House of Commons Hansard #135 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was human.


Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.


Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

moved that Bill C-380, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant or nursing employees), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to speak to the hon. members in this House about the value of Bill C-380 on preventive withdrawal for pregnant or nursing employees.

This is the fifth time the Bloc Québécois is championing this important matter. This issue has been going nowhere for over 15 years now. The Public Service Alliance of Canada issued a pamphlet on preventive withdrawal over 10 years ago to pressure the government into making sure that working conditions for pregnant or nursing women were healthy and safe.

Studies show that chemical, biological, physical and even ergonomic risks can seriously affect both mother and fetus by causing premature birth, birth defects, miscarriage, stillbirth, etc.

Let us look at what the federal government has to offer to Canadians and Quebeckers in terms of maternity protection:

Section 132 of the Canada Labour Code stipulates that an employee who is pregnant or nursing may cease to perform her job if she believes that, by reason of the pregnancy or nursing, continuing any of her current job functions may pose a risk to her health or to that of the fetus or child. The employee must consult with a qualified medical practitioner to establish whether such a risk exists. While waiting for the medical report, the employee shall continue to receive the wages and benefits that are attached to that job.

Under section 205, the employee can request to be reassigned, if the medical practitioner determines that a risk exists. If reassignment is not possible, the employee can take a leave of absence for the duration of the risk, although there are no financial measures associated with this in the Canada Labour Code. Section 205, Paragraph 6, reads as follows:

An employee referred to in subsection (4) is entitled to and shall be granted a leave of absence for the duration of the risk as indicated in the medical certificate.

There is no question here of ensuring financial compensation for such workers. Furthermore, studies show that, overwhelmingly, employers prefer to take the woman out of the workplace rather than invest money to remove the source of the danger.

What financial recourse will the employee have? Sickness benefits under the EI program.

Here is a typical scenario: let us imagine a woman who drives heavy-duty trucks. This industry falls under the Canada Labour Code. The driver is pregnant and her work poses a real risk to her fetus. On her doctor's instructions, she gives her employer her medical report confirming the risks her duties pose to her pregnancy. I am thinking particularly of the truck's vibrations or the employee having to stay seated for long periods of time.

Since the employer is unable to reassign her to another position, she is sent home.

The employee then has to qualify for sickness benefits under the EI program. First, she has to have accumulated 600 working hours within the last 52 weeks, otherwise she has to take leave without pay. If she has the hours, she must present her doctor's report indicating the risks to which she is exposed. The problem is that pregnancy is not an illness. So, in order to get sickness benefits, the employee must be sick as a result of her work, not her pregnancy. If she meets all the requirements, she is entitled to a maximum of 15 weeks; the program makes no allowance for certain categories of professionals who must totally cease work because their job poses a risk throughout pregnancy.

The only way she can receive any financial compensation under the current legislation is to apply a maximum of 8 of her 15 weeks maternity leave to her preventive withdrawal, that is prior to delivery. She is therefore penalized by that amount of weeks post-delivery.

Note that the rate for all EI benefits is 55% of the employee's net income, to a maximum of $413 weekly, and then there is the two week mandatory waiting period on top of that .

Federal preventive withdrawal measures are therefore incomplete and inconsistent.

In Quebec, on the other hand, the Occupational Health and Safety Act clearly pays occupational health and safety commission benefits for preventive withdrawal. These are equal to 90% of the income of the worker who has taken preventive withdrawal and are for the duration of the period of withdrawal stipulated by her physician. This financial compensation is paid to the employee as soon as she withdraws from her job, with no waiting period.

This creates two categories of workers in Quebec: those covered by the Quebec labour code and thus entitled to real occupational health and safety measures, and those covered by the Canada Labour Code who are, in practice, entitled to either reassignment to a less hazardous position or to leave without pay.

The bill I am proposing corrects that injustice. It offers women workers covered by the Canada Labour Code the same rights as those available under the legislation in the province in which they work, if the latter legislation is more to their advantage, as is the case in Quebec at the present time.

Some will say that this creates two categories of workers under the federal code. Harmonizing services to the public is done according to the best services available: leveling up. This being a jurisdiction that for the most part belongs to Quebec, since 90% of workers are covered by provincial legislation , practices must be made uniform throughout Quebec.

Enabling working women in Quebec who come under the federal code to benefit from Quebec legislation relating to preventive withdrawal does not deprive Canadian working women of anything. On the other hand, not doing so is unfair to working women in Quebec.

The fact of the matter is that there is no denying that both categories of workers already exist in the federal public service. Just think of an employee entitled to preventive withdrawal, who is defined as “an employee working in an institution where she is in direct and regular contact with offenders, if the employer concludes that a modification of job functions... is not reasonably practicable”, which applies to fewer than 2,000 of the 165,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Need I remind hon. members that correctional officers are currently challenging a unilateral decision by the Treasury Board of Canada to take away from some 2,000 employees of Correctional Service Canada the penological factor allowance used to provide compensation for the hazards involved?

