Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the speech by my friend from Edmonton Centre on Bill C-13. He had, as we all know, a 30-year career in the Canadian Forces and speaks with obvious passion on the issue of our troops and soldiers who are doing their duty for Canada in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The NDP fully supports this bill. The fact that a bill can come to the House of Commons through the offices of an individual member of Parliament, whether someone on this side or that side of the House, and can be made into law is really what being parliamentarians is all about. Obviously, this is a government measure, but how does it get here? How does it become an issue for parliamentarians?
It happens because someone raises it and feels strongly about it. It is an idea whose time has come and needs to be recognized. We in the NDP fully support this piece of legislation. In fact, we have been critical of the government in other areas when it talks of supporting our soldiers and troops, particularly veterans, which I will get to a little later, but to focus on the particular issue of this bill is extremely important.
We have all seen and know from family, friends and constituents the hardships, worries and concern we have when soldiers have gone off for long rotations to Afghanistan in the past seven or eight years or elsewhere. They are going to be away from their families, children and spouses or, in the case of parental leave, which is what we are talking about now, fathers are not being present at the birth of a child and being away many months before seeing their newborn. It tugs on the heart strings of all of us to know that Canadians do that for their country because that is the job they have taken on, the commitment they have made, and the sacrifice they have undertaken on behalf of their fellow citizens.
We are all proud that we have young men and women who are prepared to do that. We owe them not only a debt of gratitude but full support for doing what Canada is asking of them. We also, of course, owe it to them to ensure that our own government's actions and activities are in keeping with the high standards that we have as Canadians.
It is a pleasure to support this piece of legislation. On a going-forward basis, it will give soldiers and young families some comfort to know that they will be guaranteed of having family time after a deployment when it is interrupted by service or when a birth takes place while a soldier is deployed.
My colleague from Acadie—Bathurst has spoken on this bill already. The NDP has some proposals that would expand this to include others who serve overseas on Canada's behalf, some of them in fact in Afghanistan. One of whom, as we know, in the diplomatic corps lost his life in the same theatre of war as soldiers are fighting now, Glyn Berry. He lost his life while serving in Afghanistan as part of the diplomatic corps.
We have other diplomats stationed abroad in such places like Afghanistan and elsewhere, who make the sacrifice of being away from their families for long periods of time. We believe this change in the EI Act should be expanded to include them as well. It should be noted also that not only in Afghanistan but elsewhere, places like Haiti and others, there are a considerable number of members of police forces, whether the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, provincial or municipal police forces, who volunteer and are part of military and international engagements that Canada has undertaken.
I know members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in my province have served in Bosnia as part of a mission. They are serving in Haiti and elsewhere in training missions away from their families.
Similarly we have a large contingent of RCMP and others in Afghanistan, assisting and training the Afghan police force. We recognize this is directed at military personnel only, but the concept is a good one and in fairness should apply to others in the diplomatic corps and to police officers who serve abroad under the same kind of circumstances, away from their country.
I will not go into the details of the amendments. I know one of the previous speakers said that he had not had an opportunity to read them yet. As indicated, this will be a matter raised in the committee. This being second reading, we are talking about the principle of the bill. When it receives second reading, and I have every expectation that it will receive the support of all parties in the House, and goes to committee, there may be an opportunity for witnesses to be heard, to talk about the provisions and to talk about their experiences with EI.
I know other members in the military and some veterans have issues with EI. In many cases, they are unable to collect EI, although they pay into it for many years. We may hear some more information about problems with respect to the employment insurance system and military or other foreign service. There may be opportunities to improve the legislation, to make it more fair to other Canadians in similar circumstances.
I know the impetus came from, and we should focus on, the consequences to military families when members serve abroad and have an addition to their family, whether it be by birth or adoption. I am not sure, to be honest, that this covers the adoption situation, and I hope it does. If it does not, then we would be very careful in looking at the committee stage. Parental leave applies whether we are talking about a birth or an adoption.
To be fair to military families on that score, we want to ensure, and certainly the NDP wants to ensure, that the same provisions with respect to parental leave available to ordinary citizens are available in these circumstances to the military as well.
There is no reason why that form of parental leave ought to be cut short by military deployment or being called into service, or have to be deferred until after the deployment is over so they can actually spend that time bonding with the new addition to the family and providing the kind of support that is always needed when there is a new member to a family, particularly a newborn or in an adoption situation. There is a whole change in circumstances that have to be adjusted to. That is the whole purpose of parental leave in the first place.
We can fully support the legislation. I will not use this as an opportunity to talk for any great length about what our troops do in Afghanistan. We do know they are there for long periods of time, up to six months and for some it is more than one rotation. We have had evidence before the defence committee that some individuals have done as many as four rotations in Afghanistan over the very lengthy period of time we have been engaged in that combat.
