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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 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.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

March 23rd, 2017 / 3:10 p.m.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

It being 3:14 p.m., pursuant to order made on Friday, March 10, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion to concur in the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities concerning the extension of time to consider Bill C-243.

Call in the members.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development, and the Status of Persons With DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

March 8th, 2017 / 3:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Bryan May Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development, and the Status of Persons With Disabilities in relation to Bill C-243, an act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits).

Pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, the committee requests a 30-day extension to consider the bill.

Employment Insurance Act—Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

December 6th, 2016 / 10:05 a.m.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on November 23, 2016, by the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-243, an act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits), standing in his name.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands for having raised this important matter as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. member for Essex, the hon. member for Cambridge, and the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for their comments.

This bill is intended to provide for the development and implementation of a national maternity assistance program strategy and to amend the Employment Insurance Act. It is the latter portion of the bill that is at issue in the present case.

The purpose of clauses 6 and 7 of the bill is to allow a pregnant woman to claim employment insurance benefits if she has obtained a certificate, completed by a medical doctor, attesting that she is unable to perform the duties of her regular or usual employment or of other suitable employment, because the job functions may pose a risk to her health or to that of her unborn child.

Under the present regime of the Employment Insurance Act, any pregnant woman could have access to pregnancy benefits for a total of 15 weeks starting, at the earliest, eight weeks before her due date. The decision on when to begin receiving benefits is entirely up to the applicant, and the act is silent as to any governing reasons or criteria. The bill would provide access to these benefits starting 15 weeks before the due date if there is a health risk due to the claimant's work environment.

In other words, the claimant, instead of claiming eight weeks of benefits before her baby was born and seven weeks after, could claim the entire 15 weeks prior to the birth of the child.

The member for Kingston and the Islands argued that Bill C-243 does not need a royal recommendation, since the effect of the bill would not result in an increase of the amount of benefits paid or an increase of the benefit period or of the number of weeks an individual is entitled to claim, nor would it change the eligibility requirements to make employment insurance benefits accessible to more claimants.

Since the bill would simply shift the existing entitlements, any cost associated with the changes would be merely operational. His central argument was that protecting maternal health is already a function of maternity benefits, and since the bill aims at achieving the same result through existing entitlements, it cannot be considered to be creating a new function.

He went on to indicate that since “applicants are already permitted to take benefits during their pregnancy, up to eight weeks prior to their due date, [it] is strong evidence that maternal health and maintaining a safe pregnancy are existing purposes of maternity benefits”.

The member for Essex, the member for Cambridge, and the member for Perth—Wellington indicated in their interventions that they supported these arguments.

The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader argued that the royal recommendation attached to the Employment Insurance Act covers not only the charges envisioned by the act but also the terms and conditions of each benefit. He stated that “altering when a person is eligible to receive a benefit under the Employment Insurance Act, even if the change to the benefit would not increase the overall charge, would constitute an alteration to the terms and conditions”.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 834 states that:

A royal recommendation not only fixes the allowable charge, but also its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications. For this reason, a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is significantly altered. Without a royal recommendation, a bill that either increases the amount of an appropriation, or extends its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications is inadmissible on the grounds that it infringes on the Crown’s financial initiative.

In the present case, it is clear, as the sponsor of the bill argued, that there is no increase in the overall amount of benefits. The shifting of the time period would have no bearing on the total amount of money disbursed.

However, in these matters, the cost is not the only factor. The question for the Chair is whether or not the changes proposed would significantly alter the objects, purposes, conditions, and qualifications of the benefits such that they would require a royal recommendation.

On May 8, 2008, Speaker Milliken delivered a ruling that can be found at page 5587 of Debates, on Bill C-490, an act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments). While the bill clearly provided for increases in supplements, it also made changes in the manner in which people applied for benefits and the extent to which qualified persons could claim benefits retroactively. In Speaker Milliken’s view, this:

...would alter the conditions and qualifications that were originally placed on public spending on old age security payments when those benefits were approved by Parliament.

