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National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy Act

An Act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits)

Sponsor

Mark Gerretsen  Liberal

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

Status

In committee (House), as of Oct. 26, 2016

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-243.

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 and to 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 she is unable to perform the duties of her regular or usual employment or of other suitable employment because her current job functions may pose a risk to her health or to that of her unborn child and her employer is unable to modify her job functions or reassign her to another job.

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

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.

Instruction to Committee on Bill C-243Routine Proceedings

April 11th, 2017 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am really disappointed in the questions that were posed by both NDP and Conservative members. The member for Calgary Nose Hill started off her comments by telling us that this debate was about procedure in the House. No. What this debate is about right now is whether a committee should travel and spend money in order to support legislation that I put forward, Bill C-243.

The member from the NDP who spoke last talked about respect. What about the respect that members should be paying to the people who would be affected by this bill? Is this the right way to treat legislation, as a vehicle to deliver another message and another motive that they have? I do not think so. The House should do the proper thing and move on from this discussion so we can have a proper vote on this.

Instruction to Committee on Bill C-243Routine Proceedings

April 11th, 2017 / 1:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has been a tireless advocate for issues affecting women, from pay equity on up, and is a wonderful member of our committee.

When it comes to extending leave, I am all about creating flexible options. I am not necessarily about giving away a zillion dollars to do it, but I think there are ways, such as the way Bill C-243 has sort of said when people can take the leave. I think some of the ideas that we heard on committee were from other countries that have a use it or lose it kind of philosophy. They have seen the uptake, and they have not really seen that both people are off at once. It is more sharing that load and stretching out the duration.

I am a fan of providing as many options as we can. We know that, especially in some types of jobs, union jobs and such, they have a legal contract that they have negotiated, and it is hard to put the flexibility in after the fact. If we could have anything from a legislative point of view that would provide that flexible framework, I think that would be better.

Instruction to Committee on Bill C-243Routine Proceedings

April 11th, 2017 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today and speak to my hon. colleague's motion. I am a little disappointed that I was not able to speak to what I was originally here to speak to, which was the motion regarding gender-based analysis, because I brought the report that our committee had done on it and I was prepared to talk about how the government has not followed up on any of those recommendations, but I will have to let that go, and instead focus on another very important issue.

In my role as chair of the status of women committee, as I sit and listen to the testimony, we are currently studying the economic status of women in Canada. Part of that discussion is as to how we take advantage of the 50% of the workforce that is really underutilized. How do we get more women on boards? How do we get more women into science, technology, my favourite which is engineering, and mathematics? As we look at this issue, we are hearing testimony about things that are barriers for women, things that are contributing to the systemic discrimination that exists against women in industries of all kinds, and things that need to be fixed in order to facilitate women being more free to take advantage of these jobs.

One of the topics we have heard about is maternity leave, and the whole issue of if women are in a situation where they are in an industry where there are hazards or it is the kind of work that would impact them in their pregnancy, that we have the flexibility to address that. Also there should be the ability to allow flexibility in who takes the leave and how long the leave is.

We have heard testimony from other countries where they have done a good job in sensitizing the other parent to take leave with a “use it or lose it” kind of philosophy. We have seen where that has been effective in other countries in increasing the ability of women to have a greater percentage of participation in the workforce. We look at the kinds of bills such as Bill C-243 that are brought forward. This was a great idea. It was really not costing any more. It was just providing that extra flexibility to start the leave earlier, if needed. Certainly we saw it was well received by most people in the House, maybe not by the cabinet, but all those folks who are trying to do the right thing for Canada were right behind the bill.

We think about the barriers that exist for women with respect to maternity leave. I know for myself, I was working as an engineer with global responsibilities when I was having my children. Members can appreciate that I was flying all over the world at all hours of the day and night and being exposed to dengue fever, malaria, and I could go on about the hazards that I endured personally. Then there is trying to actually take time off. What is the company supposed to do with an individual's job? Legally a company has to leave an individual's job or an equivalent there, but as an individual rises to positions on boards and positions that are very responsible, that is a very difficult thing to do logistically. When we think about producing more flexibility in maternity leave, that would give women who are in high-power positions the ability potentially to have their spouses take that leave.