Occupational health and safety represent a challenge the community as a whole must take on. Balancing our ability to increase the birth rate against that of providing our fellow citizens with better work conditions is a matter of political will. We must decide what we want as a society. An increasing number of women on the labour market are confronted with globalization and casualization; we have a duty to ensure that they have healthy and safe work environments, especially when they are pregnant or nursing.

In the steps it has taken with respect to both work family balance and occupational health and safety, Quebec has made a choice: to recognize the essential social function of women in having children and working.

The federal government does not seem to view the evolution of social life the same way. While these issues fall more within the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces than that of the central government, the latter is nonetheless the one responsible for entering into international treaties or agreements and, in spite of promises made last year, it no longer recognizes the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine.

Concern for adequately protecting the health of pregnant employees and their unborn children is nothing new. In 1952, the first Maternity Protection Convention was ratified by more than a dozen member states of the International Labour Organization, or ILO. This convention provided not only for the preventive withdrawal of pregnant or breastfeeding workers, but also for cash benefits to be paid out to these workers.

Canada did not ratify the convention. It never even signed the agreement in principle. Yet, the Canadian government tried to look good in 1999, by taking part in a consultation process conducted by the ILO among its member countries to determine whether a review of the 1952 convention would be in order. The government not only supported such a review, but also said it was in favour of including other specific guidelines regarding the protection of maternity. However, it remained rather vague on its willingness to financially compensate a woman on preventive withdrawal from work.

This is probably one of the main reasons why Canada has yet to ratify the revised Maternity Protection Convention, adopted in 2000.

This tends to confirm the federal government's blatant lack of political will regarding the rights of female workers. Not only is this the fifth time that our party has presented this important legislation, but the government continues to block any measure that would benefit workers. I am thinking, for example, of the bill on replacement workers, which was defeated last spring, and of the legislation to prohibit psychological harassment in the workplace, which was also defeated on October 5. Then there is the federal government's laxness regarding the reintroduction of the Program for Older Worker Adjustment, or POWA, and regarding the changes and improvements that were requested for the employment insurance program.

In fact, the most blatant example of the government's lack of will is unquestionably that of the pilot project on preventive withdrawal. This project, which was introduced in 2002 and which ended on October 1, was not renewed, even though it corrected another injustice done to female workers. Indeed, it made it possible for Quebec women on preventive withdrawal from work not to have to rely on partial employment insurance benefits to supplement the benefits paid by the CSST. This allowed women to use all the weeks of the maternity leave to which they were entitled after giving birth to a child.

As of two weeks ago this is no longer so, which means the employee on leave from her work has one month to declare her stoppage of work for employment insurance purposes. After the prescribed two-week penalty period, she will be forced to receive partial benefits, which will amount to very little, if anything at all, because of the calculation method. This benefit, although partial, is considered in number of weeks as full benefits. Thus, workers in Quebec on preventive withdrawal paid by the CSST, are penalized several weeks' maternity leave after delivery. The unfairness has resumed.

In 1991, when my colleague from the Bloc Québécois, the member for Laurentides, introduced a similar bill, this is what the then parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Labour said, and I quote:

In the case of pregnant or nursing mothers, perhaps there are some useful lessons to be learned from Quebec's experience in the area of social policy but we need to look at that experience much more carefully before we can vote for the kind of fundamental change proposed in Bill C-340.

Is 15 years enough time for the government to look carefully at Quebec's experience? The argument no longer holds water today, since the government has missed too many opportunities to provide all workers with healthier and safer working conditions. Nothing has changed in 15 years.

The case for providing our workers with effective health and safety measures in the workplace has been made perfectly clear. Now it is time to take action.

According to 2003 data, 252,000 of all the Quebec workers governed by the federal code, men and women alike, do not have the same employment rights as their colleagues governed by Quebec legislation.

Bill C-380 is the first step to providing an important balance for Quebec workers. They deserve our recognition. Let us show it to them by supporting Bill C-380.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Shefford on his bill and his brilliant speech. In my opinion, it ought to have convinced everyone here to vote in favour of Bill C-380.

I would like to pick up on his closing remarks, in which he pointed out that the federal government has not done a thing for 15 years. What does he think caused that resistance on the part of the federal government, particularly since the Liberals took over? Is there some way of overcoming that resistance?

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. Why have we been waiting 15 years for this bill? Quite simply, the government claims it does not want two categories of women workers, one in Quebec and the other in Canada.

