National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy Act

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

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.


Mark Gerretsen  Liberal

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


Third reading (Senate), as of April 11, 2019
(This bill did not become law.)


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.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


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

May 17th, 2016 / 5:50 p.m.
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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 and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-243, an act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act. I would also like to thank the 12 hon. members of the House who have supported this legislation by officially seconding Bill C-243.

Finally, I want to thank the people of Kingston and the Islands for placing their confidence in me to be their voice in the House.

In particular, I want to recognize the individual whose story inspired me to pursue this legislation: Melodie Ballard. I am proud and deeply humbled to begin my remarks today by sharing Melodie's compelling story with members.

Melodie is a welder in my community. In 2014, she became pregnant, and like many expecting mothers, she consulted with her medical practitioner to ensure that she was taking all the necessary steps to have a healthy pregnancy. Upon describing the hazardous nature of her work environment, Melodie was told that she could no longer continue welding during her pregnancy as the function of her job would be unsafe and would pose a significant risk to her future child.

She reached out to her employer, which is a well-established and highly reputable shipbuilding firm in Kingston, but unfortunately, it was unable to provide reassignment or modify her duties in a way that would mitigate the risk. Forced to stop working, Melodie applied for and was granted EI sickness benefits.

There are a couple of problems with this, the first being that Melodie was pregnant, not sick. The second problem is that the 15 weeks of benefits ran out long before Melodie was eligible to officially begin her maternity leave. For two and a half months, Melodie waited to receive the maternity benefits she was entitled to. This income gap led to serious financial hardship and ultimately resulted in the loss of her home and significant personal distress.

Frustrated with the shortcomings of the system, Melodie did her own research, expecting to find that some program would be of help to her and any person in her circumstances. She discovered that outside of the province of Quebec, which has a program known as the preventive withdrawal program, there was virtually no form of financial assistance that would compensate in situations such as these.

What frustrates me most about Melodie's story was that she did everything right, but the current system was simply not prepared to handle her situation. She took every reasonable action that one would expect from someone with a legitimate concern for the health of herself and her future child. She consulted with a midwife for medical advice. She reached out to her employer. She spoke with Service Canada on countless occasions. She did her own research, and she wrote to anybody she could think of. Melodie did everything right, but our EI system failed her when she needed it.

When Melodie approached my office in early 2016, we researched the issue and found that the primary source of the problem was a rule under section 22 of the EI Act, which requires that a woman, regardless of her circumstances, must wait until eight weeks before her expected due date before she can start receiving maternity benefits. For women like Melodie who are employed in occupations where it is unsafe to work at early stages of pregnancy, this restriction can lead to long periods with absolutely no income.

Melodie's story is why I am putting forward this legislation today. The core purpose and effect of Bill C-243 is to remove barriers to women's full and equal participation in all sectors of the workforce, including jobs which are potentially hazardous. Bill C-243 would do this in two parts.

In the short term, my bill seeks to improve the flexibility of EI benefits to better reflect the changing labour market of today. In particular, my bill proposes an amendment to the Employment Insurance Act which would allow women like Melodie who work in dangerous jobs to begin their 15 weeks of EI maternity benefits as early as 15 weeks prior to their due dates. This is seven weeks earlier than the current rules permit.

Allowing women to start collecting EI up to seven weeks early would provide more timely financial assistance and greater flexibility to expecting mothers who are unable to work at early stages of pregnancy. This enhanced flexibility would simply mean that women could access the benefits they are entitled to sooner if the nature of their job prevents them from continuing to do their work during their pregnancy.

For many of the women working in skilled trades, construction, and other potential hazardous fields, the option for an earlier start to maternity leave would empower them to choose the maternity leave that would be best for them and their families.

The bill also outlines two basic conditions that must be met in order to be eligible for this exemption. First, the woman must provide a medical certificate attesting that she cannot perform her current duties because it may pose a risk to her health or that of her unborn child. Second, the employer must be unable to provide accommodations or reassignment that would mitigate this risk.

I have heard from many members of the skilled trades and construction community and the consensus is that the government policies and programs ought to keep pace with the changes in the skilled trades community, in particular, the growing interest among women to become part of it.

For example, the organization Women in Work Boots has said that these changes to how women can access leave while pregnant could lead to greater safety and security and a stress-free pregnancy and leave.

The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum has endorsed Bill C-243 because it thinks it reflects Canadian values when it comes to supporting women who wish to make their careers and support their families working in the skilled trades.

The Office to Advance Women Apprentices views this as being another stepping stone for the advancement of women in trades careers.

