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.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2016 / 7:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I know I only have four or five minutes for my speech, so I will try to be as fast as I can.

Does this bill represent progress? Yes, it represents a small step forward, but any weeks taken ahead of time will only be taken back afterwards. Thus, anything more you get now, you have to give back later.

We keep hearing about the safe maternity experience program, and we have to ask ourselves whether the measure proposed in this bill compares to that program. It most definitely does not. For instance, when it comes to eligibility, a woman can get a preventive withdrawal any time during the pregnancy with a medical certificate and when the employer cannot find other suitable work. That could happen at five weeks, and about 90% of her salary is covered. Quebec's preventive withdrawal program is therefore far more effective.

Under the QPIP, a person is allowed to earn $2,000 during the qualifying period. Of course, if you earn only $2,000, the benefits will not be as high. What is more, the main focus of the safe maternity experience program is to relocate the workers. In fact, the benefits are not as high when the employer manages to relocate the workers. In the case of employment insurance, the employer has no interest in keeping an employee who is unable to perform all her tasks. People are therefore being forced into employment insurance.

The safe maternity experience program does an analysis of each job. A worker with three jobs might have one where she is reassigned, one where she is in preventive withdrawal, and one where she continues to work as though she were not pregnant because there is no impact in this case. In order to receive employment insurance benefits a woman with three or four jobs would have to give them all up, or she would be penalized for working. Also, as I said, one of the big problems has to do with preventive withdrawal. A woman can go on preventive withdrawal as soon as she becomes pregnant. She is covered for her entire pregnancy if the job is too dangerous. Under employment insurance, a woman has to wait until her 25th week of pregnancy. The highest risk for miscarriage occurs precisely in the period during which she has to work if she wants to keep earning an income and survive during this time. There are also problems when it comes to benefits and the lack of coverage.

The Quebec program is much better designed and more advantageous. This bill makes some progress, but it is a far cry from the other program. We should take a look at what Quebec does and ensure that women will not have to choose between continuing to work to survive and to eat, and risking having a miscarriage, and staying at home with all that entails for living conditions.

Sometimes it takes women 10 to 15 years to get pregnant. After 15 years of trying, these women are told they are pregnant and they are not entitled to anything. They have to continue working even though they have waited 15 years to become pregnant, or they can go home and live on no money.

Therefore, the problem has not been solved. We should really introduce a program modelled after the safe maternity experience program for employees under federal jurisdiction. Women would really be the winners.

I am pleased to have been able to use the few remaining minutes in the debate.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2016 / 7:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank all my colleagues who spoke to my private member's bill, Bill C-243, both today and in the first hour of debate that took place a number of months ago.

I also want to give great thanks to Melody, the welder in my community who inspired the bill and her now 16-month-old son, Ezra. I understand they are sitting in my constituency office in Kingston watching this. I believe it is past Ezra's bedtime right now, but maybe this is a special occasion for him.

I also want to thank the over 20 organizations, both those that specialize in getting women into the workforce and into particular sectors of the workforce, and the much broader group of organizations, such as the Engineers of Canada, and the various other organizations that saw merit in the bill and decided to support it.

There are really two parts to the bill. It was structured in this way because as a private member's bill, certain costs were not allowed to be incurred in the bill. Quite frankly, in this regard, all three of my NDP colleagues who spoke to it raised the issue of the bill not going far enough. I could not agree with them more: it does not go far enough.

However, with the first part of the bill I was able to specifically address a short-term fix to the employment insurance system to create a bridge toward a more fulsome, long-term solution.

Let me be absolutely clear. There will be no additional cost to the EI system from implementing the bill. It would solely move some of the EI funds that a woman would get after giving birth and transfer them to her before she gave birth. That is all it would do. It would not create any new costs.

The other part of the bill that goes beyond that deals with having a strategy, talking about what we are doing in other parts of the country, particularly in Quebec. I appreciate my NDP colleagues bringing that up. In Quebec there is an extremely good maternity assistance program.

I want to look at how we can take that program and make it more holistic, coming from the perspective of a national strategy. That was always the intention with the second part of the bill, to have that discussion so we could go further and make recommendations to the government for realistic long-term changes and long-term solutions for this.

I want to thank my colleagues who have contributed to the debate. I remind people that this is about creating opportunities for women which do not currently exist.

A woman, Melody from my riding, should not have to choose between being a welder and having a family. We live in one of the best countries in the world, if not the best, and I cannot see a reason why we cannot be performing and making sure we have the right tools and policies in place to take proper care of women so that when they choose to get involved in a line of work, they do not have to consider if it will be hazardous to their health if they then choose to become pregnant and have a family.

Again, I thank everyone who took the time to invest some research into the bill to contribute to the debate, and I hope I can ask all members of the House to support the bill when it comes up for a vote next week.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2016 / 5:50 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 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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Liberal

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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Liberal

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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NDP

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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Liberal

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

Liberal

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.
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Liberal

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.
See context

Conservative

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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NDP

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

Liberal

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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Conservative

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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NDP

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 ActRoutine Proceedings

February 26th, 2016 / 12:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-243, An Act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits).

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce my private member's bill. This bill has two parts to it.

The first part seeks to amend our Employment Insurance Act to provide more flexibility to females who become pregnant and work in hazardous employment conditions.

The second part calls on the government to form a national strategy with respect to maternity assistance that respects the labour market of today and, in particular, a labour market that is more demanding of women to work in employment that may have hazardous conditions.

The bill was inspired a constituent of mine, Melodie Ballard. Melodie is a welder in my community. When she became pregnant, she suffered extreme hardships financially as a result of not having an employment insurance system that could accommodate the fact that she worked in hazardous conditions.

It is a pleasure to present the bill today. I believe the bill would have national impacts and could help with the changing labour markets in Canada.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)