Evidence of meeting #52 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 pregnancy.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Melodie Ballard  As an Individual
Anna Nienhuis  As an Individual
Liette Vasseur  President and Professor at Brock University, Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology
Karen Dempsey  President, National Council of Women of Canada
JudyLynn Archer  Former Chief Executive Officer and Director, Women Building Futures

12:05 p.m.

President, National Council of Women of Canada

Karen Dempsey

No, that's not something I'm advocating, simply because we don't have policy on it. I can only speak to things that we have policy on. We do have policy on its being more flexible, and so on.

I was just answering Brigitte Sansoucy's question by saying that what she has suggested could be a viable solution for the rest of Canada, the way it was in Quebec. If it works there, maybe it could work in the rest of Canada, but I can't really speak to particulars, because at the moment those particulars are not something we have a policy on.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

What would you like to see the government do in terms of actual concrete steps?

12:05 p.m.

President, National Council of Women of Canada

Karen Dempsey

Actual concrete steps? Make it easier for women to access maternity leave. Right at the moment, for instance, it's one year. That's 55% of their salary. While we certainly support the idea in the budget of women being given the opportunity to take 18 months, that reduces their EI to something like 33% from 55% of their pay. In essence, if they can take 18 months, they're doing it at 33% of their salary, which is a big pay cut. Melodie said she's a single mother. There are single mothers out there. There are single fathers out there. But anyway, it's difficult.

The money is a problem because it's difficult to live on that amount. It's nice to have the time. But I know a lot of women who have gotten pregnant and have not been able to take even the whole of their maternity leave simply because they can't afford it. That's one thing in the population. Another much smaller segment of the population can't take that much time off from work because of the job they're in. They have to go back to work. They feel they have to go back to work.

It's mostly that they go back because of the money. We've given women 12 months and now possibly 18 months but with the same amount of money. I think we have to make it easier for them to actually access that. It's all right to say you can take 12 months but you're doing it at half your salary. That's major, especially for young families. I don't know too many families these days where there aren't two working parents. So to have the one salary cut by half for 12 months or cut by a third if you go to 18 months, that's a lot. It comes down to the money a lot of times, I think. That's a big deal. It comes down to, as Anna was saying, that you build up your 600 hours—I think it's 600 hours before you can access your maternity leave—but then if something happens, if you become pregnant earlier, then maybe you anticipate it for your second child or your third child, but you don't have that bank of hours built up. So maybe that's something where a little more flexibility could be introduced to the strategy as well.

Instead of just looking at the previous 600 hours, maybe EI could look at it going back further and say, “You've worked for the last 10 years; you've got so many hours banked in the last 10 years, not just 600 hours in the last year, and this is the first time you're going to access EI”. Maybe it could be a little more flexible.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

Now we go over to Ramesh Sangha for six minutes.

12:10 p.m.

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?

12:10 p.m.

Former Chief Executive Officer and Director, Women Building Futures

JudyLynn Archer

Thank you for your question, Ramesh.

I think it will help to attract and retain women. I think it's a big retention benefit. So when women are looking at these career opportunities, what we find is that women tend to be quite thoughtful, and before getting into a career, before taking training to get into the career, they're asking those questions. What's going to happen if and when I become pregnant? I believe it is an attraction and a retention benefit, absolutely.

I think what I would be interested in seeing in the strategy is something that also works for the employer, given that the largest number of companies in Canada that actually hire and train apprentices in trades are small to medium companies. These companies cannot afford to pay the bill for an individual to be on maternity leave, and it would become a huge disincentive to hire.

I'm hoping that the strategy will look at a number of different programs that are going on in other countries—and maybe our own country that maybe I'm not aware of—to find something that will really work for women and the companies that hire them to really create big incentives for the women and those companies.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Women Building Futures is already doing a great job via its advertisements and appearances on the web, saying that all women who want to earn more money, want to stay physically fit, and want to have an incredible lifestyle, learn more skills, and don't mind getting dirty, can come forward to join you.

As a stakeholder, if this becomes law, will you advertize that there are now new benefits? It will surely attract more women to the jobs. Do you think those attractions will increase women's living standards?

12:15 p.m.

Former Chief Executive Officer and Director, Women Building Futures

JudyLynn Archer

Again, I think that having the benefit of knowing that you can take an extended, a different type of maternity benefit, which would meet your needs and those of your children, is only going to encourage women to consider jobs that are going to support them in that whole effort, and support them in earning a much better living, which is what you find in those non-traditional careers.

Right now, I think there is an opportunity for Canada from the fact that we are currently losing that big workforce. We need to replace those workers just to maintain what we have in Canada—not even talking about new projects—and women are our best option for doing that. We have to deal with this maternity leave issue.

From our work at Women Building Futures, we find that they are the gold walking around on Canadian soil. We need to spend money and invest in getting these individuals into these jobs in a way that is good for them and their families, so they can make a great living and contribute back to society in the way we all need.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

When you say it's sustainable, does that mean that women, after their pregnancy leave, will come back to the job?