My answer will be in two parts. We want the working women of Quebec, whether they come under the federal or the provincial labour code, to have the same rights. On the one hand, they can collect 90% of their salary as soon as they cease working under CSST provisions; on the other hand, workers anywhere else in Canada are covered by the Canada Labour Code, part III of which has not been changed since 1965. This Tuesday and Wednesday, discussions will be held in Montreal concerning amendments to part III of the Canada Labour Code. It would be important for that code to allow pregnant workers to withdraw from the workplace and receive compensation. Provisions for this must be included in part III of the Canada Labour Code once it is amended.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have questions I would like to pose to the proponent of the bill. One point is that the bill could have quite easily addressed the issue of safety concerns for pregnant mothers, their fetuses or their unborn children across the nation, from province to province, but this specific legislation talks about having the employee avail herself of the legislation in the province where she works, which is something very different from the present. Nowhere in the balance of the provinces of Canada is this particular compensation paid.

I think the objective of the bill is good and the principle behind it is fair and is worthy of debate, but if it were to pass we would find that it would be applicable with respect to a particular province only; it would distinguish between mothers and fetuses and babies across the other provinces. More important, it would make every provincial law that is passed hereafter in any province a matter of federal jurisdiction under the Canada Labour Code, without any review by this House or by anyone who is a member of Parliament. The provinces would be dictating what is happening in the Canada Labour Code with respect to federal undertakings.

If the proponent had the issue of the safety of mothers in mind, why was the bill not designed specifically to deal with that issue, not federal-provincial jurisdiction?

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, obviously, if there is already provincial legislation and the province already has the expertise on the precautionary cessation of work, why not take advantage of that? For the past 15 years, the government opposite has been thinking about implementing measures and been studying the context of precautionary cessations in Quebec. However, this measure already exists in Quebec. So why are employees subject to the federal code not able to benefit from legislation in Quebec, where there is already an occupational health and safety commission?

On the other hand, if the government wants to make all present and future pregnant and nursing employees equal, it need only amend part III of the Canada Labour Code. I fully support this.

In reality, the bill that I am introducing today seeks to eliminate any differences in the rights of employees living in the same province, perhaps in the same neighbourhood or even the same building. Why are these employees being treated differently?

As for the rest of Canada, as I already said, part III of the Canada Labour Code is currently being considered. We need only review and amend it in order to ensure that all employees covered by this code share the same rights.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.



Judi Longfield Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour and Housing

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to debate this important question of labour policy.

I must inform the House that I do not support the provisions of Bill C-380, and I will tell the House why.

Bill C-380 seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code to allow a pregnant and nursing employee who is subject to federal labour law to avail herself of the relevant legislation in the province in which she works. Under the proposed bill, a pregnant or nursing employee who is subject to federal labour laws will be able to opt out of the provisions of that law in favour of the provincial law.

We should review the subject matter of Bill C-380 in further detail before we can really pass judgment on it. We must ask ourselves a number of questions.

Do pregnant and nursing mothers currently receive adequate protection under the Canada Labour Code?

Members of the House will recall that the issue of protection for pregnant and nursing mothers under the Canada Labour Code already has been studied at the federal level. To ensure that their protection was adequate, the former minister of labour launched a survey of federally regulated workplaces to examine whether the current federal maternity related provisions were adequate and effective. The study found that the maternity related provisions of the Canada Labour Code adequately protected pregnant and nursing women in Canada. It recommended, however, that more efforts be made to inform Canadian employers and employees of their rights and obligations concerning maternity related leave and reassignment.

As members of the House will know, and as members opposite have alluded, there is currently a full review of part III of the Canada Labour Code. Among other things, the review is considering what can be done to help employees achieve a better work life balance, while also taking into account the needs of employers.

What arrangements do employees need to be able to respond to their family and other responsibilities?

What are the specific pressures facing female employees?

What good practices have employers and unions put into place to address these issues?

What legislation or other changes, if any, should be made to the federal labour standards to foster greater work life balance in federally regulated workplaces?

Are any current federal labour standards hindering efforts to provide flexible arrangements to benefit employees?

These are the broad questions that should be asked in a holistic review of the labour standards as they impact on employees' work and family responsibilities. We want to ensure that the federal labour standards remain relevant and reflect the revolving and evolving needs of Canadian workers and employees.

Currently, this review will examine such issues as the protection of pregnant and nursing mothers. However, the review will go much further. It will consider all aspects of the needs to balance work and family responsibilities. That is why it is premature to consider changes to labour standards legislation before the commission has had the opportunity to present its report and its recommendations. I would remind the House that the report will take into consideration the views of employers, the government and employees. It is a tripartite review.

Also the Labour Code already has been amended to provide substantial improvements to protect working pregnant and nursing women. Recently, amendments to part II of the Canada Labour Code gave stronger protection to a pregnant or nursing woman who believed her job may be potentially dangerous to herself, her fetus or her nursing child. If it is determined that a woman's job poses a health risk to herself, her fetus or her nursing child, she is entitled protection under part III of the code, which sets out the standards and employee obligations in the workplace. In these circumstances, part III requires the employer to modify the employee's working conditions or to reassign her to another job. If neither of these options is available, then the employee is entitled to leave.

