Evidence of meeting #50 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was women.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Andrew Brown  Executive Director, Employment Insurance Policy, Skills and Employment Branch, Department of Employment and Social Development
Judith Buchanan  Director, Labour Standards and Wage Earner Protection Program, Compliance, Operations and Program Development, Labour Program, Department of Employment and Social Development

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Good morning, Mr. Gerretsen. It's a pleasure to have you with us today. Welcome to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

I want to make clear that the questions I'm going to ask are my own.

Do you think it would be preferable for women to have access to accommodations or modified duties at work rather than earlier access to benefits? When you were putting together your bill, did you look at Quebec's regime? Similarly, do you think a national maternity assistance program strategy should take Quebec's model into account?

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you for your questions, Mr. Robillard. I am going to answer in English.

The main premise behind the entire bill from the beginning was always that the EI benefits and their flexibility be secondary to the employer's trying to accommodate reassignment for the individual.

It has always been the thought, and in different discussions that I've had and in various iterations of the bill, it was always the intent that the employer first try to find other accommodations. In this particular situation with my constituent, Melodie, she was unable to do that because her employer didn't have any other type of work for her to do.

To answer the first part of your question, yes, that was always the intention.

As for the second part of your question relating to the Quebec model, the strategy specifically asks that the study look at other provinces and other countries on how they deliver maternity benefits. The Quebec model is a very robust model that all of the other provinces could look towards for guidance and direction.

Yes, we spent some time looking at that model. A private member's bill is very limited in the sense that you can't introduce new spending, so we couldn't do a lot of the things that model does. However, we very much encourage the study to look at the Quebec model and other models throughout the world.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

hank you very much.

Now we go over to MP Sansoucy.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to begin by thanking my fellow member for introducing this bill.

Women now have their place in the labour force. We represent 50% of the population and thus 50% of workers. It is incumbent upon governments to implement measures so that women are not disadvantaged because they are the ones who bear children.

I am a mother of four children, and, as a Quebecer, I was able to take advantage of the province's preventive withdrawal program. Women should in no way be penalized in the workforce because of their pregnancy.

I'm someone who prefers to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. In yesterday's budget, the government raised the number of weeks women can claim EI maternity benefits before their due date from 8 to 12, which is certainly a good thing. You are recommending, however, that clauses 6 and 7 be cut out of your bill, if I understand correctly, and I think that's a shame. I think we should still try to extend that period to 15 weeks before the due date, as those provisions seek to do.

I was in the House when your bill was being debated, and Quebec's program was mentioned repeatedly. I spent more than a decade as the director of a community housing organization. As in many service fields, all the workers were women, save for one or two. They were entitled to access preventive withdrawal benefits as of week 14 of their pregnancy. Under Quebec's program, as soon as a woman's job poses a health risk, her workplace is assessed. An effort is then made to determine whether she can be reassigned with the same employer while keeping the same working conditions and pay, even if the new job has fewer responsibilities. If it is ultimately determined that she cannot continue working in that environment, the program entitles her to continue receiving her pay from the employer during the first five days. After that, she receives 90% of her pay.

We really have to keep up the effort at the federal level because every Canadian woman in every province deserves a program like that.

Mr. Gerretsen, our committee must do what it can to propel your bill forward. Your national maternity assistance program certainly sounds good, but Canadian women need more than just consultations; they need real measures that will improve their situation.

Why would we not keep fighting for your bill in its entirety and the 15 weeks it proposes?

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Absolutely.

When I was elected for the first time, federally anyhow, a year and a half ago, and I found out very quickly that I would have to put forward a private member's bill, this idea was the one that immediately came to mind. I said, “We're going to change the world. We're going to change EI, and we're going to do this.” Then very quickly I found out that I wasn't allowed to spend any new money, so that shattered a lot of my dreams.

However, I worked within the system that says a private member's bill cannot call for the spending of any new money and aimed instead to set up a framework through which that discussion could happen. If you're looking for somebody to continue this fight, I am certainly going to be there until we can say that 50% of those who work in trades are women because they choose to and want to.

The Quebec model is a very good model to look towards as an example. One of the things to highlight in particular about the Quebec model, the early release program, is that it's a specific model for maternity. It's a system that's been put in place to help specifically with this type of situation, whereas nationally it's the Employment Insurance Act. It's an act that covers a whole host of different issues related to employment insurance.

The first thing Melodie did when she became pregnant was to go on sick leave. She was not sick; she was pregnant. The system we currently have is not one that supports the changing nature of the labour market and the fact there are more women who want to be in trades and who want to work with an X-ray machine or whatever it might be, or in these various different lines of work, who could be impacted if they also choose to have a family.