It is important to note that the scope of Bill C-243 extends beyond skilled trades and construction. I am proud that my bill has also been endorsed by Women in Science and Engineering, the Atlantic region, Mount Saint Vincent University, 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, which stated that Bill C-243 would be invaluable for engineers who were women, for their families and for their employers.

These changes are just a first step and only a partial solution to what I see as a much larger overall problem. Recognizing this, the second part of my bill 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. This part requires that the minister of employment and social development, 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.

My bill also includes accountability and transparency measures to ensure that the results of the consultation are accessible and presented in a timely manner. I would add that we do not have to look far to get a sense of what a national maternity assistance program might look like. Since 1981, the province of Quebec has offered the option of preventative withdrawal as part of the safe maternity assistance program.

Under this program, the employer may opt to eliminate the hazard represented by an employee's work or assign her to other tasks. If neither of these alternatives are doable, employees are entitled to benefit from the preventative withdrawal and receive a compensation in the amount of 90% of their average pay.

Furthermore, many advanced industrial countries have recognized the importance of maternal care and taken action to ensure that women in all professions receive adequate support throughout pregnancy and child care. 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, employees are entitled to take paid no safe job leave for their risk period. Similar programs that protect expecting mothers exist in France, Hungary, Denmark, and elsewhere. The underlying principle of my bill is that of gender equality, which demands that both women and men have an equal opportunity to participate and become fully integrated into all sectors of the labour force.

I am proud that my bill is supported by several women's advocacy organizations, each of which has done a great deal to advance equality and empower women through progressive public policies. These include the National Council of Women, the Canadian Federation of University Women, and the Canadian Women's Foundation, which called Bill C-243 a positive step to improve gender equality in Canada.

My bill is resonating with stakeholder groups and ordinary Canadians across the country as they recognize that the principle of gender equality must also extend to women entering so-called non-traditional occupations.

Many of the discussions about equality have focused on including more women as doctors, lawyers, business leaders, and politicians. While well-intentioned, I think these conversations often neglect the fact that many women, like Melodie, want to be construction workers, electricians, mechanics, masons, carpenters, machinists, boilermakers, pipe-layers, heavy equipment operators, or even welders.

The data on this is clear that while overall labour 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. While some incredible work is being undertaken by the private and not-for-profit sector to encourage more women to enter the trades, I believe government also must do its part to create a positive environment to encourage more women to enter the workforce in these traditionally male-dominated occupations.

The evidence is clear that improving the representation of women can support an organization's overall competitiveness and ability to thrive in a global market. Gender balance and diversity will make Canada's economy stronger and more competitive, but we have a long way to go before achieving this goal.

To conclude, as previously stated, I believe the current system provides a disincentive for women to enter certain types of work, forcing them to choose between having a family and pursuing their dream job. No woman should have to choose between being a mother and a welder, a mother and a construction worker, a mother and an engineer, or a mother and any profession for that matter.

These are the objects of the bill that I am asking all members of the House to support at second reading. I am asking for their support to make a small but significant change that will improve the flexibility of EI maternity benefits and to call on the minister to show federal leadership by developing a long-term, comprehensive national maternity assistance strategy.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 6 p.m.
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Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend from Kingston for his excellent speech and his inspired bill. I think that all of us on this side are very interested in advancing the cause of women in the workplace, particularly in non-traditional professions.

I know my hon. colleague was a mayor. I was proud when we hired our first woman public works director in my city while I was mayor. I think that is an example that we are getting more and more women in professions that otherwise, when I was born, they would certainly never have considered joining.

Given the examples of all of the countries he cited around the world, does he believe that in Canada we should be joining the rest of the world in terms of allowing women to not have to choose between motherhood and their profession? What does he think about that?

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 6:05 p.m.
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Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Absolutely, Mr. Speaker. The problem that we are facing right now is that the current system we have is actually providing a disincentive. Women, who are passionate about being a welder or a plumber or some other form of work but also think that they want to become pregnant and have a family one day, are being forced to choose between either having that family or that profession in many cases, or they run into the situation that Melodie did.

I think that, yes, we are behind the ball on this, so to speak. There are other countries that are leading the way. Even our neighbouring province, Quebec, as we sit here in Ontario, is leading the way on this. There is a lot we can do and I am really hopeful that the entire House will support the bill so that we can start to move in the right direction.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 6:05 p.m.
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Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the work he has done on this front. Obviously this is a major issue for many women, and for men, obviously as well, who are very concerned about the situation that many women face in the workplace.

I will be speaking to the bill, but I do want to ask the member if he is aware of the concerns put forward by CUPE Quebec and others as well that have made it clear that the bill does not tackle the same sort of proposed changes that exist in Quebec, particularly the program that is known as Pour une maternité sans danger, and that they are very concerned about the bill. I am wondering if he could speak to that discrepancy.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 6:05 p.m.
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Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague is well aware, one of the challenging parts of putting forward a private member's bill is an inability to introduce new spending. I would have loved to shape this bill in such a way as to make it more like the model that exists in Quebec. However, because of that limitation, I was unable to do so.