Let me remind the House that women under federal jurisdiction, if they must take leave, have access to employment insurance which in many cases can be topped up by private insurance plans.

There are also federal-provincial issues to the bill before the House. To put these issues into perspective, it is important to remember that the Canada Labour Code, which the bill seeks to amend, applies only to employees working under federal jurisdiction. Federally regulated employees comprise 10% of the Canadian workforce in sectors of key importance to the Canadian economic infrastructure. They include, among others, workers in banks and in Canada's transportation and communications sectors. That means that 90% of Canadian workers are governed by provincial or territorial labour legislation.

This is a case where federal and provincial jurisdiction is clearly demarcated. This is not a case where federal and provincial governments have a joint role to play. They act independently within their own jurisdictions.

Amending the Canada Labour Code in a way that would allow individuals to choose between federal and provincial laws would only raise cross-jurisdictional issues and would create enormous confusion in the administration of labour laws. When it comes to the Canada Labour Code, we have a strong tradition in our country of consulting with major unions and employer stakeholders. These consultations are now underway regarding a comprehensive reform of federal labour standards.

Over the years we have accomplished a great deal in our approach. We need to keep working together to strengthen our social foundations and create a better way of life for all Canadians. That is why I fully support what the hon. member is doing by reaching out to Canadian women, children and families, but I think Canadians would be better served if we allowed the commission reviewing part III of the Labour Code to complete its work.

I cannot support the bill at this time. It is premature and the issues it raises need more research and study.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, the singular objective of ensuring safety and discussing safety issues with respect to pregnant mothers and nursing mothers is one that we think is worthy of debate and should be debated. There is no doubt that the issue would be better dealt with in the context of a larger review than presently is being conducted by Professor Arthurs.

I look at the present legislation and what it provides. It allows a pregnant or nursing worker to ask her employer, during the period from the beginning of her pregnancy to the end of the 24th week following birth, to modify her current job functions or reassign her to another job if continuing in her job poses a health risk to her, her fetus or her baby.

The legislation that the member proposes and the one that we have now is similar. The request must be accompanied with a medical certificate from a medical practitioner. While working in a modified or reassigned job, the employee is entitled to the same salary she earned in her usual job. It is only in the event that the employer is unable to modify or reassign an employee, the employee may ask for leave with pay until such time that the employer informs her in writing that it is not reasonably practical to modify her job functions or to reassign her. Thereafter the leave is unpaid.

The legislation that the member proposes to bring through to the House, in kind of a circuitous fashion, is to incorporate what presently exists in Quebec and does not exist in any other province. Saskatchewan has some peculiar legislation, but it does not deal with compensation.

For that period where under the Canada Labour Code the employee would remain unpaid in Quebec, that employee would receive continuing payments which in our estimation would be about $6,230 per pregnant or nursing mother. Based on the number of federal employees in Quebec, we would anticipate that it would be about an additional $12.3 million. If one were to extrapolate that throughout the nation of Canada, that would be about $59 million to $60 million. The objective itself is fine. However, the way the member proposes the bill to proceed causes me some concern. It is worthy of discussion. It should go to committee and be discussed in the context of what is happening.

We will support the bill for that purpose, to come to fruition through a lively exchange in committee and with the opportunity for stakeholders to present their views as well. However, the act probably could better be styled the Canada labour constitutional federal provincial jurisdictional issues act for that is essentially what is at the heart of the bill.

The bill raises some very significant jurisdictional issues that overshadow the legitimate concerns relating to the matter of pregnant or nursing mothers who find themselves in the workforce. It also overshadows the protection and compensation they can expect. If the bill were really concerned primarily with pregnant or nursing mothers, it would have been drafted with those concerns in mind and it would have dealt with the issue on a national basis as opposed to a province by province basis.

It is my proposal that the bill should be amended where the final product deals with the specific issue, but is not allowed simply to do through the back door what it would not do through the front door. I take exception to what is being attempted in the bill in terms of subjecting federal supremacy in matters of federal jurisdiction to the legislative purview of the provinces in areas of provincial jurisdiction. This is not withstanding that I believe there is considerable merit to better protection and more extensive financial coverage to pregnant and nursing mothers, an aspect of the legislation that is supportable and indeed laudable.

Let me deal with the jurisdictional issues first. When one looks at the bill, it indicates that an employee may avail herself of the legislation of the province where she works. What we find is provincial legislation that deals either with occupational health and safety or other matters. It depends where one works or where one resides and works as to whether one has a benefit. There is no doubt in my mind that if we are dealing with issues of safety, if we are dealing with issues with concern to the health of the mother of the child, or the fetus, the same standards should be set across this nation and not province by province and there should not be any discrimination depending upon where one lives.

