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House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Malpeque, Canadian Wheat Board; the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Fisheries and Oceans.

The hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to this bill, which I think is very important because I believe that citizenship is the foundation of Canadian society.

My riding in the greater Toronto area has more than 200,000 constituents, while other ridings have fewer than 100,000. That is not fair and it is a sort of insult to Canadian citizens in some areas of the country.

This is one of the most important bills the House has considered in the last 10 years or so. The reason for this is I believe the most fundamental foundation for Canadian society is Canadian citizenship. I believe strongly that all Canadian citizens, regardless of their ancestry, religion, creed or race, should be treated equally in our country. However, when we have a situation where in one part of the country there are over 200,000 citizens in a riding and in another part of the country there are fewer than 100,000 citizens in a riding, that flies against the very basic Canadian and constitutional principle that all Canadians are equal and they should all have an equal say in who governs the country.

In fact, I would argue that it is the basis of Confederation. It was the long-held conviction of the first leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, George Brown. His statue stands behind the Parliament Buildings overlooking the Ottawa River. He was leader from 1857 and post-Confederation until 1873. He fought for that principle, both in the united Province of Canada before Confederation and subsequently in Confederation itself. It was in part because of that leader's efforts that Confederation was forged.

However, today we have come a long way from that constitutional and founding principle of the country. The gap between how many voters an MP represents in rapidly growing provinces like British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario and that of an MP who represents a riding in one of the seven other provinces has never been as large as it is today. Never has the gap been so large, since 1867.

Under the current formula, the seats that have been distributed in this chamber, according to the provincial divisions, have reached the point where the average MP in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta represents almost 30,000 more Canadians than MPs in the seven other provinces. This has undermined the very principle on which this chamber is based, representation by population. It flies in the face of the very basic constitutional principle that Canadian citizenship is the basis of our society, that all Canadian citizens should be treated equally and that all Canadian citizens should have a fair and equal say in who represents them in this chamber.

In the 1991 Supreme Court ruling on the proposed changes to the electoral boundaries for the provincial division in the House of Saskatchewan, the court stated:

A system which dilutes one citizen's vote unduly as compared with another citizen's vote runs the risk of providing inadequate representation to the citizen whose vote is diluted....The result will be uneven and unfair representation.

Clearly, we have a problem that needs to be dealt with before the next election and a problem with which Bill C-20, now at third reading, will deal.

We, as the government, have been debating this issue for over four years. The first iteration of a bill to re-apportion the seats in the House was introduced on November 14, 2007. It was Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation). Some two years ago, a second iteration of the bill was introduced as Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation). It was introduced on April 1, 2010.

Therefore, this is the third iteration of the bill with which we have now been presented. We have gone through extensive consultations with stakeholders, with various provinces, with members of Parliament in the debates that we have held in this chamber. It is now time that we deal with this issue, especially considering that the electoral boundaries commissions for the various provinces will be setting up shortly and will be undertaking a review of the proposed boundaries that would be used in the 2015 election.

As I said, this has been a long-standing commitment of the government. The bill also meets the government's commitment with three principles that we outlined in our last election platform, three principles that we had long held to. They are as follows.

First, we need to ensure that the rapidly growing regions of the country, particularly in areas like Calgary and Edmonton, greater Vancouver, the Lower Mainland, and the greater Toronto area, are properly, fairly and equitably represented in the House. That is why the bill would give 15 new seats to Ontario, 6 new seats to Alberta and 6 new seats to British Columbia.

We also committed to a second principle that would ensure that no slower-growing region of the country would lose seats. We have ensured that the provinces whose populations are not growing do not lose their number of seats in each provincial division in the House.

The third principle we committed to was to ensure that the provincial division of Quebec in the House would not under-represented. That is why in Bill C-20 would add three new seats for the provincial division of Quebec to ensure that its representation levels in the House would not fall below average.

The bill upholds those three principles and meets the fundamental requirement that the House be representative of the population of the country.

There have been some criticisms of the bill. I would like to talk about some of the criticisms that the official opposition has levelled at the bill. It is proposing that we fix the number of seats in the House for the provincial division of Quebec at the percentage it had in November of 2006. I cannot strongly disagree enough with that principle.

The first point I want to make to rebut the argument that the provincial division of Quebec should have a certain number of seats is that these seats do not belong to any province. The seats are federal seats. We consult with the provinces because we want their input, but at the end of the day, the seats are accorded to provincial division for administrative purposes. There is no reason why these seats belong to a particular province. They are simply provincial divisions for administrative purposes. The idea that any one provincial administrative division in the House should have a certain fixed percentage of the seats for time eternal flies against the very basic fact of Confederation, which is that this chamber needs to be representative of its population.

We used to have a guaranteed number of seats for a provincial division, or for an administrative division on Parliament Hill. That was for the United Province of Canada. After the rebellions in Lower and Upper Canada in the 1830s, came Lord Durham's report. Out of Lord Durham's report was the fundamental recommendation, acted upon by the authorities, that the Act of Union of 1840 would be implemented.