That is why my bill and the EI part of it are just the first step to this. The second step is the bigger national dialogue about getting together with all stakeholders and having a discussion about this. That is where I am really trying to drive this with the second part of the bill, and that is what the strategy is about.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 6:05 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba


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

Mr. Speaker, I too, like my other colleague, would like to commend the member for what has been a very bold initiative. I will leave an open-ended question if there anything further he would like to add to the importance of making changes of this nature that are very progressive in their thinking.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 6:05 p.m.
See context


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, all I want to add about this is that we have to remember this. Women who are seeking to get into these lines of work in these non-traditional jobs are already going out on a ledge or taking a step forward by trying to get into these professions. They are already facing obstacles by doing that alone. We as a government need to provide an incentive to make that easier for them so they do not have to be discouraged from getting into jobs they would traditionally not be seen to be in.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 6:05 p.m.
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Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to say from the outset that we support this private member's bill. We think this bill is important. We certainly would not describe this bill as coming in by the back door. This bill was introduced by a member of Parliament who was duly elected by his constituents. He came in here through the front door. We are pleased to welcome this bill through the front door, even though it is a private member's bill. To us there is no distinction to be made, contrary to what other colleagues may have said in the past. Private members' bills are important, and I like to reiterate that every chance I get.

On those fine words, we are in favour of this bill. I want to acknowledge the very positive way in which it was introduced. We have here a newly elected member of Parliament, much like myself, who took over from his predecessor in Kingston and the Islands and was privy to a situation that a person shared with him in his riding office.

People watching us on television think that parliamentarians argue all day long. That is simply not true. What we do here in the House is just one part of our work as MPs, because we work a lot in our ridings. In fact we spend more than half our time there. When we meet with Canadians, talk to them, and listen to them, we grasp the essence of our work. That is exactly what happened to the member for Kingston and the Islands. He met in his office with a constituent who had a concern, then he presented the concern here in the House by the front door and not the back door, and that is a good thing.

What is the bill about? The bill would let a woman take preventive leave and receive maternity benefits if her job could have a negative impact on her pregnancy. We must understand that this type of situation is becoming increasingly common. When I say that, I am not being negative, but constructive. That is today's reality.

A few decades ago we could not imagine there would be female welders, such as our colleague's constituent, but today we know that there are no gender-specific jobs. Every job is open to everyone. Men and women alike can do any job there is. However, this leads to situations, in welding for example, where workers are exposed to chemicals or have to do physically demanding work where they have to stand up, bend, stoop, and do other things that might have an impact on a pregnancy. We do not need to be doctors to know that. It is obvious that this is a cause for concern. That is why we are in favour of this bill.

It should be noted that this type of approach, preventive withdrawal, has been around in Quebec for years. I know what I am talking about because my riding is in Quebec.

I would like to share our concerns in that regard. We agree with the principle. I cannot emphasize that enough. We are going to vote in favour of the bill. I just want to reassure everyone of that. However, this bill clearly opens a door that could have significant financial implications. Similar legislation in Quebec has had such implications. I tried to determine exactly how much it costs. That is very difficult because it changes a lot over time. In Quebec, we know that 20% of pregnant women take preventive leave. They may include women who work in hair salons with certain chemicals or nurses who come into contact with sick people, obviously, or chemicals or medical products. They may also include teachers who use chalkboards and other products. We need to be aware that this measure could cost a lot of money. We need to be aware of that. We are talking about 20%, which means that one in five pregnant women in Quebec takes this sort of leave.

Recently, we have been talking a lot about Bill C-14, which, as members know, follows on similar legislation in Quebec. I have been reminded of the Quebec model many times in the past few hours.

To get back to the topic at hand, if the government were to model this system after Quebec's and one out of every five women were to take medical leave, that means 75,000 women would have access to this type of leave. We are not opposed to that. We need to be aware of this reality. However, this could end up costing an additional $245 million. We need to be aware of this. We need to take this into consideration. Either we believe in it or we do not. If we do, we need to do what is necessary.

Since this is a private member's bill that came through the front door, we need to recognize that it cannot have any financial implications. However, this bill could ultimately have some financial implications. We need to keep that in mind.

We completely agree with the other part of the bill, which proposes striking a committee and holding consultations with Canadians. Consultations seems to be a popular word these days. Consultations will help us get to the bottom of this issue, assess the situation, take a look at the Quebec experience, identify what works and what does not work, and learn from what is going on in Quebec, so that we can improve the approach.