12:15 p.m.

Former Chief Executive Officer and Director, Women Building Futures

JudyLynn Archer

Statistically it shows that women come back to work after maternity leave at a very high rate.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

Over to Bob Zimmer, please.

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

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.

12:15 p.m.

As an Individual

Anna Nienhuis

I was going to say that's just the number of people who cite it as their number one reason. There are many more who have it in their top three. With the 20,000, the number one reason would be finances.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

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

Again, it's an absolutely tragic situation for the mothers who have to make this arduous decision to either have their pregnancy go to full term or be eliminated, based on finances. It's never been presented to me that it was based on finances. It has me thinking.

I would ask for your perspective, being a stay-at-home mom. My wife stayed home. I was going to university at the time. We had four kids, and my wife stayed home throughout the whole process. She received no benefits for staying at home. It was a decision that we made. I was a teacher, so we didn't have much money, but we thought it was best for the kids. She wanted to stay home and be a mom. She's “back at work” now. I say that with quotes, because she has never stopped working the whole way through, I think since we were married. We've been married 21 years now, and I think she's never stopped; she's worked in different roles.

In terms of perspective, another thing that we have to weigh as government all the time is the costing out of programs. It's a perfect idea if we don't have to weigh out the cost to taxpayers. That's a cold perspective, but it's a caring perspective, to our understanding.

With the people presenting today, you're all taxpayers, and we want to have a balanced approach. We help out mothers who need the help, but we also know it's going to be an expensive program. How do you balance the two?

Anna, if you were designing the program in a perfect way, what would you have that balanced out as? I know you understand both. You're a taxpayer and a mother who sees the need for a maternity program. What would the program look like?

12:20 p.m.

As an Individual

Anna Nienhuis

I think that's really difficult because, as you say, some people need the help more than others. I think it's important that a plan take that into account. I think that's where, when we talk about having a strategy that looks at whether a woman is in a much higher risk job or has multiple children already, we need that flexibility of saying that every person is not the same and that it's not just a case of you getting 55% of your income if you have a child. Rather, it's about seeing that if someone only made $32,000 a year, 55% of their income would not a reasonable amount to expect them to live on, but that we still want that person to be able to stay home, whereas, with someone who's making $90,000 a year, maybe then we could say, okay, 55% is enough for you. It should be based on that.

What I believe the government and some employers do is that they will top up maternity leave if there's a guarantee that the person will come back to work. If that the person doesn't return, then they don't get that top up. It is a real incentive to go back to the workforce and also to have a livable wage when you're at home. I think that's a really valuable place where employers can step up, also knowing that the training that they've put into someone won't be lost, but that they're retaining that person even at a slight cost to them. I think that's another place where money could come from [inaudible-Editor] with it benefiting employers.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

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

To me, that's the kind of clever solution that we need that works for employers, government, and mothers.

Judy, I just wanted to speak about what you had mentioned. I had heard somebody else say that the employer should cover the entire cost of the whole maternity assistance program. In a perfect world, where employers make all the money, that might be possible. But we have a country with a lot of small businesses, who are really the fabric of our economy in a lot of ways, and you had mentioned that it would be a huge disincentive to hiring women if we have a program whose costs the employers alone had to cover. Then the female worker being hired would have potential huge other costs for that particular employer.

I just wanted to ask you, because you brought it up, how would you balance the two, where the government has a role certainly; the employer has a role certainly; and as Anna just suggested, there's a bit of a hybrid between the two. What would be a good balanced program in which we do see women being helped out in this situation so that they're not going out and having to make hard decisions on their pregnancy? How do you help that person out with a balanced approach between employer and government?

12:20 p.m.

Former Chief Executive Officer and Director, Women Building Futures

JudyLynn Archer

I think one of the things I can think of just off the top of my head this morning is the example of the Canada job fund agreements. The funds from those agreements are accessed by employers to deal with training costs. I don't see why some of those costs couldn't be built into that type of program so that for the employers who are putting in the training, who are contributing to the costs of recruiting and training and retaining that person, could take advantage of the program, and the government would be putting in its fair share too, so that at the end of the day, it would really be up to whether or not that individual is the type of worker the company wants to hire. That company is seeing that individual as a worthy investment. I think we have some programs that we could build upon to create such a situation, so that it's not just a matter of one side or the other bearing the burden. Taxpayers shouldn't be paying for the whole thing and, certainly, neither should the small or medium employer.

12:20 p.m.

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.

12:20 p.m.

Former Chief Executive Officer and Director, Women Building Futures

JudyLynn Archer

I'd like to see it longer and I'd like to see it be customizable—

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

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

Excellent, thank you.

12:20 p.m.

Former Chief Executive Officer and Director, Women Building Futures

JudyLynn Archer

—so that it meets the needs of the individual woman. I don't see why we can't do that.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

MP Long.

12:20 p.m.

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.