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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.

Topics

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Bloc 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Whitby—Oshawa Ontario

Liberal

Judi Longfield LiberalParliamentary 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

Noon

Bloc

Réal Lapierre Bloc 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 CodePrivate 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 ActGovernment Orders

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

Ottawa—Vanier Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger LiberalMinister 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 ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative 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 ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal 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 ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative 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.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague opposite said, I wrote to the committee in November 2004 suggesting that it made sense to deal with the review of Bill C-3 at the same time that we were dealing with Bill C-24. None of the members of the committee, government members or opposition members, disagreed with that.

Only in August of this year did we find out that the Chief Electoral Officer's report vis-à-vis Bill C-24 would be tabled in the House later on, perhaps in December. Given that, we did the responsible thing and we suggested a course of action. If the committee wishes to act otherwise, it has the entire discretion to do so.

This course of action now is taking us into a situation whereby we could end up in May of next year with a vacuum in terms of rules for registration of political parties, which is an untenable situation, so the government is acting responsibly by presenting Bill C-63, which would add two years and oblige the committee to do a review of Bill C-3.

No one on the committee, government members or opposition members, disagreed with the notion that Bill C-3 and Bill C-24 are tied and interrelated and that the revision of both together would be a good thing to do.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, people watching in TV-land may be misled by what the minister has just said. He made a factually incorrect statement. He said that we could be in a situation next May where we would go into an election and there would be no rules governing the conduct of smaller parties because this legislation would have run out. That is actually not so.

There is a well constructed sunset clause and what it says is that the legislation will run out on May 16 of next year. As I have mentioned, May 16 is seven months from now, which gives us plenty of time to deal with the matter at hand, with passing new legislation and having witnesses and so on. But in the event that Parliament is not sitting when the expiration occurs, the legislation is automatically extended for a further 90 days, meaning that in fact there would be legislation in place at that time. The danger the minister is describing is a non-existent danger. The fact is that this legislation will not put us in any danger.

The real point here is that going into the next election we should have a proper replacement for Bill C-3, something that takes care of the underlying problem of moneys potentially being collected and used for groups that are not really parties. This could be done by the next election if we pass the legislation that I am proposing we pass instead of simply having the sunset clause eliminated.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, if Parliament is sitting next May and this has not been addressed, then there will be a vacuum. That is a situation which should not be left to happen. Therefore, we are proposing an amendment to the Canada Elections Act which would give two years and oblige a committee to do the review that has not now been done, for the reasons I have explained.

There is absolutely nothing nefarious here. Everybody agrees that Bill C-24, political financing, and Bill C-3, political registration, are intimately linked and that the revision of both perhaps should be done at the same time. No one on the committee has disagreed with that and this is why we are now in this situation. There is absolutely nothing nefarious about keeping a window open for two years in order for a committee of Parliament and Parliament to reconsider the rules concerning registration of political parties.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today and add some comments on Bill C-63. As we have just heard from the minister responsible, the deputy House leader for the government, Bill C-63 is a response to Bill C-3, adopted in the third session of the 37th Parliament, which replaced the Elections Act requirement that a party field 50 candidates in one election in order to qualify for party status in the next election.

With much more relaxed criteria for the establishment of party status, Bill C-3 was a response to the Supreme Court's 2003 Figueroa decision which ruled that the 50 candidate requirement was indeed unconstitutional.

Bill C-3 was intended to be temporary and therefore included a sunset clause that will cause the law to cease to be in force on May 16, 2006, as we have just discussed. The purpose of Bill C-63 is to replace the sunset clause with a comprehensive review of Bill C-3, to take place within two years of the passage of the new law.

I have my doubts as to whether or not we can trust the government to ensure that this review takes place. On September 12, the Ottawa Citizen reported that under the stewardship of this Liberal government Parliament is breaking its own laws while shirking self-imposed obligations to watch over rights and freedoms of Canadians.

