

Quebec's preventive withdrawal program allows women to take leave from work as early as the first weeks of pregnancy, whereas this bill does not allow them to take leave until their 25th week.

However, we know that miscarriages often occur during the first and second trimesters or before the 25th week of pregnancy. This bill therefore does not cover that crucial period for pregnant women.

I hope that many major improvements will be made to the bill so that it really meets the needs of pregnant women working in high-risk occupations.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2016 / 7:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Deb Schulte Liberal King—Vaughan, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Kingston and the Islands for putting forward this very important bill, which I was proud to support and second.

This bill was inspired by Melodie Ballard's story. This is a story of a hard-working lady. Working as a welder, she suffered extreme financial hardship when she had to stop working due to potential health risks to her unborn child. She was unable to be accommodated by her workplace and access that maternity leave. The current EI benefit rules do not allow for her situation, so she was denied employment insurance maternity leave coverage because she did not meet the current eight weeks before the due date limit.

This bill has been brought forward to provide the much needed flexibility that women need when working in hazardous places of employment. For example, some roles in the military, some trades, resource extraction jobs, and even roles that are not normally considered hazardous, such as pilots, flight attendants, and frequent flyers, do pose a risk to pregnant women. This is an issue that is becoming more prevalent as more women are taking on non-traditional roles in the workplace and need a precautionary leave of absence during pregnancy. The bill seeks to raise awareness of the issue and would allow workers to access maternity benefits earlier, up to 15 weeks before delivery, rather than the allowed eight weeks, .

I am proud to support Bill C-243, which takes crucial steps toward advancing gender equality in the workplace of Canadians. Most importantly, Bill C-243 would ensure that pregnancy is not a barrier to a woman's full and equal participation in our Canadian labour force. I believe that no woman should have to choose between the health of her baby and putting food on the table or a roof overhead. The system today leaves women who are advised to stop working due to potential health complications with long periods of no income. We have already heard about the very distressing situation that Melodie faced, which ultimately resulted in her losing her home and creating much personal stress. Our EI system failed Melodie just when she needed it most.

Canadians pay into the employment insurance system to ensure that they can get the help they need when they are temporarily out of work. Women like Melodie need to know the employment insurance system can be there for them when they need it. I believe when the EI system was set up to assist pregnant women in the workforce, it was not foreseen that women would be employed in roles that might put their health or their baby's health at risk during pregnancy. It is about time we took a new look at the needs of our workforce and the EI system and updated it to accommodate the realities of today.

I can personally attest to the challenges encountered while applying for EI maternity benefits 20 years ago. I am pleased to see that today's EI benefits are much better than before, with more flexibility not only for mothers, as it was in my day, but fathers too. I believe it is now time to review the EI program again to make sure that it is keeping up with the realities of the workforce today. We need to ensure that our EI policies are not seen as a barrier to a woman's full and equal participation in all sectors of the workforce, including potentially hazardous jobs.

There are those who may be concerned about abuse of the system. However, the bill outlines two basic conditions that must be met in order to be eligible for this exemption: a woman must provide a medical certificate attesting that she cannot perform her usual current duties because it may pose a risk to her health or to that of her unborn child, and the employer must be unable to provide accommodations or reassignment that would mitigate that risk. This bill is not proposing to extend EI benefits but to allow flexibility as to when women can begin receiving benefits if they meet these requirements.

This bill has the support of many organizations, including those beyond the skilled trades and construction. I was pleased to see it being endorsed by several from my profession of engineering: Women in Science and Engineering Atlantic Region, the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia, Engineers Nova Scotia, and Engineers Canada.

The second part of the bill is addressing the need for a comprehensive strategy to ensure that pregnancy is not a barrier to working women. It requires the Minister of Employment, in collaboration with other federal ministers, representatives of the provincial and territorial governments, and other relevant stakeholders, to conduct consultations on the prospect of developing a national maternity assistance program to support women who are unable to work due to pregnancy.

There are many examples of how this issue has been addressed here in Canada and around the world. Many advanced industrialized countries have recognized the importance of maternal care and have taken action to ensure that women in all professions receive adequate support throughout pregnancy and child care.

Since 1981, the Province of Quebec has offered the option of preventive withdrawal as part of its safe maternity assistance program. Under this program, an employer may opt to eliminate the hazard represented by the employee's work or assign her to other tasks. If neither of these alternatives are doable, the employee is entitled to benefit from a preventive withdrawal and to receive compensation in the amount of 90% of her average pay.

In Finland, for example, there is a class of special maternity benefits that are provided when conditions may cause a particular risk to a woman's pregnancy and the hazard cannot be eliminated by the employer. In Australia, if there is no appropriate safe job available, an employee is entitled to take paid no-safe-job leave for the risk period. There are similar programs that protect expecting mothers in France, Hungary, Denmark, and elsewhere.