This legislation also indicates that this right may be exercised by application to the provincial agency administering the provincial legislation. This is simply an administrative matter. It also requires the federal government to enter into an agreement with the provincial government to determine the administrative and financial terms resulting from the application.

It would seem to me as a very minimum the House should require that any bill that automatically amends the Canada Labour Code be brought before it for members to affirm it or to agree with its content. That should be a required amendment.

If the legislation intended to deal specifically with pregnant and nursing mothers, why was it not so styled? Instead, what we have is the automatic imposition of provincial occupational health and safety laws on federally regulated employees in each particular province.

The Supreme Court of Canada has held that matters of health and safety and accident prevention in respect of federal undertakings bear directly upon the management and operation of the federal undertakings and are matters of federal jurisdiction. The court has also held that legislative delegations involving a delegation of law-making power from Parliament to a province would be unconstitutional unless the delegation was purely an administrative delegation where the provinces were given authority to administer certain federal legislation.

I am afraid that what is happening here is not an administrative matter. It actually allows the provinces to legislate and make federal laws in the areas that apply to federal undertakings.

A constitutional alternative would be for the federal government to incorporate provincial legislation by reference, but in most common situations the legislation is in existing form so we can understand and know what it encompasses. What we have here is anticipatory incorporation by reference. That is, each time a province amends its legislation, it also has the effect of amending federal legislation, and therein lies the danger. It is a principle that should not be used.

This House and its parliamentarians should not subject themselves to provincial legislation in advance of knowing what it is or having the opportunity to review it or to debate the merits of it or its effect or impact on the nation and matters of federal undertakings. Also, it should not differ from province to province or where one lives.

Having said that, as I mentioned before, the specific objective of the legislation has merit. It is one that is supportable, but this can be done by formulating new language that reproduces essentially the existing provincial legislation that we are now aware of and by making it applicable nationally if that is where we want to go. Simply put, I would say to set out the additional protection that is desired for pregnant and nursing employees and let us debate that issue.

As flawed as this legislation is and as significant as the pitfalls are and notwithstanding the standards are not uniformly applied throughout every province and territory of this great nation, my position is that the issue itself is a social issue of national concern that relates to the health and safety of mothers, the newborn, and interesting to note, the fetus.

This special social issue is worthy of debate. The bill should at least go to committee so debate can take place there. It is my view that if the social objective is to be preserved, many significant amendments need to be made to the bill as it now exists. It also should have the input of those who may be affected by the proposed legislation. It should have a far wider audience than has been allowed or can be allowed in a private member's bill.

It is with some trepidation that we think this matter should go back for further debate. It concerns me that what we are attempting by this bill is to really incorporate by reference provincial legislation into federal law without the House even knowing what that legislation may be. It is a dangerous course of action. It is something which we certainly should not adopt without very significant and severe amendments. It would be most unseemly that the House would allow legislation to pass without the House doing its due diligence by looking at the legislation particularly, by hearing from the various interest groups, by making an assessment, and being held accountable to the populace at large in this great nation of ours, as opposed to having provinces legislate in such a fashion that would automatically change the laws of this country as soon as one province took a step.

That is the wrong direction in which to be headed. Certainly that portion of the bill would have to be remade. In fact, the bill would have to be reconstructed in a very significant way for it to be able to proceed on any basis.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

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.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Yvon Lévesque Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Shefford for this opportunity to speak on this issue to which we are committed and which we are very proud to support. Allow me to acknowledge the skills of the hon. members for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert and for Shefford in this area. I congratulate them both on the outstanding job they have done and their insight since the beginning of this 38th Parliament, particularly where this bill is concerned.

Believe me, I am familiar with the provision being sought; as a labour relations advisor, I made representations concerning this provision when it was being developed, and I was later involved in its implementation.

I was very proud and satisfied when those who benefited and their loved ones expressed their appreciation to me. In most cases, I also observed that they had acquired the serenity that women need when pregnant or nursing.

What we are seeking today is to have that part of Quebec's legislation apply in Quebec, to all female workers in Quebec who are subject to the Canada Labour Code, as well as every other provision this government recognizes and applies for the benefit of its own employees, among others.

Obviously, we realize that most of the other provinces have their own legislation respecting occupational health and safety, which this government also applies for the benefit of all workers within its jurisdiction.

It is amazing, in this day and age, that this government—which preaches equity and boasts about being a global model and able to speak with a single voice for all the provinces which have already demonstrated that they have much greater insight and understanding within their jurisdictions and areas of jurisdiction—will never be able or allowed to practice what it preaches.

One need only look at the contempt shown for members of the military, who are discarded like old rags whenever they become unusable due to an accident or to extreme service. The same is true of female employees of this government, whom it excludes from the application of this particular part of most provincial legislation which it applies and which ensures that pregnant employees and their unborn children have a safe pregnancy and nursing conditions, including a decent income.