As I have reminded the House on a number of occasions, funds may only be appropriated by Parliament in the manner and, as explicitly stated in Standing Order 79(1), for purposes covered by a royal recommendation.

In this case, Bill C-243 does not impose any new charge on the public treasury but creates a new set of conditions, relating to the safety of their workplace for their pregnancy, under which pregnant women could have access to benefits related to their pregnancy from as early as 15 weeks before the birth of their child. Though the sponsor of the bill argues otherwise, the Chair is not convinced that the current act allows spending under the circumstances, in the manner, and for the purposes he proposes. This being a circumstance not yet envisioned in the Employment Insurance Act, it infringes on the terms and conditions of the initial royal recommendation that accompanied that act and therefore requires now a new royal recommendation. This remains the case, even if the total amount of benefits stays the same.

Consequently, the Chair will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

Bill C-243—National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPoints of Order

November 28th, 2016 / 11:05 a.m.
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Liberal

Bryan May Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with regard to private member's bill, Bill C-243. I submit to you that the bill does not require a royal recommendation. I want to congratulate my colleague from Kingston and the Islands for his comprehensive speech in the House last week. His arguments were persuasive and correct, in that the question before you is whether or not Bill C-243 would change the purpose or create a new function of EI maternity benefits, more specifically show that protection of the mother and her unborn child is an existing function of the current program. As it stands, outside of the province of Quebec, maternity benefits can be and are frequently used for the purpose of protecting the mother and unborn child when her work environment is hazardous. In fact, this is precisely why benefits can be taken eight weeks before the birth. This is a long-established practice.

The member for Kingston and the Islands also addressed the issue of the terms and conditions of EI maternity benefits, and showed that these terms and conditions are not relaxed by Bill C-243. There is no doubt that you have a difficult task in front of you. It is a complex topic, and parts of the bill are clearly in a grey area when it comes to royal recommendation. I urge you to carefully consider all the arguments put forward on this matter, in addition to the will of the House, which was expressed so forcefully by 231 members who supported Bill C-243.

Bill C-243—Employment Insurance ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

November 25th, 2016 / 12:10 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 rise today to address the issue that was raised this week by the member for Kingston and the Islands regarding the private member's item, Bill C-243, and the reasons why, in his view, said bill would not require a royal recommendation.

In his intervention, my hon. colleague provided many arguments that dealt with the benefits, what constituted a new and distinct expenditure, and also the eligibility requirement.

On page 834, of the second edition of House of Commons Procedures and Practices, it states:

A royal recommendation fixes not only the allowable charge but also its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications.

On page 183, of the 6th edition of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules & Forms, it states:

...an amendment infringes the financial initiative of the Crown not only if it increases the amount but also if it extends the objects and purposes, or relaxes the conditions and qualifications expressed in the communication by which the Crown has demanded or recommended a charge.

As with the case, when a bill proposes amendments to the Employment Insurance Act respecting the benefits provided under that act, the royal recommendation is attached not only to the charge but also to the terms and conditions of the benefits. The royal recommendation is attached to each term and condition of every benefit.

There is not a general appropriation that covers the specific objects and purposes of the benefits in the EI Act. A change to a benefit would result in a change to the terms and conditions of the provisions of the statute which governs the benefit. In other words, altering when a person is eligible to receive a benefit under the Employment Insurance Act, even if the change to the benefit would not increase the overall charge, would constitute an alteration to the terms and conditions of the benefit and thus would need to be accompanied by a new royal recommendation. I submit this is the case with respect to Bill C-243.

Bill C-243--Employment Insurance ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

November 23rd, 2016 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Tracey Ramsey NDP Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, speaking to my own experience in this particular situation in the workplace, I support the comments made by the hon. colleague and echo his position that the bill should not require a royal recommendation. Women already have the ability to begin using their maternity leave benefits while pregnant. This bill would allow them to begin using these benefits even earlier. Therefore, I do not see how this would create any new function.

While the bill may not be the ideal solution for women and their families, they need the flexibility to make the best choices for their health and well-being. They already have some flexibility, so again I do not see how granting them more flexibility would change the purpose of the maternity leave benefits.