Therefore, it is appropriate for Canada to undertake a review and bring forward a policy that is more supportive of pregnant women who are working in environments that may pose a risk to a pregnant woman and/or her unborn child.

While the private and not-for-profit sector is doing incredible work encouraging more women to enter trades, government must do its part to support those who enter the workforce in these traditionally male-dominated occupations. Data shows that while overall labour force participation among women has increased, from 37% in 1976 to 47% in 2014, women remain drastically under-represented within many traditional male occupations. For example, in 2012, women represented only 4% of those working in construction.

If Canada is to thrive in the global market, we will need to improve the representation of women in our workforce. Gender balance and diversity is but one key to making Canada's economy stronger and more competitive. However, we will not be able to achieve this if we do not develop the necessary programs to support this transition.

We have seen an opportunity for improvement. Let all MPs in the House support this step in the right direction for gender equality and ensure that the Melodies in the future have better outcomes for themselves, their families, and our country.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2016 / 7:30 p.m.
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NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, each day seems more like the last. For the past two days, we have been debating private members' bills that directly affect the status of women. I am therefore pleased to once again rise in support of this cause.

At the same time, I feel a little bit resentful because, yesterday, there was an excellent bill on the table that would have quickly implemented essential conditions for ensuring gender equity in the House. However, as we saw from today's vote, a majority of parliamentarians decided that it was not yet time for us to achieve gender equality.

The bill before us today obviously does not deal with gender equality because it talks about pregnancy. However, we need to ensure that pregnant women are treated fairly.

As a Quebec MP, I am doubly proud to speak to this bill because Quebec has long led the way on this issue. I also think that the federal government should follow its lead because I find it unacceptable that women in my province who do similar work are treated so differently depending on whether their jobs are governed by the Quebec Labour Code or the Canada Labour Code.

The member for Kingston and the Islands' bill is a sign of just how long and drawn-out the battle for gender equality in the job market is. That battle has not yet been won, though much ground has been gained over the years.

Despite their skills, their experience, and even their knowledge, many women still work under less favourable conditions and for less pay than men doing the same work. In 2016, that is totally unacceptable. It has been unacceptable for a long time now, but the problem has to be fixed one day.

For example, I toured a community in my riding where women clearly held more jobs than men.

For instance, the Liberal tax reduction program will not help most of these women, because in the community services sector, a salary of $45,000 or more is extremely rare. As a result, women are often penalized on every level.

Bill C-243 raises the issue of women's working conditions and proposes creating a federal strategy to protect the health of pregnant and nursing women who work in high-risk occupations. Under this legislation, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour would be tasked with conducting a series of consultations with her federal colleagues and provincial counterparts to set out the parameters of a new program for women, another consultation from the same government that, two weeks prior to October 2015, told us that it had a plan for just about everything.

I think the time for consultation is over. If consultations had been done before this bill was introduced, we could have benefited from what I call best practices. The Quebec model is an excellent example of this.

Of course we must examine the spirit and the letter of the bill, as we do when studying the text of any collective agreement or law. It is definitely difficult to oppose the spirit of this bill. I often say that it is difficult to be against virtue and apple pie. Most people agree with that. However, this bill has significant flaws, which I hope will be addressed if it is referred to a committee.

In fact, the bill only shifts the maternity leave that a woman can take. The difference is that instead of being able to leave eight weeks before the due date, she can leave 15 weeks before. We are taking the same period of time and allowing women to move it around. Nevertheless, it is a start.

This does not make a big difference, especially if a woman has to leave work early for her own safety or that of her unborn child, because she has exactly the same number of weeks. She would just be cutting short the time she could devote to this new relationship after the child is born.

Everyone knows that. All the analyses, all psychologists agree on how important a mother's presence is in the first weeks, months, and even years of a child's life.

What is worse is that, in order for a pregnant woman to benefit from this measure, she must be eligible for employment insurance, and therein lies the rub.

Who are the people in our society who have the most difficulty getting employment insurance benefits? It is women. Most often who are the ones with precarious jobs? Again, it is women. Who are the ones who get fewer hours of work or split-schedules in a work week? Again, it is women.

With the Conservatives' employment insurance reforms, which have not all been reviewed and corrected by the Liberals, only about 39% of people who contribute to employment insurance are able to get benefits when they need them. Again, I would like to remind members that women find it harder to meet the EI eligibility requirements than men.

Again, our proposal, for which we are still awaiting a response from the Liberals, was on qualifying for employment insurance and was quite simple. I think that instating a universal standard of 360 hours to qualify for employment insurance will help many people, including quite a few women who might, by extension, benefit from the bill we are talking about here today.

I would also like to make the link between the bill that the NDP introduced and the one being introduced by the Liberals. Although this bill gives the impression that the Liberals are trailblazers, we must remember that when they were in the opposition, the Liberals joined forces with the Conservatives to vote against an NDP proposal introduced by my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie that raised the same issues. Our bill sought to allow pregnant and nursing women who work in federally regulated businesses in Quebec to have the same benefits provided under Quebec's safe maternity experience program.