I would remind members that we completely agree with the principle. We are cautious about the potential financial implications, and we are open to the discussions and conversations that we, as parliamentarians, need to have with all Canadians on this issue.

We believe in families and we believe that the government should assist families. We support that, but it needs to be done in a positive, constructive manner. We fully recognize that these days, there is no longer such a thing as men's work and women's work. All professions are open to everyone. This is what leads to improvements and enhancements to our laws, regulations and approaches regarding the maternity rights of all Canadian women.

Naturally, we want millions of children to be born here in this big, beautiful country.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 6:15 p.m.
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Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise in the House today to speak to the bill put forward by the member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands.

I want to begin by saying we appreciate the preamble of the bill, which praises Quebec's Programme Pour une maternité sans danger. We recognize that this program has successfully protected pregnant women in Quebec from workplace-related hazards and has been a step forward toward greater equality in the workplace.

While looking further into the bill it has come to our attention that the predecessor of the member for Kingston and the Islands also had an interest in such a bill. He had petitioned the government in order to raise awareness of the issue and called on the government to accommodate women working in high-risk environments. Perhaps the current member for Kingston and the Islands would be interested to know that his party actually voted against allowing women to benefit from the Programme Pour une maternité sans danger at the national level, given the fact they voted against an NDP bill that proposed creating the exact same Quebec arrangement at the national level.

As of now, there is inequity in Quebec between workers, as the women working in workplaces in the federal jurisdiction may not benefit from the program that exists in Quebec. We are quite troubled by the fact that the Liberals voted against a bill that was put forward by my colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie at the time in order to create such an important framework at the national level. I hope that this legislation is a first step toward correcting that mistake.

We support the principle of the bill, particularly the commitment to a national dialogue and a national strategy when it comes to ensuring that women can have safe pregnancies, no matter the work they do. However, we will be looking to committee, and we will certainly be working to propose much needed key changes at the committee stage.

As encouraged as we are by the sentiment put forward by our colleague from Kingston and the Islands, we are also worried by several items that are in the legislation. It is our understanding that the member of Parliament views the legislative changes as a first step, and that he understands that more will be required as the government moves forward with the national strategy and consultations. However, these legislative changes unfortunately would not bring any new benefit for the women that would choose to leave the high-risk environment in which they work. The changes to the Employment Insurance Act would allow for some limited flexibility, but they would also force women to choose between eliminating risk in their pregnancy and spending time with their newborn. This is no leap forward for greater equality.

The major issue with the bill is that when it comes to risky work, the onus is put on the employee, in this case the pregnant woman, rather than on the employer. This could have an adverse effect as employers would not have any incentive in finding risk-free tasks for workers who are pregnant. Employers might find it simpler to encourage their workers to go on maternity leave earlier, as they might see it more economically viable than finding new tasks for them. Such a scenario would actually go against the intention of the bill, in our opinion.

In fact, if we look to the program in Quebec, Pour une maternité sans danger, it is actually clear that it is an occupational health and safety measure and not a parental leave one. In Quebec, it is the employer's responsibility to provide a safe work environment for their workers, pregnant women included. The Quebec program does not end up costing women at risk any time in terms of their parental leave and it does not cost them any significant portion of their salary, which is not the case for EI. The program even existed before the parental leave scheme that was implemented in Quebec, and it was always seen as an occupational health and safety measure, funded through workers compensation.

The distinction here is important because there is a difference between being in an at-risk work environment and being on parental leave. This legislation does not seem to make that distinction.

The eligibility threshold to qualify for this measure in the bill is also disconcerting. As we all know, being eligible for EI in certain parts of the country can require a significant amount of time in the job market. This is particularly challenging for many women across Canada. This alone would disqualify many women from taking advantage of this measure.

Another question mark is that while women on parental leave are benefiting from EI, they are also depriving themselves from significant revenue.

We applaud the goals of the member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands with his private member's bill. We recognize that his goal is to enhance the services working women have access to when they are pregnant, and the fact that they deserve to work in a safe environment.

We are eager to bring this discussion to committee, and to improve the bill, with the insight witnesses will bring to the table. However, we would have wanted Quebec women working under federal jurisdiction to have access to the services other workers have.

We also hope that the national strategy will bind the government into enhancing the services women are expected to have when they are pregnant, and that it will help to relieve them of their obligation to work in high-risk environments. We will continue to raise our concerns on this matter.

We will work with those who have already made their concerns known, and we hope they will find an attentive ear on the other side.

I rise today to speak to Bill C-243, which creates a national strategy to help pregnant women who work in high-risk environments. The preamble of the bill applauds the positive impact of Quebec’s safe maternity experience program, which has similar goals, but does not allow Quebec women to take part in it.