I thank my hon. colleague for rightfully pointing out that the question before you, Mr. Speaker, is whether Bill C-243 would change the purpose of or create a new function for maternity benefits. Clearly the function already exists.

Bill C-243--Employment Insurance ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

November 23rd, 2016 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Tracey Ramsey NDP Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on the same point of order as the member for Kingston and the Islands.

I spoke in support of my colleague's Bill C-243 at second reading, where I stated that this bill is an important first step in addressing the needs of pregnant women who work in potentially hazardous environments.

I believe this bill should move forward to the committee stage. Frankly, I was surprised to see the sponsor's own party and Prime Minister opposing this bill. They say they need to consult more before they can support the initiative. That sounds ridiculous.

Feminist agendas include expectant women. 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 a pan-Canadian strategy.

It is also important to note that employers carry the obligation of accommodation if that reflects the needs of the women who are expecting in their workplace.

I also spoke about my own experience with a high-risk pregnancy while working on an auto assembly line, and the challenges—

Bill C-243--Employment Insurance ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

November 23rd, 2016 / 3:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to contribute arguments as to why my private member's bill, Bill C-243, would not infringe upon the financial initiative of the crown and therefore would not require a royal recommendation.

I appreciate the time of this House to present these arguments. As you know, Mr. Speaker, this is the only opportunity I have to do it, and I have to do it orally to get it on the record, so I apologize in advance for the time it will take to do that.

I want to begin by outlining exactly what my bill would do.

The first part would provide for the development of a national maternity assistance program, and the second part would amend section 22 of the Employment Insurance Act to expand the window of time in which existing maternity benefits could be taken if a woman worked in a hazardous job that posed a risk to her maternal health. Specifically, it would allow women to begin taking their 15 weeks of maternity benefits 15 weeks prior to the due date, rather than just eight weeks prior, as the current rules allow.

The argument I am putting forward today will focus on addressing the amendments to the Employment Insurance Act under part 2 of the bill. I will show that Bill C-243 would not increase or change the total benefits an individual is entitled to and therefore would not constitute a new and distinct expenditure.

My argument has two parts, and I will be citing both academic literature, in particular by Lukyniuk and Keyes in the Canadian Parliamentary Review, as well as relevant parliamentary precedent.

First, I will briefly show that Bill C-243 would not increase or change the total benefits an individual is entitled to and therefore would not constitute a new and distinct expenditure.

Second, I will show that these changes would not substantively alter the objects or purposes of maternity benefits. In other words, I will be arguing that it would not create or envision a new function.

The first thing to note is that there is a general authorization for EI expenditures that is sufficiently broad to encompass the provisions of the bill. To illustrate this, consider the comment on royal recommendations from Keyes, 1999, on page 19:

...an amending bill that merely re-enacts or consolidates existing expenditure provisions does not require the recommendation.

The provisions contained in Bill C-243 would simply reallocate or shift existing maternity benefits, which are already authorized under the Employment Insurance Act. As such, the changes would fall within the purview of a royal recommendation, which provides for the general authorization of EI expenditures.

Allow me to further explain, with reference to specific examples, why this modest shifting of benefits would not introduce new and distinct expenditures. There are four elements that must be considered to substantiate this claim.

The first obvious point is that the bill would not increase the amount of benefits paid to an individual. Since the amount an individual is entitled to per week would not change, there is no concern that it would affect estimates or payments from the consolidated revenue fund.

This differentiates Bill C-243 from other private members' bills that were deemed to require a royal recommendation, such as past bills C-278 and C-279.

Second, Bill C-243 would not increase the benefit period or the number of weeks an individual is entitled to claim. Eligible recipients would still only be entitled to 15 weeks of maternity benefits. The only difference would relate to the window of time in which these benefits could be taken. I want to be very clear that this would be the only change.

In this way, Bill C-243 could be differentiated from several other bills, such as Bill C-278, which sought to increase EI sickness benefits from 15 to 50 weeks.