I do not think a lot of Canadians realize that the military engagement in Afghanistan has gone on longer than any other military engagement in which our country has ever, in its history, been involved. It has been longer than the second world war, which lasted from 1939-45. It is obviously longer than the Korean War or the first world war. It has been going on since 2002 until now, eight years, where Canadians have been engaged in combat in Afghanistan. Soldiers have been deploying there on an ongoing basis, as many as the 3,000 soldiers, diplomats and police officers are involved today. I suppose that long period of time has given rise to the kinds of issues that we see now, the ongoing needs of military families in these circumstances.
I know the military family support groups are very active across the country. I think all parliamentarians support those groups in their ridings and recognize the good work they do. One of the things they do is provide support for the families who are left behind.
In my province of Newfoundland and Labrador it is a little more difficult in some respects. Most of the people who are deployed overseas are from the reserve units and they are spread around. The support provided by the military family support organization has been extremely valuable where people do not live on base and where there is less of a connect between them. Their neighbours are not necessarily in the same boat and do not understand the same way other military families do, whether they be spouses, or parents, or siblings, that are concentrated in other places where there are have significant bases.
It is important on military bases as well. There are military bases where large numbers of military personnel are deployed and military family support groups are active. Even though there is a social network among military families, the kind of services and counselling that might be needed, in some cases specialized counselling, not only has to be supplied, but an attempt has to be made to understand the need for that. In many circumstances, where people are going through hardship, particularly psychological hardship, it often takes someone else to recognize they may need the kind of assistance and help that can be provided through counselling.
We support all those initiatives through the military family support groups. This is another piece that we, as parliamentarians, can do to mitigate, to some extent, the sacrifices of being away from their family.
I know that even as a parliamentarians, and we do not make the kind of sacrifices that soldiers do. Being away from our family for even four or five days at a time, sometimes a week or two at a time, our young children in particular are affected. We realize how that must affect, on a long-term basis, people who are away for a long time, particularly in the case of people deployed to Afghanistan. Imagine what is on the minds of family members throughout their deployment, how are their loved ones are faring, are they safe. They cannot wait to see them arrive at the airport. I have seen those reunions of families as well. I do not think anybody can be but moved to see a couple being rejoined after a long period of time, particularly where the dangers of war exist and the possibility for injury, or even worse, is present.
We all have to understand, appreciate and be proud that we have young men and young women who are prepared to make that kind of commitment on our behalf.
We would like to see that also extended to diplomats and police force members who also make the same kind of commitment for overseas deployment.
Also, at committee, we will be interested in hearing about other aspects of the employment insurance with respect to military personnel and veterans. I know there is a concern among many veterans and RCMP officers, in particular, about getting access to the EI benefits they may have paid for all of their career. Yet when they leave the forces, they have great difficulty getting access to the employment insurance to which they feel they are entitled and should be entitled. As members of the workforce, they have paid into the EI fund. We commonly hear them say that.
We do not know how many people are affected by this, but I understand we will be hearing from them at the committee phase of the hearings. Hopefully, if there is a need for other improvements to the EI system with respect to military personnel and veterans, then there will be opportunities to discuss those in committee and possibly make the kind of amendments that might be needed.
The bill is contained in only five sections of the act and will come into force very soon, on the first Sunday after the day it receives royal assent. I do not know how soon that would come. It has to go to committee, but I hope it comes back from committee before we rise this spring so it will be available to anyone who qualifies very shortly.
I note, unfortunately, it does not apply to anyone whose benefit period for parental leave began before the day in which the bill comes into force. I do not know why that is. If people are undertaking parental leave now and they get called up at some point during their parental leave, I do not know why the act would not apply to them. Maybe this question can be answered in committee.
The bill is very clear, however, that there will be an extension of the benefit period for someone who is in the Canadian Forces and is required either to defer parental leave because he or she is in service or is called away when this happens.
I commend the government. We do criticize the government for being vocal on supporting our troops in name. This is a case where it is actually doing something concrete, which will improve the lot of individual soldiers by changing legislation that applies to all, to ensure the special circumstances of people in uniform, particularly those serving overseas and making those kinds of sacrifices, are not left out of the benefits of paternal leave and parental leave because of their deployment.
It is a positive change in the law. Our party has been on record many times calling for improvements in general to the EI regime. My friend from Acadie—Bathurst participated in the committee that came up with 28 separate recommendations to make EI better in Canada. We want the government to listen to that as well.
It is a bit ironic in a way. I do not know the record totally, but I know that parental leave has not been a part of the EI system for all that long. I am not sure if the Conservative Party supported it when it was brought in. However, I am glad, given the fact it is here and available to Canadians, we will make the special provision to ensure military personnel get access to it.
We support the bill, I support the bill, wholeheartedly.