The member opposite had good intentions with this bill. Perhaps he will be surprised to learn that his party failed to pass a previous bill on the same issue. The Liberal Party sided with the Conservative Party to vote down a bill that would have allowed Quebec women who work in a high-risk environment under federal jurisdiction to benefit from Quebec's safe maternity experience program.

The Quebec National Assembly unanimously supported the NDP's position. The member recognizes that his bill does not do everything he would like it to do, but it is still being introduced by the same party that said no to the women of Quebec. His bill will create two classes of workers in Quebec, even though, at the end of the day, he is trying to achieve what we had proposed in the previous Parliament.

High barriers to employment insurance eligibility will also affect access to the program envisioned by the member for Kingston and the Islands. Many female Canadian workers are not eligible for employment insurance, so they would not be eligible for this program despite being eligible for the Quebec program.

Another difference between the Quebec program and the member's proposal is the lack of incentives to reassign a pregnant employee. The Quebec program is rooted in workplace health and safety and the premise that the employer is responsible for ensuring a safe work environment for female employees.

If the employer cannot reassign a female worker to a safe job, her income will be topped up by the employer-funded occupational health and safety coverage. Employers are motivated to reassign employees rather than put them on preventive leave because they are the ones who pay for the program. Under the proposal put forward by the member for Kingston and the Islands, workers would bear the burden of funding the program. Female workers in risky workplaces will end up footing the bill for their employers' inability to guarantee them a safe work environment.

In conclusion, we believe that the member for Kingston and the Islands has identified a problem we need to consider, but his approach to solving that problem is far from ideal. The long-term measures he would like the government to implement depend on the goodwill of the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. The short-term measures he is proposing contain virtually nothing new for female workers in Canada. We hope that we will be able to do more. We will work with those who have already expressed their opposition, and we are eager to study and, of course, improve this bill in committee.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 6:25 p.m.
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Cape Breton—Canso Nova Scotia


Rodger Cuzner LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand in the House and make a contribution to the debate on my colleague's private member's bill.

As has been said already in the House, my colleague and new best friend from Louis-Saint-Laurent has indicated that not all private members' bills are created equal or come from the same place. Over the 16 years I have been here, I have had an opportunity to speak to a fairly wide range of private members' bills, some which were somewhat suspect.

In the last Parliament, there was a trend of thought that ran from coast to coast that maybe Bill C-525 and Bill C-377 may have had the PMO fingerprints on it. I can neither confirm nor deny that, but I have heard that before.

I have had an opportunity stand to speak on a number of occasions on private members' bills that have been presented and have been born from that relationship between a member of Parliament and one of the constituents that he or she represents, and that was the genesis of that private member's bill.

It is said that if leaders are to be successful, they have to earn the trust of the people they want to lead. One thing we know is that if we want to earn that respect, people have to understand that we care. People want to know how much we care before they care how much we know.

By taking an issue as important as the one addressed in this private member's bill, and investing the time and energy to develop private member's legislation around it, the member for Kingston and the Islands has to be commended. That happens in the House on occasion, and it is a great thing. All parties have members who have brought forward legislation that has come from the grassroots. On behalf of my colleagues, I want to commend the member for Kingston and the Islands for bringing this forward.

I have watched, with great nervousness and the collective knot we get in our stomach, what is going in Fort McMurray. I spent 10 years in Fort Mac. I worked at the GCOS, the Suncor plant on site for a number of years when I first went out there. Anybody who has ever had the opportunity to work in an industrial shop where welding is going one, where tradespeople are using cutting torches, or gouging torches or even just running a welding bead, has an appreciation for that whole environment.

There absolutely are labour laws around that, and about air quality, but people cannot help but know they are in a place where if they do not take precautions or if a piece of apparatus is not up to snuff, then it becomes a workplace of concern.

I have some comments specifically about the legislation before us today.

The health and safety of pregnant workers is an important issue with the government, and through Canada's employment insurance system, we continue to explore ways to support Canadians, including pregnant workers, when they need it most. Under the current El Act, pregnant women are eligible for a total of 15 weeks of maternity benefits. Maternity benefits are specifically intended to support a woman's income when she is out of the workforce to recover from the physical or emotional effects of pregnancy or childbirth.

Maternity benefits can start as early as 8 weeks before the birth, and must end no later than 17 weeks after the child is born. Depending on what suits the mother's situation, benefits can be spread out before and after the child is born.

Outside of Quebec, which administers its own parental insurance plan, El maternity benefits are a key policy and income support tool for mothers across Canada. In 2014-15, the El program paid over $1 billion in maternity benefits to nearly 170,000 claimants.