Another thing that is very concerning which we heard in testimony at our committee was regarding who can actually take advantage of maternity leave. If a woman does not qualify for EI in the first place, she may not be able to receive the benefit that she really wants to get. We did hear that a disturbingly high percentage of women who, because of the nature of the precarious work they are in, or because they are not able to get enough hours to have the minimum qualification, face a lot of barriers that have an impact on them.

Then there are the attitudes in the workplace. I remember when I was the engineering manager at Suncor and had quite a large staff, one of the staff announced to all of her fellow engineers that she was planning to have six children. There should not be anything wrong with somebody wanting to have six children, but the attitude that caused over time eventually forced the company to get rid of the woman, because it was known that she would keep taking maternity leave and it would keep being difficult. Those are the kinds of things that can contribute to systemic discrimination against women that we do not want to see at all.

The parental leave provisions that came out in budget 2017 have not really addressed this issue of maternity leave. I think it is worth having the committee look in more detail to see what else can be done, because the parental leave provisions that were put in the budget really stretch out the same amount of money over 18 months, so people would really only get 33% of their salary. No one can realistically afford to live on that. It pretty much takes two parents nowadays to get by.

Certainly, the committee has a job to do in looking into this in depth and hearing from people across Canada talk about what they would like to see in maternity leave, and potentially even consulting with countries that are doing it better than we are.

The government currently consults super broadly when it wants to consult, but the rest of the time it does not. This is an example where it wants to not have this kind of consultation happen. Where was the consultation with credit unions when it introduced all of the latest restrictions there? Where was the consultation with youth when it increased the down payment requirement to 20% to get a first-time mortgage? Where was the consultation with the oil and gas industry when it put its policies in place to basically drive the industry south? The government needs to apply consultation a bit more evenly when it is going to consult, needs to actually consult on everything and then take action on that.

The other thing I want to talk about, which my colleague did not talk about, is that the motion talks about getting permission to travel across Canada. I have a difference of opinion with my colleague when he speaks about going from coast to coast to coast. I always think of things in terms of budget, so I can imagine how much it would cost for the committee to be flying all over the place. I sit on the liaison committee, and I am astounded to see the way the travel budget is administered here in government, as opposed to what happens in private business. The way private businesses develop their travel budget is that either they have a historical perspective of what has been spent or they have plans for the year and know how much travel is estimated to be associated with that. They put together a budget and then stick to the budget.

I was astounded to find out that we put together the initial budget, and I guess the budget had never been fully spent in the last 10 or 12 years of Parliament, but all of a sudden, this year, the first year of government, we ended up overspending the budget immediately. The committee just came and said it wanted a supplement of $800,000 on a $1.2 million budget. It was incredible. It would never happen in private industry. Certainly, we need to consult, but it needs to be balanced and it needs to be planned. Subsequent to that supplement, it came again and asked for another supplement of $650,000. It is not as if the well is just continually there and committees can just keep spending the taxpayers' money without having any need to be held fiscally responsible.

Therefore, when it comes to travel, I would like to see the committee consult, but I would like committee members to focus their efforts on areas where there are programs going on or things happening that are good, and on areas where there is particularly nothing or great difficulty with maternity benefits.

I am not sure where this motion will fit into the priorities of the HUMA committee, because I am also sensitive to the fact that it has a lot of things on its roster. There are things that we have also been talking about in our status of women committee that are important for the economic benefit of women. I would not want to see the focus on shelters or on affordable housing, which also are having an impact, dropped off the committee. Therefore, I appreciate the fact that they have narrowed it down to the five days of the committee. That is appropriate. Hopefully, the committee will give it the priority that is needed.

To summarize my points, when it comes to trying to figure out how to get more women into positions of power in the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and math, we have to figure out how to make our policies more flexible. One of those policies is maternity leave. There have been some interesting ideas. Bill C-243 is one of those great ideas that we should go forward with. However, it is worth looking into what else we could do that would help these women.

Instruction to Committee on Bill C-243Routine Proceedings

April 11th, 2017 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley—Aldergrove, BC

Mr. Speaker, my NDP colleague has worked very hard with us in the HUMA committee and I want to thank her for her good work. I also want to thank her for being a mom. Mother's Day is not that far away. If we did not have moms, we would not be here. We need moms and we need to protect moms.