Talk about best practices. The Liberal government would do well to take its cue from the safe maternity experience program. Better still, if the Liberal government were to follow that lead, the member who introduced this private member's bill could convince his own caucus to walk the talk by making it a government bill complete with the necessary funding.

I should note that the main objective of Quebec's program is to keep pregnant and nursing women working safely. There is a big difference. The main objective is not to secure employment insurance benefits or preventive withdrawal. The main objective is to keep women in the workplace but under working conditions that do not pose a risk to their health or that of their unborn child. Quebec's safe maternity experience program is a preventive program for pregnant or nursing workers that is designed to keep women at work safely.

The Speaker is telling me that I have just one minute left, so I will say no more about the Quebec program. Everyone can read up on it because it is an existing program.

As a final point, we in the NDP appreciate the spirit of the bill. However, what ultimately happens with this bill will depend on the consultations conducted by the government. Those consultations have not yet begun, as far as I know.

Even if the government passes this bill, it will be too early to determine whether the final product of this strategy will be worthwhile.

As the member for Trois-Rivières, I urge the government to take the necessary steps to bring the federal legislation in line with Quebec's workplace health and safety legislation, so that women working in Quebec have access to the same rights and protections, regardless of the jurisdiction they fall under.

I am sorry I do not have time to say more. I thank my colleagues for their attention.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2016 / 7:40 p.m.
See context

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Liberal

Terry Duguid LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-243, an act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits), an initiative of my colleague, the member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands. I would like to applaud and congratulate my colleague for his strong efforts and advocacy in this matter. I commend him for his commitment to his constituents, particularly the individual who inspired this particular bill, and for his leadership in bringing this issue forward.

The health and safety of pregnant and nursing workers is an important issue for this government. In fact, through Canada's employment insurance program, we continue to explore ways to support Canadians, including pregnant workers, when they need it most.

The intent of the bill aligns well with our own intention to improve the EI program and to provide more flexible EI support to families.

In fact, just recently we launched consultations with Canadians to introduce more flexible and inclusive support for parents and family caregivers. This government is seeking views from Canadians on the design of more flexible maternity and parental benefits and leaves and a more inclusive caregiving benefit and leave that would support more Canadians who provide care to a family member.

Bill C-243 would actually bring forward several other issues, such as health and safety, gender equality in the workforce, and the notion that a woman's pregnancy could act as a barrier to full participation in the workplace or as an impediment to career development.

These are some of the very issues we intend to discuss with members of this House, provincial and territorial governments, and other stakeholders with the primary intention of developing more flexible EI parental benefits to meet the unique needs of Canadian families.

At the same time, this is also a government that wants to act as fast as possible to bring real change to Canadians, and a great deal of that work has already begun.

Over the course of the government's mandate, we will continue to make EI better. We will make compassionate care benefits more inclusive and easier to access. The government will also work to remove the barriers to achieving full gender equality in the workforce. We have made progress in this regard, but it is well-recognized that we have to do more.

We will also amend the Canada Labour Code to allow employees in the federally regulated private sector to formally request flexible working arrangements.

However, while the government supports the general direction of the bill, it will not be supporting Bill C-243 in its current form.

I would now like to tell members about those changes that are required in this legislation. I will not go through the whole list, but I will mention the main impediments.

First, the bill lacks a specific coming into force provision to avoid any problematic situations. By coming into force upon royal assent, the bill could present substantive challenges for implementation. For example, the bill must enter into force on a day of the week that aligns with the concept of an EI week. Otherwise, it could result in problems with benefit calculations and payments. This would also allow time to make necessary system changes.

Second, the consultations and reporting provisions are problematic, as the bill would actually create obligations for provinces and territories to report to the federal government on matters related to provincial labour codes. The bill would also create misalignment between the Employment Insurance Act and maternity leave provisions in the employment standards statutes of some provinces and territories.

Third, an incremental expenditure is expected because of the fact that the bill would provide earlier access for maternity benefit claimants who do not make use of the maximum number of maternity and parental benefit weeks available.

It is important to consider changes to EI special benefits in broader terms to avoid unintended consequences with respect to other related benefits.

Our consultations on more flexible parental and more inclusive caregiving benefits were launched on October 6 and are open to all Canadians until November 4. We have started a process that we hope will change the landscape for parents and families.

We believe that every working Canadian deserves our encouragement and our support, particularly in those times when they need it most: when they lose their job, when they are having a baby, when they are welcoming a new child to the family, when they fall sick, or are providing care to a family member.

I commend the work of the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands, for his dedication to his constituents, and his determination to improve the EI program. It is important to note that amending the Employment Insurance Act is a complex endeavour and we want to make sure we do it right. Any changes to EI deserve the benefit of further study and consultations with key partners to ensure that the program better responds to the needs of hard-working Canadian families.