I should also point out that in addition to the EI maternity benefits that are available, only the federal jurisdiction and the Province of Quebec specifically offer preventative withdrawal job protection for pregnant and/or nursing women.

Federally regulated employees under the Canada Labour Code may request a reassignment based on medical advice. Once the request is made, the woman can take a leave with pay until the employer either accommodates her request for a reassignment or confirms that it would not be possible to do so. If a reassignment is not possible, the woman may take a leave of absence for the duration of the risk.

The Province of Quebec, as I indicated earlier, offers a similar provision for pregnant or nursing women, providing them the right to request reassignment to other duties, or if that is not possible, to take leave if their working conditions may be physically dangerous to their health or that of their unborn or nursing child.

Other provincial and territorial jurisdictions in Canada have workplace health and safety standards. However, the Canada Labour Code job protection for maternity leave varies across the country. The intent of the bill aligns well with our own intentions to make El more flexible, and consequently more helpful to all workers who face a period of unemployment, for whatever reason.

The bill also brings forward several other issues that remain to be examined, issues such as health and safety and gender equality in the workforce, as well as the notion that a woman's pregnancy could act as a barrier to full participation in the workplace and an impediment to career development.

These are some of the issues we intend to discuss in our upcoming consultations with members of the House, provincial and territorial governments, and other stakeholders, with the primary intention of developing more flexible parental benefits to meet the unique needs of current Canadian families. It is important to note that amending the El Act is a complex endeavour, and we want to ensure that we do it the proper way. Any changes to El 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.

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. For example, we have introduced the new Canada child benefit that will give Canadian families more money to help with the high cost of raising their children. With a maximum benefit of up to $6,400 per child under the age of six and up to $5,400 per child for those aged six through 17, it will be simpler, more generous, and better targeted to those who need the help. The child disability benefit is an additional $2,730.

We have made changes to the El system, going from a two-week waiting period to one week. We have made changes to the working-while-on-claim provisions within the EI system. We have enhanced the work-sharing agreements, doubling them to a maximum of 76 weeks, which most Canadians recognize as being very family friendly.

These are changes that we believe reflect the needs and demands of today's workforce and changes that Canadians have been asking for.

We have removed barriers to full gender equality in the workforce and have made progress in this regard. However, it is well-recognized that we have to do more. As announced yesterday, we will also amend the Canada Labour Code to allow men and women in the workplace to formally request flexible working arrangements.

I know that my time is running out. I would reiterate the fact that I am pleased to stand and speak to the bill today. I want to commend my colleague from Kingston for his work on this piece of legislation. We look forward to debating it further and working as a government to try to enhance the opportunity for all Canadians to play a fuller, richer, and more rewarding role in this country's workforce.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 6:30 p.m.
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John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to participate in the debate on Bill C-243.

I want to begin by thanking the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands for bringing this important issue to the House of Commons for debate. It is these types of issues, as my colleagues have touched upon, that I think are so important for us to discuss and debate in this House of Commons and work together on a collaborative approach to bills such as this.

My wife, Justine, and I have a young daughter. She is about 22 months old. We are expecting our second child later this month, so we have some experience with the employment insurance program, particularly as it relates to parental and maternity benefits. My wife is a nurse. She did have some challenges with the EI program when she was expecting our first child. The changes proposed in the bill, I think, are certainly welcomed by a number of people in demanding professions and careers.

As members know, the employment insurance program does provide 15 weeks in maternity benefits to qualified people. However, it does not allow this to occur any more than eight weeks prior to the date of confinement, the date of the baby's proposed birth.

For some mothers, there is the opportunity for 15 weeks of sickness benefits. This does help to bridge the gap in certain situations. However, as the member for Kingston and the Islands does correctly point out, pregnancy is not an illness and it should not be considered as an illness.

There is an opportunity here, with this bill, to explore alternative ways to assist expectant mothers, especially those who work in demanding and challenging careers.

I certainly appreciate, also, that the bill would take into account the different working conditions experienced by women, and that it would consider how a woman in these industries may need a degree of flexibility from the programs that government offers.

At the same time, the bill, at least the first part of the bill, would not effectively raise the costs of the employment insurance program. That is something that we on this side of the House can appreciate when we are debating this particular issue.

I think it is clear that many Canadian women have jobs in which their working conditions may have an impact on their own physical well-being or that of their unborn child.

Allowing expectant mothers to enjoy flexibility in the use of their 15 weeks of maternity benefits is an important recognition of the simple fact that not all working conditions are the same.

It further recognizes that the health and safety of expectant mothers and their unborn children is of paramount importance and that it is essential to protect them from harmful conditions caused by physical stress or exposure to harmful materials.