We certainly would not want to force the provinces that feel they do not need such protection—and this decision should be made by their taxpayers—to use these provisions. However, we must ensure that all female workers who come under the Canada Labour Code enjoy the protection to which a pregnant employee is entitled in those provinces where such protection may exist.

Unlike this government, customs and responsibilities evolve with markets, economies and demographics, and the scenario in which man was the provider has also been evolving rapidly since the sixties. Indeed, women have increasingly become providers too. Instead of merely trying to interfere with provincial jurisdictions and to blindly try to create this model of nation-state—which, obviously, the government has neither the qualifications nor the mandate to achieve—it would be well advised to take into consideration the knowledge gained by its counterparts and to cooperate with them by giving its employees all the protections deemed necessary in each of the programs set up in the various areas.

In this modern day and age, it is necessary to guarantee a safe pregnancy and nursing period to female workers, and to provide them with monetary conditions that will allow them to maintain their quality of life and that of their families, whenever the work being done jeopardizes the health of the mother or of the unborn or nursing child.

It is unfortunate that, despite all the modern and attractive legislation relating to family policy and to health and monetary protection for workers in the Canadian provinces, this federation, which seems unable to operate in an equitable fashion, is still implementing—despite incredible and indecent budget surpluses—pilot programs and other programs that adversely affect its workers.

It is utopian to think that a woman who is supporting her family would leave her job because she is pregnant and it is dangerous to her health and that of her unborn child, when she has to provide for two or three other children in her family and knows that she will have a two-week penalty without this precious salary. In addition, she will only get a taxable 55% of maximum insurable earnings of $39,000 a year, just when she was starting to earn a reasonable wage. These measures are clearly insufficient and barely worthy of a third world country, in addition to failing to provide any job security.

In this modern, civilized world, a pregnant worker is often the person who provides for the family and is certainly contributing to our population. Therefore, when she is pregnant or nursing, she should be entitled to decent conditions that make her feel valued if she has to cease work for precautionary reasons because her health or that of her unborn or already nursing child are endangered, so long as she meets the following conditions.

She must be a worker within the meaning of the act. She must be pregnant, of course, and exposed to working conditions that involve a risk of infectious diseases or physical dangers for her or her unborn child. She must be nursing and exposed to working conditions that are dangerous to her breast-feeding child. She must submit a medical certificate from the attending physician after consulting with the public health branch of the regional health board attesting to the risks or dangers of her work. It must be possible for her to be assigned to other duties that do not involve this danger or these risks.

Contingent on these conditions, the woman will be entitled during the first five working days following her cessation of work to payment of her regular wages by her employer. This is not reimbursed by the CSST.

The employer will also pay for the next 14 working days that would normally have been worked at a rate of 90% of her net wages; for this, the employer will be reimbursed by the CSST.

Thereafter and until the time when the woman is reassigned, has her baby, or stops breast-feeding, the CSST continues to pay her benefits amounting to 90% of her net income.

In these cases, it might be necessary to amend section 19(2) of the employment insurance legislation to free women from the requirement to draw on their employment insurance benefits and thus avoid penalizing them unduly, as was already shown in previous remarks.

At the time of the last available survey in 2002, there were 225,000 Quebeckers in the federal public service working in areas of federal jurisdiction, such as telecommunications, banks, ports, bridges, and air transport. These areas fall under the Canada Labour Code. As a result, Quebec women who are subject to the Canada Labour Code are not entitled to the precautionary cessation of work in Quebec that is covered by the CSST.

For these reasons, I hope to see all members of Parliament support this bill, which is absolutely essential for the progress of our society.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business



Réal Lapierre Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to express my opinion on this most important issue. As we begin the 21st century, women are a qualified and efficient source of labour that we urgently need in all sectors of our economy. What makes them special—and this is nothing new—goes beyond their professional skills and resides in the fact that they ensure the future of the human race.

Given that, we can more clearly understand the need for legislation to make their lives easier, not only as professionals, but also as mothers. It is not easy to do both, particularly when a woman has a difficult pregnancy, and her health or that of her fetus is at risk, or when her working conditions may endanger their health or otherwise be harmful.

In a context where the low birth rate is a problem, our duty as parliamentarians is not only to make society think about this fundamental issue, but also to propose real measures to improve the lives of women at work. Therein lies the importance of the bill we have introduced.

Bill C-380 would be a clear improvement over the situation in Canada to date. Pregnant women who are regulated by the federal code and who need to leave their jobs earlier to prevent pregnancy-related problems could opt for their provincial or Quebec legislation, instead of the federal code, in order to maximize their benefits under the system best suited to them.