The member has brought up a very important point. It is not just welding. That is what Bill C-243 is focusing on: women who are in high-risk vocations like welding and the contaminants in the air involved with welding. We heard testimony that any strenuous job could jeopardize a pregnancy.

The Liberal way is to create optics of a narrow list of people who would qualify for this extra protection, but the committee heard that it is not just welding, that it can be any job where there is strenuous activity involved. We need to protect moms no matter what they are doing. If a woman is pregnant, she is at risk. We need to protect and help her.

Instruction to Committee on Bill C-243Routine Proceedings

April 11th, 2017 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley—Aldergrove, BC

moved:

That it be an instruction to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities that, during its consideration of Bill C-243, An Act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits), the Committee be granted the power to travel throughout Canada to hear testimony from interested parties and that the necessary staff do accompany the Committee, provided that the travel does not exceed five calendar days.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Sarnia—Lambton, a very hard-working member of the House. I appreciate her participation.

It is really important that we give Canadians an opportunity to be consulted. Since the Liberal government was elected, we have seen a lot of smoke and mirrors and heard a lot of announcements about consultation and a lot of plans and strategies have been laid out, but people are not listened to. We see that in the House and we also see it in our country.

Bill C-243 deals with maternal health. It also talks about listening to Canadian women who have chosen to have a baby and the challenges that they face. We have had two meetings so far, and the witnesses we heard from gave us a lot of important new information. We heard about the challenges that women face while pregnant. We also heard once from departmental officials, which is quite normal, and then in two following meetings we heard from other witnesses.

It is important that we expand that meeting to include travel. The motion that we are debating now is important.

What we heard from the officials was that the maternal health programs are not working. Women find themselves in need of that support, but they cannot apply for maternal health benefits until the actual delivery of their baby. Women told us that if they could fill out the forms ahead of time, it would greatly help them, but the government has said they have to wait, and this causes a delay.

The Liberal government, which is famous for delay, is okay with that, but Canadians are not happy. They want women and families to be protected, and if women qualify for these benefits, they should be able to get them without any delay, so it has been suggested that they be able to apply for those benefits before they deliver their baby.

The benefits would not take effect until the child was delivered. This would not cost the government anything. The government would face no additional costs. However, the benefits would be provided in a timely fashion to the mothers.

Many of the women that we heard from were new mothers who had gone through their first pregnancy, but we also heard from mothers who had gone through many pregnancies. One mother we heard from had gone through five pregnancies.

Women do not qualify for these maternity benefits unless they have been working. My wife and I have five children, and I asked the mom with five children if each of her pregnancies had been the same. She said no. We know all pregnancies can be different. The challenges and the expenses associated with a pregnancy can be different, so we need to be flexible with respect to the help we can provide.

We heard from many moms that finances are a barrier to many women considering having children. We heard from the trades, the welding trade in particular, that more women are needed in these trades, but because of the financial barriers, they are not considering that trade. Women in the welding trade told us that the first trimester is when the unborn child is at the highest risk, and in some cases, the women may not even be aware that they are pregnant.

We need to make sure that women are protected and that their unborn children are protected, and that will only happen if we give Canadian women the opportunity to testify at committee.

We also heard from the experts that if we do not make the workplace safe for women, and if we do not adapt and listen to them, then women will not be able to be engaged in these other vocations, which they are very capable of doing. We need to listen to Canadian women. This will only happen if we give Canadian women an opportunity to speak.

We also heard about some of the challenges Canadian women face especially in the last three months of a pregnancy. We heard that they have to buy a new car seat. We have five children and 10 grandchildren. When we had our children many years ago, there were not the associated costs that there are today. When we brought our first child home from the hospital, the hospital gave us a nice little cardboard box with decorations on it. That is not the case anymore. People have to buy a brand new car set, not a used one, because without knowing the history of the car seat, it may not be safe. Everybody has to buy a car seat. There are different types of car seats, and in very short order one goes from the snap-in, carriage-type of car seat to a rear-facing car seat. It is not just one car seat that is needed, because in very short order another type of car seat will be needed, as well as a stroller, a crib, and all the supplies. We heard from some Canadian women that maybe the child benefit should start in that last trimester.