Many organizations have endorsed this bill, including Women Building Futures and the Office to Advance Women Apprentices. These organizations indicated that this bill would provide valuable support for women working in construction and the skilled trades.

Since my election as a member of this House, I have had many conversations with local labour market experts, employers, and skilled tradespeople about the shortage of skilled trades in our community and across the country. In particular, there is a shortage of women in the skilled trades. This shortage begins in high school and continues throughout the workforce.

This bill may not have a major effect on the long-term ability of the industry to attract women to the skilled trades, but it will not hurt. After all, in 2012, women held just 11.8% of construction jobs and only 19% of jobs in forestry, fishing, mining, oil, and gas. Anything we can do to encourage women to participate in “non-traditional” jobs is beneficial.

As it stands now, the employment insurance program effectively makes women working in physically demanding jobs choose between continuing to work under potentially unsafe working conditions, or go without pay for a period of eight weeks or more.

I think all hon. members would agree that this is a choice that no person should be forced to make and it is not fair to expectant mothers.

It is important to recognize that this bill, as written, does not increase the number weeks a woman can take of maternity leave.

It simply provides expectant mothers with the opportunity to choose when to begin their maternity benefits. It is worth noting as well that nothing in this bill prevents women from taking additional weeks of unpaid leave if they so choose.

I understand maternity benefits are an important aspect of supporting working women, but I also must be clear that, like all benefits, they must be affordable and they must be implemented in a sustainable way. That is why I encourage the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to carefully examine this bill during its clause-by-clause examination to ensure that the costs of the EI maternity benefits program are not materially or substantially increased.

Finally, this bill compels the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to conduct consultations on the development of a national maternity assistance program. The purpose of such a program would be to support women who are unable to work during pregnancy because of their working conditions and because their employer is unable to accommodate them or provide reassignment within the organization.

Again, I would encourage the minister to undertake this review with an understanding of the costs and long-term sustainability of the employment insurance program.

It is incredibly important that this House support all workers and, in this particular case, expectant mothers. It is important that women, especially those in demanding careers and in the skilled trades, have the flexibility to make the employment insurance program work for them.

I will be supporting this bill at second reading. I encourage all members to support it at second reading, so it can go to committee where the members can continue to hear witnesses and explore this important measure.

Again, I want to thank the member for Kingston and the Islands for his hard work on this bill and for bringing it forward to this House. I look forward to supporting it.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 6:40 p.m.
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Tracey Ramsey NDP Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-243, introduced by the member for Kingston and the Islands.

This bill is an important first step in addressing the needs of pregnant women who work in potentially hazardous environments. By allowing women working in dangerous jobs to begin using their maternity benefits earlier and by implementing a national maternity assistance program strategy, this bill will provide women with greater flexibility in the decision-making, and hopefully lead to implementation of an effective pan-Canadian strategy.

First, I would like to acknowledge the member opposite and his predecessor for listening to and being inspired to introduce this bill by their constituents. I know there will be important amendments made at the committee level, and I look forward to seeing them come to fruition.

Ms. Ballard, a resident of Kingston, Ontario, was forced to stop working early into her pregnancy because, as a welder, her work environment exposed her to potentially dangerous conditions. It is disappointing, but sadly not uncommon, to hear cases of expectant moms who are forced to take leave from their jobs without benefits because their workplaces are unable or unwilling to accommodate them.

Far too often women lose out on salary or benefits as a result of becoming pregnant, even after dedicating much of their time and hard work to their jobs. In most cases, it makes sense for an employer to accommodate a pregnant woman in this situation because doing so would allow her to work longer. An employer who is motivated to make accommodations and work together will likely have a positive impact on an employee's productivity.

Pregnancy is a special time in a woman's life. It is a time for planning, dreaming, and looking to the future, but it can be a time of worry and concern for the future: how to balance paying the bills while being on maternity or parental leave, or how she will take care of herself and her child during the pregnancy. It is no secret that some activities can indeed pose health and safety risks to pregnant women.

As outlined by Health Canada, activities that include standing for prolonged periods of time, lifting heavy loads, being exposed to certain chemicals, and being subject to loud noises or vibrations, to name a few, can negatively influence the health of a pregnant women. However, it is important to remember that pregnancy does not make women unsuitable for the types of jobs where they will be exposed to these activities. In fact, the opposite is true.

There is a real shortage of women in many workplaces, especially in STEM careers, science, technology, engineering, and math-related occupations. More work needs to be done to ensure that these workplaces encourage greater gender diversity and equality. As the OECD explains, when women participate in the workforce, individual industries and the economy as a whole benefit. This is why groups such as Canada's Building Trades Unions and the National Council of Women of Canada are supporting this bill.