The article disclosed that Parliament sometimes fails to make a timely study of contentious and sensitive statutes, which the committees of the House of Commons or Senate are legally obliged to review within a set timeframe, usually within three to five years. A spokesman for the Canadian Bar Association was quoted in the article as saying, “If a review has not been undertaken as required by law, one must question the value of the oversight mechanism”.

At the same time, a House of Commons official was quoted as saying:

Everybody has got egg on their face. Even if (a mandatory Parliamentary review) is in a statute, it's virtually unenforceable. If you or I broke a statutory provision that is mandatory, the forces of law and order would come after us and probably inflict some penalty, but in fact with the Senate or the House no one can inflict any legal penalty.

The article pointed to a number of specific examples, including the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, whose five year review was supposed to begin in a committee of either chamber by last July. The mandatory five year review of the new Canada Customs and Revenue Agency's operations also began six months late.

The justice minister has yet to refer for legislative scrutiny the bill that gave police what is arguably the western world's most sweeping immunity from prosecution. Even the parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister made the following admission in the article in regard to a mandatory review of new powers given to the RCMP when he said:

I can't justify the unjustifiable. Clearly if the act, which is an Act of Parliament, says that it has to be reviewed within three years, we should be doing that.

Thus, while ministers are ignoring laws left, right and centre, the Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, in response to a question about the Chief Electoral Officer suggesting that he might violate the Canada Elections Act, preaches to the House that no one is above the law; maybe he meant to say no one who is not a Liberal cabinet minister.

There is another contrast. While the government pitches these mandatory reviews, the parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister told the Ottawa Citizen :

Frankly, and this would be my personal opinion, I think that sometimes it's a bit of a cop out to say we will review (a given law) in three years. If (a bill) is right, then it's right.

Then we have the NDP. That party supports the government and is responsible for its continuation in office, making a mockery of Parliament and the doctrine of responsible government. At the same time, the member for Ottawa Centre accused the Liberals of backing down on a promise to launch consultations this fall on electoral reform. On September 28 he stood in the House and asked:

Is this not another extraordinary example of the cynicism and empty rhetoric of the government that the people of Canada want removed...?

I think the member for Ottawa Centre should direct that question to his own leader.

The Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has known for a year about his obligation to come before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, yet he has done nothing, nothing, I might add, other than revealing that he did write a letter almost a year ago. Either he has been knowingly in dereliction of his duty or he has just been unaware that he had to do this, which arguably is even worse since it betrays a lack of competence.

In his annual report to the House of Commons, the Chief Electoral Officer endorsed the idea of a new bill to put off the expiry of Bill C-3. However, his report states that it is only because there has been no action that a rush bill to cancel the expiry of Bill C-3 is necessary.

The minister may suggest that it is the obligation of the committee to initiate new legislation, which I suppose would free him from taking responsibility for having failed to act for a year; however, the minister's parliamentary secretary sits on the committee, so why, for a full year, has the parliamentary secretary failed to point out to the minister that nothing is happening at the committee, at least nothing on this issue, or to remind the committee that the minister would like something to happen?

The fact of the matter is that this government has a terrible track record on following through with meaningful democratic reform, whether it be electoral or parliamentary reform. Even more disturbing is the fact that the Liberal leadership cannot even respect the rules that are currently in place and is making a mockery of Parliament on a daily basis.

Let us remember what took place in the spring session, when the government House leader held back scheduling opposition days because he was afraid we might hold his government to account. We suspected that they would try to break from past practice of generally scheduling one opposition day per week, so I presented a motion on April 18 that essentially scheduled one opposition day per week. When the government House leader got wind of my intentions, he immediately rushed into the chamber, cancelled the day and refused to schedule another opposition day for something in the order of five weeks.

It then became clear: there was enough evidence that the government might not enjoy the confidence of the House and, as a result, the matter of confidence had to be settled. We made several attempts, in committee and later through the adoption of committee reports in the House, to try to place a motion of non-confidence before the House. Through procedural tactics, the government avoided a vote until May 10.