Third, Bill C-243 would not change the eligibility requirements such that more individuals would become eligible for EI.

Whereas bills C-279, C-265, and C-280 would have changed the qualification requirements, and thus expanded how many people could access benefits, Bill C-243 would not do this.

For example, in the case of Bill C-279, the Speaker explained that:

...more individuals would be eligible to receive EI benefits and those currently eligible would receive increased benefits.

Fourth, since Bill C-243 would simply shift existing entitlements, the only costs associated with this legislation would be administrative, and it has been well established in previous rulings that these administrative costs would not require spending for a new function. Instead, they would be operational costs that are part of the department's ongoing mandate. As such, they have constantly been ruled as not requiring a new royal recommendation.

To summarize my argument that spending under this bill is not new and distinct, I want to quote Keyes, 1997, who argued on page 20 that royal recommendation is not for “Provisions authorizing charges that are already or were previously authorized by Parliament, for example, a bill consolidating or revising existing legislation or authorizing spending for a particular group of people already covered under general legislation”.

In fact, that is exactly what this bill does. It authorizes spending for a particular group of people, women working in hazardous jobs, who are already covered under general legislation, in this case, the Employment Insurance Act. While Bill C-243 does shift the window of time for when an individual can receive maternity benefits, it must be understood that these are benefits that many women are already entitled to. They are not new and distinct.

I will now concentrate on the second reason why my bill might require royal recommendation, which is whether or not it fundamentally changes the objects or purposes of the spending. In other words, does the bill envision a new function for maternity benefits? The central question on which you will have to rule, Mr. Speaker, is whether El maternity benefits are currently intended to protect the health of the mother and her unborn child. If this function exists under the current spending regime, my bill would not require royal recommendation, as it simply shifts existing benefits in a manner consistent with the existing purpose.

I will present several arguments to show that maternal health is one of the functions, if not the primary function, of maternity benefits. I will begin by noting that while we are tasked with determining the purpose of El maternity benefits, the actual enabling legislation, the Employment Insurance Act, says nothing explicitly on this issue. As such, to make this determination we will be required to make reasonable inferences based on other factors, including the eligibility criteria, their practical usage, and indeed a common sense understanding.

Let us consider the purpose and eligibility criteria of maternity benefits, according to the departmental website. It states, “A maximum of 15 weeks of El maternity benefits is available. The 15 weeks can start as early as eight weeks before the expected date of birth, and can end as late as 17 weeks after the actual date of birth.”

My central argument is that protecting maternal health is a function of maternity benefits under the existing legislation and usage. That is why my bill, which touches directly on this function through existing entitlements, cannot be considered to be creating a new function. The function already exists.

The fact that applicants are already permitted to take benefits during their pregnancy, up to eight weeks prior to their due date, is strong evidence that maternal health and maintaining a safe pregnancy are existing purposes of maternity benefits. The legislation may not explicitly recognize this, or any purposes of maternity benefits, but I believe the interpretation and the spirit of the law confirm this understanding.

Legal analysis of the existing provisions is valuable, but should be complemented by a practical understanding of the benefits. In other words, it is not just my opinion that maternity benefits can be interpreted as having a maternal health function, but this is exactly how the benefits are being used.

Melodie Ballard, a constituent from my riding, is one of the many Canadians who chose to access their maternity benefits early because their job posed a risk to their health and that of their unborn child. This is not only allowed under the current rules, but in fact, it is one of the main reasons why benefits can be taken eight weeks before the birth. All Bill C-243 does is emphasize one of the existing purposes and practical usages of maternity benefits. That is it.

To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that this is the only function of maternity benefits, or the only reason that the legislation permits pre-confinement access. Indeed, maternity benefits can be taken after the birth, and in that sense they are also intended to provide a recovery period for the mother after childbirth. The key point is that maternity benefits should not be so narrowly interpreted as to exclude the function of maternal health, given the structure of the benefits and how they are practically used.