The bill is also supported by many other groups that recognize that pregnancy should never be a barrier for women in the workplace. In my riding of Essex, as in all ridings, this equality is especially important. The Conference Board of Canada, in its “Winter 2016 Metropolitan Outlook”, highlighted the manufacturing and construction sectors as key sources of growth for the Windsor-Essex region. Manufacturing employment is expected to grow by about 3.1% annually for the next two years. Construction output is also expected to increase by 8.3%, as a result of the planned Gordie Howe international bridge. While there is plenty of new opportunity coming to my region in these two sectors, I hope that both men and women will benefit.

I know well how women feel. As a mother of two boys, now 13 and 15, I worked while pregnant in an auto assembly plant in Windsor, where I worked for 20 years. I remember working while pregnant with my first son, and another woman in the workplace was expecting too. We were working on an assembly line, and finding an accommodation when we needed to rest for a moment after hours of standing or go to the washroom at a moment's notice, not to mention the chemicals that we sometimes had to be around, was not always easy.

We advocated for each other and worked with management to find solutions. After all, we were not going to be pregnant forever. These solutions worked for us all.

It is important to understand that employers have an obligation to accommodate women when they are pregnant in the workplace. Unfortunately, I was not as lucky with my second pregnancy in only needing minimal accommodation. I had a riskier pregnancy that was landing me in the hospital weekly, and I was anxious and uncertain, not only about the health of my baby and myself, but also about my ability to work. I needed time off, and had a hard time finding accommodations that included being able to sit intermittently.

After another difficult hospital stay, I attempted to return to work again, only to find that my previous accommodations were not available to me. I was even more uncertain than ever about what to do. There were many anxious conversations at home and work about my health and ability to work in this environment with chemicals and a physically demanding job. I would go to work every day, uncertain about what job I could do, and would often push myself to try jobs I knew I could not perform, trying to be part of the solution, trying to stay working and balancing my health. It was exhausting and stressful.

Thankfully, my co-workers were kind and understanding, and fortunately I was a member of a union that had negotiated a sick and accident benefit for all of us. My supervisor, union rep, and I met about this issue, and it was offered to me to spend the rest of my pregnancy on this benefit. How lucky I was. I accepted, and remember going home and crying with relief as my husband, young son, and I had the ability to focus on my health and not worry about how we would pay the bills or how I would do my job. For my particular situation, this was a resolution. Employers, however, have a fundamental obligation to provide accommodation that should always be the first remedy.

I spent the remaining months visiting the hospital many times, but ultimately we were very fortunate to welcome our second completely perfect son, Maliq. I began my maternity leave and still had my full year of maternity benefits.

All women should have this provision available to them. I cannot help but think how unfair it is for other working women who struggle, finding themselves in similar situations without the ability to rest and take care of themselves. No family should have to go through that stress let alone when one is expecting.

For women to be encouraged to enter male-dominated jobs, such as STEM jobs, they need to be confident that they will not be left without income in the case their pregnancy is no longer compatible with their work environment or job responsibilities. They need greater flexibility as they make decisions balancing their work and family needs.

Quebec understands this well, as evidenced by its safe maternity experience program, which the NDP wants to see expanded to Quebec women in federally regulated workplaces. My colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has long been an advocate for this and put forward a private member's bill, which unfortunately was voted down in the previous Parliament.

The safe maternity experience program allows women the ability to request a temporary reassignment should their regular duties become a health risk due to a pregnancy. If reassignment is not possible, the women are able to preventively withdraw from work and receive 90% of the income they would have received. The Quebec program is an exceptional aid for women.

By removing the threat of losing income due to pregnancy, it helps break down barriers that women face when trying to become fully active members of the workforce. This program is more in line with how Canada should be addressing this issue. These maternity supports should be offered throughout workplace health and safety programs, and not through a parental leave program that compensates women through employment insurance benefits.

Bill C-243 would do little to address the gap between Canada's national program and what global leaders like France and Germany are doing. While extending the beginning eligibility date from which women working in a dangerous environment can begin maternity leave, the bill would leave the total amount of maternity leave unchanged. Both the percentage of income received and the total weeks that can be collected would remain the same. This simply changes the choices available to women about when to begin their leave. If a pregnant woman begins her leave early, it means she will have to go back to work early, and that could lead to costs and challenges of finding child care, especially for young infants where space is extremely limited.

In conclusion, I would like to restate my support for Bill C-243 with the amendments that will be welcomed at the committee level.

I encourage my colleagues on all sides of the House to support the immediate development and implementation of a national maternity assistance program that would better support women who are unable to work during their pregnancies.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 6:50 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from May 17 consideration of the motion that Bill C-243, An Act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

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