Under Quebec legislation, conditions for pregnant employees regulated by that code, are more generous. Quebec's health and occupational safety commission (CSST) allows an employee to receive her regular salary during the first five working days after stopping work. During the next 14 days normally worked, she is entitled to 90% of her net salary, paid by her employer who is then reimbursed by the CSST.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for federal public service employees or those working in areas regulated by the federal government, such as air transportation, banking and telecommunications. Employees in these industries are subject to the Canada Labour Code and, therefore, they are not entitled to conditions set by the CSST.

Bill C-380 would remedy this deplorable situation, which is a source of injustice for these Quebec workers. With the bill before us, there would no longer be two categories of workers. Pregnant or nursing employees under federal jurisdiction would receive 90% of their salary while on preventive withdrawal under the coverage provided by the CSST, just as those employees under Quebec jurisdiction, rather than the 55% provided by the EI program. I think it is safe to say that they would be pleased with that.

Should Bill C-380 become law, it would be easier for pregnant or nursing employees to have access to more equitable benefits since they would not have to meet EI eligibility requirements.

Finally, they would not lose any of their maternity or parental leave because they had to go on preventive withdrawal, as is the case now under the Canada Labour Code, which certainly penalizes those women who need protection the most.

I must add that I deplore the fact that the pilot project under which the necessary adjustments between the CSST system and the Canada Labour Code system could be made ended October 1.

This pilot project gave employees under Quebec or other provincial jurisdiction the opportunity to chose to receive partial EI benefits while receiving preventive withdrawal benefits, or to receive only preventive withdrawal benefits and then be entitled to a longer period of maternity or parental leave. This ensured a balance and made the system fairer for all women.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

October 17th, 2005 / 12:05 p.m.



Mauril Bélanger Minister for Internal Trade

moved that BillC-63, An Act to amend An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to begin the debate at second reading of Bill C-63, which is entitled an act to amend An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

We are referring here to a change to the act providing new rules for the registration of political parties, passed by this House in 2004 under the name Bill C-3. I will provide an overview today of the context in which the new rules were adopted in 2004 and will speak to the need to act quickly in order to preserve the system for registering political parties.

Bill C-63 proposes to do this by abrogating the sunset clause included in Bill C-3. It would be replaced by a provision requiring mandatory review of the new registration rules by a committee of this House.

The party registration rules adopted in 1970 required a party to endorse 50 candidates at a general election. It was believed that this would ensure that opportunistic groups masquerading as political parties did not gain access to the public funding that flowed from being a registered party.

The adoption of new rules was made necessary after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the 50 candidate threshold in the Figueroa decision. The threshold was found to be contrary to the right to vote and to be a candidate as guaranteed by section 3 of the charter. The Supreme Court suspended its decision for one year to provide an opportunity for Parliament to amend the Canada Elections Act and it was in this context that Parliament considered Bill C-3.

Bill C-3 was introduced on February 10, 2004 to lower the threshold to just one candidate and make other changes to prevent abuse of the public funding of political parties.

In particular, there is a new definition of “political party”. It states that one of the fundamental purposes of a party must be to participate in public affairs by endorsing one or more candidates in an election. To determine the eligibility of a party that applies, the Chief Electoral Officer will require a valid declaration from the party leader that his or her party meets this definition and he or she must be satisfied that it does.

During the various steps in the study of this bill, many people raised concerns about the new rules under consideration. Some wondered whether setting the threshold at a single candidate would not allow opportunistic groups to get public funding. Others were concerned that as a result of the one-year suspension of the Supreme Court decision, no complete examination had been made of the Canada Elections Act to identify other provisions that might be challenged like Figueroa. Finally, the Chief Electoral Officer was opposed to this new job of evaluating whether applicants meet the definition of a political party.

In view of all these concerns, all parties agreed to add a two-year sunset provision to Bill C-3.

Since the former Bill C-3 came into force on May 15, 2004, the two year sunset will operate on May 15 of next year, if it is not repealed beforehand. The sunset of the former Bill C-3 would mean that there would no longer be rules for the registration and deregistration of federal political parties. Such a closed system would be contrary to the charter and would be contrary to the democratic standards of Canada.

Some may question why a review of the new rules was not carried out previously within the period of time of two years provided in the sunset clause.

In response, it is important to remember that the adoption of Bill C-3 was closely followed by the dissolution of Parliament nine days later. The minority Parliament that resulted from this election was opened on October 5, 2004.

Soon after, and at the request of the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I wrote to the committee to suggest that the government's preference would be to review the new registration rules at the same time as the statutorily mandated review of the political financing regime adopted in 2003 with Bill C-24. Indeed, since these issues are intricately linked, such a joint process still makes sense.

The review of the new political financing rules will be carried out by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs once the Chief Electoral Officer issues his recommendations on political financing.

When I wrote to the chair of the standing committee in November 2004, the Chief Electoral Officer's report was expected in the spring of 2005. However, due to the need for his office to focus resources on election preparedness, because of the minority Parliament, the Chief Electoral Officer has since indicated that his report would only be submitted this fall, in two volumes.