The May 10 confidence vote took the form of an amendment to a motion to concur in a committee report. It carried by a vote of 153 to 150. It was similar to an amendment moved in 1926 against the government of Mackenzie King. The Mackenzie King situation was considered a matter of confidence. Even the Speaker ruled that our May 10 amendment and the 1926 amendment were not significantly different.

Notwithstanding that fact, the government ignored the outcome of the vote. It was absurd, and if it were not so serious, it would have made a wonderful comedy skit.

Come to think of it, I believe that skit has already been done. Did it not remind members of the dead parrot routine from Monty Python? When the government was defeated, its House leader tried to pull the wool over everyone's eyes by saying, “No, no, the government is not dead. It is just resting”.

The public and constitutional experts then said, “Look, we know a dead government when we see one and we are looking at one right now”.

“No, it is not dead; it is resting. There. See? It moved,” said the minister.

“Now look here,” we said, “we have definitely had enough of this. This government is definitely deceased. We discovered that the only reason it has been sitting on its perch in the first place is that it has been nailed down”.

“Of course it was nailed down”, said the government House leader. “If I had not nailed the government down, it could have exposed its members to an election”.

In the Monty Python skit, the humour was in the audacity of the salesman thinking he could get away with selling a dead parrot. The government House leader expressed the same boldness in pretending that his government was not defeated, but Canadians know better.

The government House leader finally got the message and the drama ended on May 19, when the government promised that it would respect the outcome of confidence votes on two budget bills. Of course by that time a certain member was enticed to cross the floor to sit as a Liberal cabinet minister, and the NDP was bought off with billions of Canadian tax dollars.

What was alarming about the whole affair was that the government acted illegally for nine days, from May 10 to May 19, and used that time and Canadians' money to secure enough votes to win the second vote.

The scenario of ignoring the outcome of a vote and waiting for another opportunity is discussed in Eugene Forsey's “The Question of Confidence and Responsible Government”, where he states, “to allow such a principle is to make a mockery of the doctrine of confidence”.

The government House leader is once again making a mockery of Parliament this fall. He is using the same tactics he used in the spring. The only thing new this time around is his excuse. He said that the Prime Minister had fixed a date for the election, which he promised would be called 30 days after the final report of the Gomery commission expected in February. Obviously the minister does not understand the parliamentary system of government. Even if we had fixed election dates in this country, in a parliamentary system there is always the potential to trigger an election outside of a fixed date due to the government losing the confidence of the House. Furthermore, the government House leader has an obligation to provide the Leader of the Opposition with the opportunity to put that to a test.

The 22nd edition of Erskine May states:

From time to time the Opposition put down a motion on the paper expressing lack of confidence in the Government--a 'vote of censure' as it is called. By established convention the Government always accedes to the demand from the Leader of the Opposition to allot a day for the discussion of such a motion. In allotting a day for this purpose the Government is entitled to have regard to the exigencies of its own business, but a reasonably early day is invariably found. This convention is founded on the recognized position of the Opposition as a potential Government, which guarantees the legitimacy of such an interruption of the normal course of business. For its part, the Government has everything to gain by meeting such a direct challenge to its authority at the earliest possible moment.

While it is the government's prerogative to schedule the business of the House, it would be unethical and against convention to suggest that the government could abuse its authority in order to avoid a confidence vote and govern illegally. If the Leader of the Opposition feels that the government has lost the confidence of the House, the government is obliged to schedule a day to settle the matter. We cannot have another situation like we had in the spring. It was a sham and should never be repeated.

When the government responded to the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs called “Democratic Renewal”, it indicated that the committee's recommended timeframe was unrealistic. The government then suggested a timeframe that will not allow this special committee to finish its work. The Liberals forgot that they have a minority and that this Parliament is not long for this life. In fact, it already technically died once.