We heard of women who needed physiotherapy in that last trimester because they were very uncomfortable. If they did not have insurance to cover the costs of that, it was a very expensive experience. There are women who have multiple children. One witness had five children and was unable to get full benefit of the maternity benefits.

If we are to truly help Canadian women who have decided to have a baby, we need to give them the opportunity to speak. The only way that can happen is by having them engage with the human resources committee, HUMA. Strangely, it was the self-proclaimed family-friendly cabinet that voted against Bill C-243. Fortunately, the bill is at HUMA and is proceeding because the majority of members in this Parliament supported Bill C-243. A number of the Liberal caucus members felt that it was a good bill and disagreed with the Prime Minister and thought that it should go to committee. It is at committee and is proceeding, which is what Canadian women want, and it will proceed for a very short period of time. Women should not be denied the opportunity to be involved with what the Liberals call conversation or dialogue, which will only happen if we make it available to them. We know the cabinet does not support it and does not want it to happen. However, I believe that a majority of the Liberal caucus members will support this, and will support giving Canadian women the opportunity to speak and educate us, because most of us do not know what it is like to be pregnant and to have a child. I was just an observer and supporter of my wife through those pregnancies. We need to listen and to be involved. We need to engage.

I think it is a good motion. It promotes true dialogue and true listening, which will only happen if we give Canadian women this opportunity by travelling to different cities. Often the west coast is ignored. I am from British Columbia. I encourage us to travel, to travel to Vancouver and its outlying areas, and from coast to coast to coast in Canada. We need to listen to Canadian women. If we listen and understand how we can help them, it will help Canadian women who are giving birth to have those opportunities and not have the financial barriers they have now. By listening to them, we can make it possible for them to have a wonderful pregnancy, and a wonderful time raising their children. In that first year after delivery, it is so important that the child experience the nurturing that can only come from having a parent there.

I hope the House will support this motion. I think it is a reasonable motion.

April 6th, 2017 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Yes, indeed. It is interesting that you are telling us about integrated systems. As members of this committees, that is something we are focused on. We went all across Canada for our study on poverty. Personally, I believe that this vision also applies to our consideration of Bill C-243. Wherever we went, people talked to us about how important it is for different levels of government to work together better.

In Quebec, in the last few years, we have seen a mini baby boom. We cannot say that it is linked to the CSST's idea of preventive withdrawal. We cannot say that it is directly linked to more accessible day care. Conditions are favourable for women because of a combination of factors. Just now, it was mentioned that it is now possible to choose parental leave of 18 months at 33% of the salary without penalty. My colleague, who knows more about pension schemes than I do, used the example of a mother of five children. In the course of her career, if a woman has a number of 18-month periods during which she only gets 33% of her salary, her retirement income will be cut one day. We have to look at this globally.

It is interesting that you were talking about an integrated global vision, because things are not going to be settled in isolation.

April 6th, 2017 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question goes to Ms. Vasseur.

We received a brief from UNICEF Canada recommending that Bill C-243 be accompanied by federal legislation. It would provide for a new benefit, separate from the employment insurance program, and intended for pregnant women who cannot remain in their positions because of dangerous working conditions. It could be similar to the one provided in Quebec.

As I was saying earlier, and as Ms. Ballard also rightly said, Service Canada people could not handle it. In Quebec, public health authorities evaluate the risk posed by the work environment. A public health doctor makes a recommendation to the doctor looking after the pregnancy.

In Bill C-243, we are dealing with “calendar weeks”. This is the same situation after the changes in the recent budget that provided for 12 weeks of maternity benefits before the due date.

A witness came to our last meeting and told us that, in Quebec, workers who take preventive withdrawal in the last 15 weeks of pregnancy are in the minority.

In some workplaces, the first 20 weeks of pregnancy are when those working with small children are exposed to viruses. In some occupations, the baby is least protected in the first trimester.

In your view, should our approach be calculated on the basis of the risks rather than on a “calendar” approach?

April 6th, 2017 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Long Liberal Saint John—Rothesay, NB

As I said, I want to get a feel for the overall support among witnesses for a bill like Bill C-243. Can you elaborate a bit on how this bill would change things for potential new females entering the workforce and looking at opportunities in trades like electrical, welding, or what have you?

