Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the NDP caucus, I want to congratulate and compliment our colleague, the member for Shefford, on this bill. We will be supporting it. It is good for working people. It is good for moms. It is good for kids. It is hard to believe there is a need for a huge debate.
I understand some of the trepidations that have been expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour and my counterpart in the Conservative Party about the legalities of dealing with two jurisdictions, overlapping jurisdictional responsibilities, et cetera, but quite frankly, once those things have been straightened out from a policy perspective by this place they can be stickhandled by the legal people. They can make these things happen. They sure seem to be able to do it when income tax time comes around. When people fill out their income tax forms, wherever there are two choices, they are given the opportunity to put down the figure that works best for the government, either the bottom line figure or the lesser of some other number. It is done all the time.
In a parliamentary system, in a confederation, it is not unusual that there would be jurisdictional clashes. Take all the major ministries. Certainly the Ministry of the Environment comes to mind. There are bound to be overlaps but that does not stop us from making changes that improve things for the people who sent us here.
I would like to take this back to its root issue as we in the NDP see it. It is about the children. It is about the unborn child and our nation doing the best it can to provide nurturing support to the mom, the mom to be and to the child. Where we have an opportunity to give better support, why would we not do it? I really have some difficulty understanding what the big deal is.
The situation was very well described by my colleague from Shefford. Two neighbours in exactly the same situation go out to work every day and work hard as honest law-abiding folk. They have two different sets of benefits, one better than the other, purely by the chance of where they work, either under federal jurisdiction or provincial jurisdiction. It really depends upon where they fall under a decision that was made back in 1867 in terms of how the powers within the new nation were divided. That is the only difference, yet there is the possibility that one family unit, one child, one mom would be given lesser benefits than the other.
What is wrong with saying that they have a choice when they are in this kind of situation? It does not affect that many people. It is a pretty small percentage of the working population that is actually covered by the federal labour code. I do know this very well. I was the provincial labour critic for a number of years at Queen's Park. I fully understand that the overwhelming number of labour issues and the people covered are at the provincial level, but because of constitutional issues and other matters, a small number of folks come under the federal level.
A female worker is pregnant and there are two opportunities in terms of which benefit package she might go to. It is great that we could give her that choice. What is important here is not the legal niceties of how we break out Confederation. It is not whether it is one jurisdiction or about leaving it to the other level of government to pay. None of those things matter. All that matters is the child.
The parliamentary secretary expressed some concerns and I understand that. I jotted down some of her words. She thought it was premature to pass Bill C-380. She thought that there needed to be more research and review in light of the fact that part III of the Canada Labour Code is currently under review. I understand her point, but it really sounded like more of a dodge.
I was very pleased to hear the comments of the Conservative labour critic, the member for Souris—Moose Mountain. We had a chance to chat very briefly before we entered the House. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. The member said that he had many concerns and that he could see a lot of work being done at committee. This is fair enough. I understand that the member is a lawyer, so he understands and actually enjoys all the legalities. That is fine because that is what we do at committee.
There is nothing at all to preclude the House from sending a message that we want the best possible protection and support for unborn children and for moms and that therefore, we are going to pass this bill and between this bill and the review of part III we will make it better for working moms.
I do not understand what the huge problem is. I would think that the Liberals would have some difficulty explaining why they were not prepared to extend benefits to pregnant women because of some jurisdictional difficulty. Perhaps this will be another one of those times when they say, “Yes, we will do it” and then 12 years go by and nothing has happened. That is the real concern.
Given that this is a private member's bill, the government backbenchers are entirely free to vote any way they want. That is the way we run this place on private members' bills. I do not know about the other caucuses, but certainly our caucus reviews them. We attempt to reach a consensus. It is always best to come in united at any time. Given that it is private members' business it is fully understood and supported that members of the NDP caucus may vote any way their heart, conscience or riding needs dictate and there will be no recrimination whatsoever.
I caution the backbenchers in the government party that they may have to answer to this. The nice little pat answer of the parliamentary secretary and the procedural dance around the issue may not work so well in debates or on the doorsteps, particularly because this is about children. It is about working women who are going to have children and making sure that one of the richest states in the world provides the best supportive programs that it can.
My sense from the motivation of the hon. member for Shefford is to do just that. To his credit he has identified an inequity that exists under the current legislation. He is doing what every member was sent here to do and that is to fix things that are wrong and make things better for working people. That is what this is about. I, for the life of me, cannot understand why anyone would not want to stand in their place and say, “I support legislation that helps moms, that helps working people and most important, helps children”.
This House should pass this bill.