The response also attempts to establish some government achievements that have been made in strengthening the role of Parliament, including the creation of an independent ethics commissioner reporting to Parliament. The Prime Minister sat on that promise for over 10 years. He even voted against an opposition motion that called on his government to implement that very promise which came straight from the Liberal red book. The Liberals had to be embarrassed into implementing that change and only after being pressured by the opposition for over 10 years.

The government also crows about its commitment to democratic renewal that was set out in the October 5, 2005 Speech from the Throne where it pledged “to examine the need and options for reform of our democratic institutions, including electoral reform”. What about the commitment in the Speech from the Throne that promised to allow members an opportunity to consider all public information pertaining to the missile defence agreement and to vote prior to a government decision? The government completely ignored that commitment.

The response also stated:

In February 2004, as the Prime Minister's first order of business, the Government tabled its Action Plan for Democratic Reform. The initiatives outlined in the Action Plan were developed to ensure that Members of Parliament play a significantly larger role in the decision-making process.

Those are nice words, but as Benjamin Franklin once said, “Well done is better than well said”. How does ignoring the wishes of the majority of members help the government play a significantly larger role in the decision making process in this place?

We all remember when the Prime Minister was running in a leadership contest and portrayed himself as the man who would slay the democratic deficit. He was successful at creating and popularizing the phrase “the democratic deficit” but that was his only success. He created words and expectations. That was it. He had no intention of slaying the democratic deficit, nor did he have any plans to respect this House and its members.

If actions speak louder than words, let us review some more of his actions. On November 30, 2004, the House supported a motion sponsored by the Leader of the Opposition that called on the government to take the appropriate measures to sell the 11,000 acres of arable land back to families and farmers whose land was expropriated to build the Mirabel airport. The Prime Minister refused to comply with the wishes of the House.

This affront to Parliament was repeated on February 8 regarding a motion to farmers.

I could go on and on listing other motions. Indeed, I have questions on the Order Paper now dealing with the inaction of the government in respecting the wishes of Parliament as expressed by the majority of members when they voted on these motions.

I want to get back to Bill C-3. The need for such a bill is a mystery since there is plenty of time, as my colleague from Lanark—Carleton pointed out, for the committee to draft replacement legislation between now and when Bill C-3 expires on May 16, 2006. Moreover, an election in the intervening period would not throw off this process, as my colleague just pointed out. The sunset clause in Bill C-3 states that in the event that Parliament is not in session when the bill expires, the bill will continue to function for an additional 90 days after the first sitting of the new Parliament. Thus, a new Conservative government could easily deal with this legislation if an election were to take place prior to May 2006.

There is no reason that we cannot provide Canadians with a Parliament and an electoral system they can be proud of. It has so much potential and so much to offer. Unlike the Liberals, the Conservative Party has clearly shown that it respects and recognizes this potential. It demonstrated that it is prepared to diligently and aggressively create more opportunities for democracy within the parliamentary structure. No party has pursued democratic reform in Parliament more than the Conservative Party in the last 10 years.

We have been successful at making improvements to private members' business, accountability in getting questions answered by the government, secret ballot elections at committee and democratic selection of senior officers of Parliament, such as the Privacy Commissioner, the Access to Information Commissioner and the Clerk of the House of Commons. Thanks to the initiatives brought in by the three opposition parties at the beginning of this Parliament, recommendations that flow from committee reports will no longer be shelved by the government but instead will be taken up by the House. We now have more opposition members chairing standing committees. The nomination of the Deputy Speaker is no longer selected by the Prime Minister but is now the prerogative of the Speaker himself. We now have question and comments that follow every speech, including speeches by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Many of these successes did not come easy. When the Liberals had their majority it took 10 years of persistence to change the process for private members' business. First, the Liberals ignored our suggestions, then they ridiculed them, and then their own backbench began to embrace them. Then the fight was on with the front bench. They were eventually outmanoeuvred and proposals were reluctantly adopted.