Out of the act of 1840, we merged the colony of Lower Canada, now Quebec, and the colony of Upper Canada, now Ontario, into the United Province of Canada. That act took effect in 1841. We had a single legislature and the capital bounced around from Kingston to Montreal, where it was burned, and later on to Ottawa. This site was selected as the provincial capital for the provincial legislature.

In that provincial legislature in the unitary state of Canada, as we did not have a federal state at the time, was the guarantee of 42 seats for Canada West, which is now part of the province of Ontario, and 42 seats for Canada East, which is part of the province of Quebec. It was a unitary state and because of the divisions between the francophones and anglophones, it was felt best to guarantee in the unitary state half of the seats for one administrative region and half for the other administrative region.

That operated for the better part of 25 years. Initially, what it meant, because Ontario's population at the time, Canada West, had some 450,000 and Canada East, Quebec, had some 650,000, was that Canada West was overrepresented in this chamber at the beginning of the 1840s and Canada East was under-represented. However, by the time the 1860s had rolled around, the inverse was true. In the 1861 census there were 1.1 million people in Canada East, Quebec, and 1.4 million people in Canada West, Ontario. As a result, there were increasing cries that reform was needed because Canada West felt its voice was under-represented in this unitary state of Canada, in this legislature for which these buildings on Parliament Hill were originally built.

A solution was found after much wrangling and years of debate through the various conferences that took place, and that was Confederation. The deal struck at Confederation was that we would go to a federal system of government with two sovereign orders of government, where the provinces would be responsible for areas within their jurisdiction and the federal government would be responsible for federal matters of jurisdiction as outlined in the Constitution, 1867.

One of the critical elements of this was that the chamber of the people, the House of Commons, in the federal order of government, would be representative of the population. George Brown, the first leader of the Liberal Party, fought for that. Many other members on all sides of the aisle fought for that. It has been the defining characteristic of the House for the better part of 150 years.

Clearly, the bill in front of us would meet that fundamental constitutional principle, but what has been proposed by the official opposition does not.

I want to speak briefly to the proposal made by the New Democratic Party in another regard. I have constantly heard that areas of the country are vast in geography with very little population and that we need to protect those regions because they are huge geographically. That misses the point. The point is this. In the House we represent people, not geography. We have domain over geography and we have domain over citizens, but we represent people not geography. That is the defining characteristic of how we divide divisions in the House.

When we established the non-partisan, arm's-length electoral boundaries commissions for each province, geography was taken into account in terms of whether we would slice down the middle of a municipality or whether we would go along our municipal boundaries. It is taken into account in terms of allowing some flexibility in terms of the geographic vastness in under-populated areas within a province. However, when we accord the number of seats for each provincial division, we do not take the geographic size of that provincial division into account. What we represent in the House is not geography but people.

I also want to speak briefly to the proposal that the Liberal Party has put forward. As I said before, it is a principled, logical proposal. However, it has one fundamental flaw. It would take seats away from five regions of the country: the provinces of Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.

With respect, because the Liberal Party is a third party, it has not garnered a lot of attention. However, I can say convincingly that any government that would introduce a proposal that would bring this into effect at this time in our nation's history would create a crisis among our federation and would create a lot of problems with the different regions of the country, pitting one region of the country against another. For that reason, I cannot support what the Liberal Party has put forward.

Our bill respects the fundamental principle of representation by population. It does so in a way that would not take seats away from slower-growing regions of the country, like the Liberal bill would do. It would ensure that the provincial division of Quebec in the House would not fall below the average of all the provincial divisions.

I want to finish on this thought. This is an incredibly important bill. The House does not currently represent or reflect the galloping heterogeneity of the new Canada. It does not reflect the makeup of our bustling regions like the Vancouver Lower Mainland or the greater Toronto area. It does not reflect the increasing diversity of cities like Calgary and Edmonton. The reason for that is simple. Out of the 30 most populated ridings in the country, these ridings are disproportionately made up of members of visible minority groups.

That is why the bill is so very important. This bill would add new seats to the rapidly growing regions of Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, ensuring that the rapidly growing heterogeneity of this new Canada is properly represented in this House, so that after the next election we could move closer to the dream where everybody in this chamber, en masse, ensemble, reflects the makeup of Canada.

It is also important for another reason, and that is, in a democracy, people need to be properly represented. This bill would ensure that we respect the fundamental basis of Confederation, the fundamental basis of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the fundamental basis of the repatriation that has taken place. It would ensure that we respect the fundamental contract that we have with the Canadian people, which is that Canadian citizenship is the basis of our society and that Canadian citizenship means that we treat all citizens equally, regardless of their race, religion, creed, ancestry or how long they have been here. It also means that Canadian citizens all need to have an equal vote and an equal say in who gets to represent them in this chamber.

That is why this bill is so very important. It strengthens that principle and ensures that Canada is a democracy where citizenship is the basis of our society.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to what the member on the other side said.

The member spoke about proportionality and the fact that Quebec does not deserve a specific proportion. He really talked about Canadian history. I remind the member that Quebec is one of the founding peoples of Canada. I remind him that in 2006, the Conservative Party recognized Quebec as a nation. There was obviously a need there.