In my opinion, that is seriously affecting a woman's choice to go down that road. When a woman has to choose among career paths and she also wants to have a family at some point, she might say, “Then I better go down this path instead of the one I really want, which is this one.” The discussion I'm trying to have with this strategy is to come up with ideas as to how we can take down these barriers for women who want to pursue their dream job.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

You have 10 seconds.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

I have to agree with my colleague because we know that wages in traditionally female occupations are much too low. We have to do what we can to ensure women are not penalized for becoming pregnant and to make pay equity a reality.

We will keep up the fight, but that is another matter.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

I think we can all agree on that.

Mr. Ruimy, please.

March 23rd, 2017 / 11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Dan Ruimy Liberal Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

MP Gerretsen, I miss you as my seatmate, ever since you moved down to the other end there.

I want to first commend you, because I know that when we were seatmates I followed your journey to get to this point. It wasn't an easy journey because of the condition set on the bill to avoid having a royal recommendation. Obviously, cabinet was taking one side, but you still managed to get to this point today. I remember the day it passed. I remember looking at the Prime Minister, and he looked over to you, and he waved and gave his thumbs up.

Could you just take a moment and tell us about that process? To get to where you are today, especially with something that's not necessarily supported by cabinet, it's a great learning experience. What did you get from that?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

As I said earlier, my understanding of why the cabinet chose not to support the bill was that it required a royal recommendation, because of some concerns of the Speaker in that regard. This bill would not be here today if it weren't for all three parties voting in favour of it. I'm extremely grateful to all three parties that participated to get to this point.

This was about trying to engage people and encouraging them to vote for what, in my opinion, was the right thing to do. It's about having this conversation. Yes, it's an extremely humbling experience. It had to go against the grain, so to speak, of the direction the government was going. But I think, at the end of the day, Parliament made the right choice by choosing to vote in favour of this and to bring it to this stage.

Since that point, the Speaker has ruled that it does require a royal recommendation. I put forward my arguments as to why I think it doesn't. He chose otherwise.

Do you want to interrupt me to address the flashing bells?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

Yes, I do need to inform everybody that we do apparently have a vote called this morning.

I'm assuming I'll get confirmation that is the case. Yes?

11:30 a.m.

A voice

Yes.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Okay.

I'm assuming they just started, so we have about 30 minutes. Can I ask for unanimous consent for us to continue at least for the next 15 minutes.

11:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Okay, thank you.

Please continue.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you.

Just to conclude, the bill is where it is because I believe that Parliament, in its majority form, decided this was the best course of action to take, and I'm extremely grateful for that.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Dan Ruimy Liberal Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Thank you.

A lot of discussion about your bill has been on skilled trades and construction. Does this apply to any other field?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Yes, absolutely. The way that my bill was written, at least in the portion that talked about the EI reform, it would involve a doctor's consent that the work was hazardous. Now I'm recommending to the committee that that section be removed, that de facto that part of the bill be gone. But this doesn't mean it shouldn't be a part of the discussion held on strategy part. It's about how do you determine what hazardous work, employment, is? And it needs to be robust. I don't think you want it to be something that could easily be taken advantage of, so there have to be some measures in there to properly measure what the conditions of the workplace are.

To give you some examples, an X-ray technician could be included, and police officer could as well. It's not just the trades; there are many other examples. Despite the fact that one of your colleagues today has indicated that 50% of the labour force are women, if you look at trades specifically, or if you look at police, or you look at firefighters, you will see that women are still grossly under-represented in terms of gender equality.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Dan Ruimy Liberal Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Excellent. Thank you very much for that.

The second part of it is that you would have a national maternity assistance program. Could you expand further on your vision for that?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

The vision that's outlined in the bill would require the minister to report back to the House with findings based on a consultation that goes on throughout. We have some specific references as to what it should include. The basic idea is to go out and consult with different stakeholders to formulate what a good national maternity assistance program would look like, in order to give options to the government to implement, if it choses to do so.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Dan Ruimy Liberal Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Do I have any time?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

You have 17 seconds.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Dan Ruimy Liberal Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Wow, I got cut off.

While there are many justice- and equality-based arguments for supporting women and families with a modern maternity assistance program, could you speak to the economic benefits of establishing a national maternity assistance program?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Yes, and I think we put together some notes on that.

The first part is that there's evidence of the fact that representation of women can support an organization's overall competitiveness. But also, there's significant demand and labour shortages in certain parts of the labour market. For example, I go back to the trades. My business outside of Parliament was property management. You hire trades people and you are pretty much going to pay what they're asking, because they're in short supply and high demand, and that's making it very uncompetitive.

If we're looking to make sure that these sectors of the labour force are properly competitive, we're going to need to put more people into these jobs, and there are women out there who are interested in getting involved in these jobs.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

There's no more time, sorry; no more questions.

We're going to go over to MP Pam Damoff.

Before that, I want to take two seconds to welcome both Alice and Nicola, who are here today at the back and are participating in the U of T women in the House program. I just want to recognize that they are here today.

Pam, the next six minutes are yours.