The issue of secret ballot elections at committee followed a similar path but did not take quite as long. We managed to get support of some Liberal backbenchers after we reminded them that in the 19th century, prior to secret ballot voting in general elections, all kinds of methods of coercion were used to influence voters. Parties often hired bullies who moved from riding to riding in fact.

The government then realized that was exactly what the government whip did each September during the chairmen elections at committees. The chief whip, his or her deputies and staff, moved from committee to committee to ensure their members voted the right way. The tactics used by the government whip during the election of chairmen and vice-chairmen of committees were not that different than those tactics used to influence elections in the 19th century.

Who in their right mind would not want to change that? Against all rational thinking and common sense, the front bench of the Liberal caucus fought tooth and nail against any such change.

The then government House leader, after we had introduced a motion that would have allowed for secret ballot elections at committee, performed procedural aerobatics and employed shameless bullying tactics, much like what is taking place today with the current House leader. Once again their motives are to hold on to power at the expense of democracy.

Nothing positive has changed under the Prime Minister and the leadership of the House leader and deputy House leader. If anything, the situation has grown worse. The democratic deficit is greater today than it was under Jean Chrétien.

On the inevitable day when the Prime Minister must let go of the reins of power, he will wake up in a cold sweat and plead, “Don't let it end like this. Tell them I did something”. However it will be too late.

In summary, Bill C-63 is an affront to the House and its members. It is a perfect example of how not to legislate and is indicative of the way Liberals manage the business of Parliament. They give themselves a deadline, ignore the deadline, wait until the last minute and then declare an emergency. That is no way to legislate or to govern.

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12:45 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade

Madam Speaker, I would like to indicate to the hon. member that I was going to rise on a point of order to bring him back to the topic at hand. However, as I know he is the opposition House leader and should know better, out of respect for him I did not do that.

However we should come back to the bill at hand. It is very important that we focus on Bill C-63. I did not hear my colleague disagree with the minister in terms of the importance of interlinking, for instance, Bill C-3 and Bill C-24. We feel they are very closely related. I learned, however, that my hon. colleague watches too much TV and too many Monty Python movies.

The mandatory review would be done by the procedure and House affairs committee. In fact, the opposition has a majority on that committee. It seems to me that we should be sending this mandatory review to committee and allow it to do its work. Maybe he could comment on that, please.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's comment and the respect he showed me by not rising on a point of order. Of course, what I was doing was citing many examples of why the opposition distrusts the government when it comes to a bill like this that is going to commit the House to a review to take place in two years.

As I pointed out through all my examples, when it comes to parliamentary and electoral reform the government has come up short time and time again. This is just the latest example. I am sure when my colleague speaks to the bill he will as well cite some examples of how the government consistently comes up short.

The issue at hand is the government's suggestion, followed by some suggestion from the committee, that somehow we should link the review of Bill C-3 with Bill C-24. As my colleague from Lanark—Carleton addressed during questions and comments to the minister, once the government knew it had the responsibility to conduct this review in a timely manner and understood that it would be unnecessarily delayed by linking it to Bill C-24, it certainly had the wherewithal, as I indicated, to come before the procedure and House affairs committee, on which it had members, and suggest, in the strongest possible terms, that if the House must adhere to the law then the committee should undertake the study right away.

As my colleague said, there is no reason that the committee could not be seized with this and do it between now and the deadline of May 16. We do not need this legislation to remove the deadline and establish instead this potential two year time period, which once again could be ignored. In fact, if Bill C-63 were to pass, it would not surprise me at all that in two years from now, if I am lucky enough to be re-elected by my constituents, I might still be standing here and the government will be bringing forward a new Bill C-63 to once again extend the deadline.

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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, the minister earlier was constructing a narrative about why he had to put forward legislation that would remove the sunset clause in Bill C-3 rather than engaging in a review of Bill C-3, the legislation that deals with smaller parties and the potential for money to be given to organizations that masquerade as parties. That is the purpose of the bill.

Now his narrative goes like this. I use the word “narrative” because it has only a marginal connection to the truth. It is not a lie; it only has a marginal connection to the truth.