In the first volume submitted in September, a few days after the opening of this session of Parliament, dealing with non-financial matters, the Chief Electoral Officer recommended that the sunset clause in Bill C-3 be removed. His second volume of recommendations, dealing with political financing, will be submitted later this session and a joint review of Bill C-3 and Bill C-24 would then be possible.

Given the need for a comprehensive review, and the government's commitment to hold an election 30 days after the issue of the final Gomery report, the government's proposal in the bill is prudent and responsible. Bill C-63 would provide a two year period during which this review is to take place to account for all contingencies, including election scenarios.

I want to close by saying that the registration and financing rules for political parties are closely linked. Registration gives parties access to public funds, which allows them to take part in the elections and maintain their registration. Bill C-63 will lead to a full examination of these fundamental aspects of the Canada Elections Act.

For all these reasons, I am calling on the hon. members to support Bill C-63 and to refer it to a committee for consideration so that we can pass it as quickly as possible.

Thank you.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.


Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister said he wanted to engage in a review of Bill C-3 and Bill C-24 together. That is peachy. However, the fact is that there is no legislative requirement. Bill C-24 is not about to expire. Bill C-3 will expire May 16, 2006.

There was over a year during which, with this minister as the minister for this portfolio, a review could have taken place. In fact, virtually that entire time, with the exception of the first month of that two year period, he was the minister. During all this time, this review could have taken place. There is almost exactly an additional seven months before May 16, 2006 when this bill will expire.

The question I am working up to is twofold. First, why did he wait an entire year, as minister, indeed why did he wait an entire 16 months now before bringing this matter before the committee or before the House, when he had this large amount of time set aside to deal with the bill?

Second, we still have seven months before the expiration of Bill C-3 and the provisions it contains. That is plenty of time to bring witnesses before the committee and to hear from witnesses who could be chief electoral officers, for example, of other jurisdictions or other provinces to take a look at what they do.

Why the rush to simply replace the sunset clause, which forces his government to deal with this, with something that means that a review is not necessary when his record clearly indicates that the government is not going to respect the kinds of reviews that are put into legislation, that it is not going to follow through? Why would we want to replace a mandatory review which now forces the government to take action with a non-mandatory review which means it can dither around for another year or never get around to dealing with the bill?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe that my colleague opposite did not listen closely to what I said.

When I wrote to the committee in November 2004, the government was proposing to link the review of Bill C-3 with that of Bill C-24. Indeed, these two bills are closely related. As far as I know, absolutely no one from the committee, including the hon. member asking me this question, disagreed with this—not then, not now.

There is a reason for this delay. I am not blaming the Chief Electoral Officer, but review of Bill C-24, which is also mandated by legislation, cannot begin until the Chief Electoral Officer has tabled in the House his report on political party financing.

The Chief Electoral Officer told us he intends to table his report in December. The situation is such that—the government being careful—we still might not have any rules on political party registration in May. That would put us in an anti-democratic situation whereby no party could register with Elections Canada.

We want to avoid such a situation. The measure being proposed today in the House would require a review of Bill C-3. This method would ensure a mandatory review by May 2006 and every two years, should Bill C-63 pass.

I think my colleague does not fully understand this perfectly legitimate situation. I think the government is being very prudent by doing this.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say at the outset to the minister across the way that my colleague from Lanark—Carleton clearly understands what the present situation is, which is that once again we have seen the government neglecting to take ministerial responsibility for something which it has been mandated to do.

The reality is that the review was supposed to be taking place as we speak. There is still time to do the review. Far from the government taking the prudent or cautious approach, I would argue that it has neglected to uphold its responsibility yet again. We see this time and time again. During my remarks I will be citing a number of examples where the government neglects its responsibility and this is another case.

We have seen many times how at the 11th hour just before the summer recess in June, for example, or the winter recess in December, a minister will come rushing into the House with an emergency. There is a requirement for the government to adhere to a mandatory review of such and such a piece of legislation, and at the 11th hour government members come rushing in and say they have to pass this at all stages right away before the House rises because it is an emergency. We have seen this happen time and time again, certainly over the 12 years I have been here.

My colleague clearly understands what this is all about. It is about putting this off indefinitely, as the Liberals have done so many times with other reviews.

The minister talked about writing a letter to the chair of the procedure and House affairs committee which would have the mandate to do this review. He wrote a letter in November last year. He has members, as all parties do, on that committee. As we got closer to the deadline, one would think that if he wanted to take the prudent or cautious approach he referred to just moments ago, he would have had members there raising that issue and asking whether the committee was aware that it was running out of time, here, and that it had to undertake this study so that the government could adhere to the law. It is the law that this takes place, rather than once again circumventing the law by passing this quick piece of legislation to replace a sunset clause with some review and give it another two year period to hopefully conduct it.