Again, I'll just reference my friend. She is from Saint John. She is a welding inspector now, but she came up through the trade and often lamented that she was the only female there. She is still talking about barriers and stuff.

But let's go back to how Bill C-243 would change the game.

April 6th, 2017 / 12:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Long Liberal Saint John—Rothesay, NB

Thank you, Chair.

Again, thanks for the testimony.

Melodie, if you could, can you just give us a brief summary of the welding trade, the wage you make, the possible increase in wages you could have if you had a prolonged career and just elaborate on, with the proper support of a bill like Bill C-243, how women could really have a long, healthy career in a trade such as welding.

Can you just give me some details on that.

April 6th, 2017 / 12:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

If Bill C-243 were to be tweaked in any way, Judy, how would you tweak it? Would you make the benefits longer in terms of weeks, or how would you tweak it as is? That's what we're really doing here today.

April 6th, 2017 / 12:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Thanks to you all for appearing at our committee today about Bill C-243.

First of all, Anna, you mentioned a few statistics. You're part of a pro-life organization. I'm pro life myself. You're not here to talk about that necessarily, but it links into the issue. I was really struck by the number of 20,000 that you gave us. You say that one of the reasons that ladies make decisions to have an abortion is because of finances, which to me is absolutely tragic. It's a sad statement.

Go ahead, Anna.

April 6th, 2017 / 12:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all the witnesses for the testimony.

My question will be for JudyLynn. During your presentation, you discussed attracting more women to the workforce. Similarly, we heard Melodie making three points. First, she is interested in attracting more women into the jobs that are being done by men—into male-dominated jobs.

My question is this. Do you think that this Bill C-243 with this development of the national maternity assistance program study will attract more women into the workforce?

April 6th, 2017 / 12:05 p.m.
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President, National Council of Women of Canada

Karen Dempsey

I wouldn't use the word “downgrade”. That's certainly not what I meant.

As I said, it was part of Bill C-243 that if a woman in a hazardous position could be kept in her job or be given another job with her company but in a less hazardous position, then it would be a good solution if she could remain working and stay in the workforce for as long as possible. That said, I referred to the fact it might not be that easy for someone who is skilled in a particular job to switch to another job, which is not to say that a secretary, receptionist, or whoever is not skilled. It's just a totally different skill set. I have worked as a secretary, as a receptionist, and as a teacher, so I'm certainly not downgrading those positions. I just meant that it's a totally different skill set, so it may not be possible. Even if an employer wants to be as accommodating as possible, it just may not be possible to accommodate an employee and to put them in a different position that is less hazardous. In that case, she would have no other choice but to go on maternity leave, which is what Melodie did.

April 6th, 2017 / noon
See context

President, National Council of Women of Canada

Karen Dempsey

I'm not all that familiar with the situation in Quebec. However, I think anything that would help the situation would certainly be a great boon to working women.

In my speaking notes I mentioned the hazardous conditions. Those were originally addressed in Bill C-243, and were the reason that Melodie, for example, needed time off or to exit the workforce. In the bill it did mention that if the employer could find other duties for the employee that were less hazardous, that would be preferable because then she could still remain in the workforce. However, if you're a skilled tradesperson, that's probably going to be very difficult for the employer to do. You can't just go from being a welder to being a receptionist or a secretary, or an HR person—whatever. You're a skilled person and you can't transition into something else that easily.

Maybe if EI could be combined with the provincial programs, as you were saying, that would certainly be a good solution. I think you're asking for some onus to be put on the employer. The employer has a stake in this. If the employer were to step up to the plate, as it were, and contribute so there is a preventive withdrawal system, that might be a very good solution.

I don't know. Does that answer your question?

April 6th, 2017 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley—Aldergrove, BC

Mr. Chair, I didn't want to interrupt the testimony or the questions, but the focus of Bill C-243 is on how we can help women who are already in the workforce. I think the questions just asked would be really appropriate for a future study of this committee, but in the limited time that we have to discuss this, we need to stay focused on Bill C-243 and how we can help women who are already in the workforce and are now pregnant. Therefore, I encourage us to stay focused on Bill C-243.