First, he said that the bill was passed days prior to the election of 2004 so there was no time for any review at that time.

Second, he said that the bill must be reviewed in connection with Bill C-24, the electoral finance law, which deals with among other things restriction of individual donations. He asked the committee in a letter he sent out in November 2004 for this to take place, and nobody objected. He got no response to the letter.

I have my researcher trying to find the letter, the existence of which I have to admit was a mystery to me. Perhaps I did not see that correspondence. The parliamentary secretary sits on the committee. One might have thought that at some point he would have said a response was needed to the letter. The minister could have done it. The minister crosses the floor to chat with me all the time. This was almost a year ago and I do not recall this. Anyway, nobody objected and therefore it must be done in conjunction with Bill C-24.

Finally, he said that the Chief Electoral Officer's report on Bill C-24 was delayed and it would not happen until later. Therefore, we could not review Bill C-24 so we could not review Bill C-3 either. This meant we would miss the legislative deadline, which meant it would be irresponsible to go ahead and not pass a law getting rid of the sunset clause, ensuring we could deal with Bill C-3 and its subject matter off at some distant time. I want to emphasize that this is nonsense, and I will ask my hon. colleague a question that relates to this.

However, first, with respect to the logical link to Bill C-24, one would expect to see this in the original letter that was sent to the procedure and House affairs committee. A letter was sent by the prior minister for the portfolio dated February 10, 2004. Members will note that this was not right before the election. It was long before an election. In it, he asks the committee to take a look at this. He makes no reference to any connection with Bill C-24. In the letter to the committee he says:

Let me be clear that I am not suggesting that the Bill is necessarily a permanent solution. The Supreme Court's ruling in Figueroa is complex and may well have broader implications, which the Committee should have a full opportunity to assess.

For this reason, I would invite the Committee, following its consideration and reporting of the Bill, [Bill C-3], to begin a more extensive study of the wider implications of the Figueroa ruling on the Canada Elections Act. I also welcome the Committee's views on other aspects of the electoral process that it believes warrant attention.

There is no necessary connection to Bill C-24.

The review could not begin until right before an election. However, the letter was sent out. That minister then became minister in June and proceeded never to bother following up. Where does the fault lie? Is it with all those incompetent members of the committee who just could not get around to it or is it with one minister who just could not remember to take care of his own portfolio until a year had gone by?

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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, through the facts as laid out by my hon. colleague, he has revealed the answer.

One of the things that is most disconcerting to members on both sides of the chamber and from all four political parties is the continuation over the last number of years of government ministers neglecting their responsibilities. We used to have in Canada, in our democracy and in our Parliament, such a thing as ministerial accountability. We had ministers who took it very seriously before they would ever consider being in breach of the law.

Today we have a minister who has neglected his responsibility. He tries to cover it up with a very weak and feeble excuse that somehow he covered that off with a letter, as my colleague said. We do not even recall the letter. That is how much it was brought to our attention. However, I take him at his word that he wrote the letter to the committee. I am sure in due time we will be able to dig up a copy of it or maybe the minister will provide a copy to us.

Does that negate his responsibility? Can it be wiped out with a letter to a committee? I think most Canadians would take ministerial responsibility seriously. No one should be above the law. It does not matter whether it is a minister of the Crown. Ministers have an obligation, indeed a responsibility, to ensure that things are done or at least take all possible steps to adhere to the law, the legislation. The legislation says that a review would take place by May 16, 2006. The minister said that he sent the committee a letter, and that is the end of that responsibility. This is shameful.

As I outlined in my remarks, it just shows us how low this Parliament, through the administration of the government, has sunk in the sense that it is the extent of ministerial accountability.

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12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in the current debate on Bill C-63, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

In fact, this is a very technical bill that contains only one page, but an important one. Any bill to amend our electoral system, which is the foundation of our democracy, must be taken seriously. Such is the case here, even though this is a sunset amendment that, by definition, provides for a time limit before considering a bill that will constitute a more thorough and overall reform of the Elections Act itself.