I will now present statements as to why my argument that employment insurance, and in particular maternity benefits, do serve the purpose of supporting a healthy pregnancy. To begin, consider this statement from the director general of El who, when she appeared before the HUMA committee on May 8, 2014 said, “Maternity benefits provide income support for a 15-week period surrounding childbirth to allow recovery from physical or emotional effects of the pregnancy and childbirth.”

It is clear from this statement that maternity benefits are used to support maternal health during pregnancy. Perhaps more specifically, Mr. Speaker, you will have to answer whether maternity benefits serve the purpose of protecting the mother when her job poses a risk to her health, or to that of her unborn child.

In other words, do El maternity benefits serve a similar purpose to the preventative withdrawal program that exists in Quebec? This is a topic that has actually been discussed during debates in this House, in particular on past private members' bills, Bill C-380 and Bill C-307.

I would refer to a contribution from the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame on May 3, 2012, “provinces outside of Quebec have been relying for numerous years on the Employment Insurance Act for compensation for pregnant and nursing women in the circumstances of a preventive withdrawal from work.”

That sort of statement makes my argument quite succinctly and coherently.

A similar explanation for how employment insurance benefits are used for the purpose of protecting the mother and unborn child were put forward in this House on October 17, 2005, by the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Labour and Housing at the time, “women under federal jurisdiction, if they must take leave, have access to employment insurance”.

The understanding that maternity benefits are an income support during a period of preventative withdrawal was corroborated by multiple members during debate proceedings on both Bill C-307 and Bill C-380.

In addition to members of Parliament, this understanding of El has been affirmed by departmental officials as well. When asked during the HUMA committee on October 22, 2003, about whether Canada had a system of preventative withdrawal, the Director of Labour Standards and Workplace Equity responded:

Where the job has been determined to be dangerous, the employer has an obligation to attempt to reassign her to work that is not unsafe for either the unborn child or the nursing child. If it's not possible or not reasonably practicable for the employer to reassign that individual, then she is entitled to leave without pay. What would happen under those circumstances is that she would take advantage of the employment insurance program...

It is clear that the employment insurance system, in particular the eight weeks of pre-birth maternity benefits, are an integral part to supporting women who choose to leave their job due to hazardous conditions.

Even though some statements do not mention maternity benefits explicitly, it is clear that this is the main form of El that would apply in these cases.

The final point I will make is to clarify that this bill does not affect any other type of El benefits, in particular parental or sickness benefits. Parental benefits would still only be able to be taken after confinement, which is in keeping with their purpose.

One might also think that protection of the expectant mother better falls under the category of sickness benefits. In fact, this is a very common misconception of sickness benefits. The reality is that sickness benefits can only be accessed if the individual is sick, not if there is a risk to their maternal health. Unlike maternity benefits, they cannot be taken for the purpose of protecting the health of the mother and the unborn child from the risks of a hazardous work environment.

Let me be clear, eight of the 15 weeks of maternity benefits can and are frequently being used for that purpose. As this function and purpose is well-established, my bill cannot be said to be creating a new function.

To conclude, the intent of my bill is simply to emphasize an existing function of maternity benefits, maternal health, for those who need it most, women working in hazardous jobs.

There is a royal recommendation that exists for spending on maternity benefits. There is no doubt that this bill would affect the manner in which that spending is done.

The central question is, does my bill shift spending in a manner that departs from the original purpose of maternity benefits? Put another way, does protection of the women's maternal health fall outside of the purpose of maternity benefits? I submit to you that it does not.

In closing, I will draw your attention to Keyes 1997 who argued on page 20 that royal recommendation is not required for cases where the bill authorizes spending for similar functions where “Provisions imposing additional functions on publicly funded bodies if the functions are of the same nature as their existing functions or are conferred for similar purposes.”

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2016 / 5:30 p.m.
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NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-243 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

The House resumed from October 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-243, An Act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2016 / 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

October 19th, 2016 / 7:40 p.m.
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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 / 7:30 p.m.
See context

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 / 7:20 p.m.
See context

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 / 7:10 p.m.
See context

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.