Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak about parental leave. I asked questions of the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development on several occasions, but his answers are not informative enough.
When asked about parental leave and negotiations with Quebec, he keeps repeating, “We are negotiating. I have had discussions with my colleagues, and you should not worry, because everything is going along fine”.
But we would like things to move much further. This agreement was signed on May 21, 2004. It was supposed to be a historical agreement. The figures were the only remaining point to settle. That is why we thought the agreement would be signed right after the election.
The Liberals made a big deal about that agreement during the campaign. Just before the campaign, they announced they had reached an agreement in principle, and figures were the only thing that was not settled. Where are the agreement and the figures? We know a decision of the Quebec court of appeal on January 27, 2004 was referred to the Supreme Court of Canada. That was after the election.
There is thus a threat hanging over the Quebec government's intentions of going forward with a parental leave better adapted to Quebec's own needs and realities. Consequently, we would have liked the minister to be a little more clear and precise. In Quebec, we would like to have parental leave that reflects the realities of Quebec.
I would like to give you a few examples of the realities of Quebec. With respect to the part of the EI fund that will be used to finance parental leave-- because this is where the money will come from--we would like to ensure that the atypical workers will be taken into consideration. We all know that there are people who do not qualify for EI benefits because they do not contribute to the fund. These workers are also part of those people for whom Quebec would like to see actions taken.
Parental leave in Quebec reflects reality: a maximum insurable period of 50 weeks, $52,500. This is Option A, which means 70% of the wages for the first 25 weeks and 55% for the last 25 weeks. We all know that Ottawa wants to spread the benefits over 50 weeks, $39,000, or 50% of the wages.
Why should we have that kind of variation? This is because, often, the parental leave is not taken in full. Indeed, who can afford a whole year of parental leave? We wanted this to better reflect the circumstances experienced by Quebec families.
Again, will the parental leave take into account circumstances in Quebec? The debate is not over and there is no proposal on the table. As we know, this is a project with Canada-wide goals, once again, and there also is, in the qualifying period, an approach that differs from the one that Quebec favours.
We would not want to see a qualifying period, that is a two-week penalty, before one receives parental leave benefits. The federal government, in its project, proposes a two-week qualifying period. For example, when a family needs employment insurance benefits, because of the lost wages owing to a pregnancy, why should there be a two-week penalty for someone to be entitled to parental leave?
This is an important debate. The stakes are high. However, we feel that the federal government is dragging its feet about this great historic promise that was announced.
I remember the foreign affairs minister saying, during the election campaign, “I hope this will help us in the election”. We should stop making this an election issue. It is now time to work hard on this proposal that Quebec is waiting for. The very reason for our presence here is to remind this government of its duties, following its promises in the election campaign.