The background of this bill, we may recall, replicates another two-year sunset bill, which followed the Supreme Court decision in the Figueroa case. The Supreme Court ruled that it was discriminatory to impose a minimum number of candidates that a political party had to nominate to be registered as such. Previously, the act had put this number at 50. However, the Supreme Court ruled that this measure was discriminatory. While awaiting a thorough reform that would result in a more integrated and thoughtful piece of legislation, the House passed a bill that received royal assent in May 2004, if I am not mistaken, just in time for the June 2004 election. That bill filled the legal void created by the Supreme Court decision.

The bill allows a political party to nominate only one candidate in order to be registered. Of course, there are other conditions, such as a minimum number of members, which has been set at 250, I believe, and also a minimum number of leaders. This measure is aimed at preventing a person from suddenly proclaiming himself or herself a political party. There has to be a minimum number of rules.

It must be recognized that these rules are an absolute minimum. Of course, we must think about a better way to monitor the registration of political parties in Canada. However, that is not the purpose of this bill. Rather, it seeks to prevent a situation from occurring. The previous legislation was going to expire two years after being passed, that is in May 2006, which is a time when an election may be called again. Therefore, it was important to extend the provision, since the government has not yet completed its homework and the report of the Chief Electoral Officer has not yet been tabled—it will be in the fall. So, some elements were missing to conduct this in-depth reform.

We prefer to extend the original legislation in extenso and still provide for a two-year period. However, the government would be well advised not to do this again, otherwise the House will become a laughing stock if the same bill comes up again in two years. So, it will be important to present a more general bill, as opposed to sunset legislation.

The Bloc Québécois will not oppose this change. It was never our strategy to resort to democratic obstruction. It is important that elections take place under a legal framework. Therefore, it would be irresponsible to oppose this bill, which allows for the next election to be held in a calm, clear and transparent legal context. Since it is important that this be the case, we will not oppose this legislation.

However, we cannot help but comment on the Canada Elections Act as a whole, which is targeted by the bill before us. The act provides that the registration of political parties is subject to a minimum number of candidates. Should we set such a minimum or not? What would be discriminatory and what would not be discriminatory? Of course, since this is about the registration and recognition of political parties, the issue of political party financing quickly comes to surface. Since these issues are related, it is important to discuss them.

My comments will deal with the democratic history of the party in office, as it relates to the Canada Elections Act.

We hope it will not be the case when this reform comes to pass—one that has been long-awaited, hence the need to pass Bill C-63 now—seeing that the House is not prepared. The government was not prepared, nothing new about that.

It is really important now to ensure that, when this reform is being studied, two problems will already have been solved. Indeed there is a problem. My colleague, the whip for the Bloc Québécois and member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, has introduced Bill C-312, which is now in committee.

The intention of that bill is to remedy a democratic aberration in Canada's electoral process: the appointment by the government—that is the party in power—of 308 returning officers on a purely partisan basis. Huge problems arise as a result. The Chief Electoral Officer has spoken out about this on numerous occasions. These returning officers are appointed for 10-year periods, and often have no qualifications other than having been either active in the Liberal Party or former Liberal candidates. This creates problems as far as qualifications and partisanship are concerned, and casts a shadow over any electoral system worthy of the name.

A spade must still be called a spade. An electoral system with such a clause is a tainted system. It causes problems. I am not the one who says this. The Chief Electoral Officer's report after the last election was quite clear in this regard.

Allow me to quote him. On page 1 of his report, the Chief Electoral Officer said:

I know that about 10 cases of insubordination, three problems involving conflict of interest, about 14 problems of incompetence, some 10 cases involving a lack of computer skills, which is a different area. The document—I imagine he is referring to a document that he submitted—includes the names of the returning officers and the ridings.

I will let other speak about their political perception when they are candidates for a party other than the government party, which appointed the returning officers

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1 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.