After recognizing Quebec as a nation, when it is time to take action and have a proportion, why is the government not taking the first opportunity to respect Quebec's right?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not agree with the NDP member.

Canada is a nation, and our society is not based on two or three peoples. The basis of our Canadian society is Canadian citizenship.

I do not agree that Quebec is a nation. I do not agree with the recognition of that in this House, and I indicated so five or six years ago.

Most important, I think that the basis of our society is no longer two or three founding peoples. It is not a nation of nations, but rather Canadian citizenship. Canadian citizenship is the basis of our society, whereby every citizen, regardless of where they live in this country, should have an equal say, an equal vote over who governs them and who gets to represent them in this chamber.

That is why our government's bill is so very important. I encourage members to support it.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to debate with my colleague. I have a lot of respect for him. I think he is a very principled man, so when he says that the Liberal plan is principled, it means a lot to me, but I am sorry that I cannot say that the Conservative plan is principled. There is no principle in increasing the number of federal politicians by 10% when the Minister of Finance is cutting everybody else in the federal civil service by 10%. That is not principled. It is not only the amount of money, it is that we cannot expect the front line to make sacrifices when the top is not making any sacrifices.

Why is he so sure that to do the principled thing in Canada would create chaos in Canada between citizens of different provinces? He said very clearly that these things do not belong to provinces. He said other federations are able to do that, and they are united countries. He knows that this House remained at the same number of seats for a quarter of a century, and at that time, Canada was doing well, so why not now?

I would be ready to go with him to Quebec to argue that it is better to stay with 308 seats and to have a fair representation in Quebec, and to make the same argument that he made with the NDP, but with 308 seats.

My colleague from Winnipeg North is ready to go with him to Manitoba to make this argument, so why not? Why is he afraid to be principled on this issue?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government's bill is principled, as is the Liberal plan, but it is principled in a way that it does not take seats away from slower growing regions of the country and does not reduce the provincial division of Quebec's proportionate representation in the House.

To answer the member's question, the reason I do not think it would be a good idea to reduce the seats for certain regions, even though the seats, as he has mentioned, do not belong to the provinces, is that we have seen in the past many federal issues of jurisdiction intra vires where provinces have managed to sway public opinion to such an extent that it ended up creating regional friction. Whether it is foreign direct investment policy in relation to the potash decision or other decisions concerning the apportionment of seats in the House, we have to be very careful to govern in the interests of national unity and all Canadians.

This bill squares that circle by restoring representation by population and upholding that fundamental concept while at the same time not taking seats away from other regions of the country and ensuring that the Quebec division's proportionate representation in the House remains in place.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills has done a great job in talking about the principle of representation by population and also iterating the three promises we made to Canadians about how we developed Bill C-20. In previous debate today we heard about the positive comments of the Chief Electoral Officer regarding this bill and its workability in framing the new divisions and being ready for the upcoming election in 2015.

My colleague mentioned taking seats away from slower growing regions. I would like to ask him about taking seats away from Saskatchewan which is growing very rapidly right now. It is a province that is experiencing great economic growth, not only population. How would it be received by the people of Saskatchewan if we went with the Liberal plan?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has raised a very good point, that it would create a lot of regional friction. There is a second friction that the proposal from the Liberal Party would create. Not only would we be taking seats away from slower growing regions of the country and giving them to more rapidly growing regions, we would also be taking seats away from rural Canada and giving them to urban Canada. Not only would Saskatchewan lose two seats, but rural Saskatchewan, now down to 12 seats, would lose seats in order to ensure that there are more seats in Saskatoon and Regina. That is the second problem with the Liberal Party's plan. It is principled, but it would create too much rancour and division in this country.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague across the floor seems to really know his history. He seems to know a lot and appears to have done his homework, but I nevertheless have the impression that he is skipping over a few details.

Quebec has some concerns about this bill because we will lose some representation. If we look at history, at the time of Confederation, Manitoba's population was predominantly francophone. At that time, there were Lessards, Lemieux and Lamoureux, whose names were pronounced with a French accent. The same names exist today, except they are pronounced with an English accent.

From our perspective, when we look at a proposition like the one before us, we see a net loss for us. Incidentally, I would remind the member that the burning of the Parliament of Canada in Montreal was the result of a riot started by the Tories at the time.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the NDP member for his comments.

It is true that it was the Conservatives who destroyed the Parliament of Canada in Montreal, in the Old Port, downtown.

I need to point out that when it comes to the bill that is in front of us, we have agreed to add three new seats for Quebec. We are moving up the number of seats in the provincial division of Quebec in this House from 75 to 78 to ensure that its proportionate representation in this House does not fall below the average.

We are taking the concerns of Canadians in Quebec into account to ensure that their fair voice, their fair vote counts in this House. It is a good plan we are putting in place. It is a principled one. It reconciles a lot of difficult decisions that the government had to make. This is the third iteration of this bill. It has been over four years since we introduced the first bill in November 2007. I support the government's bill. It is time that we implemented it, in advance of the next election.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I must inform the hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges that I will have to interrupt him at 5:15 p.m., since that will be the end of the time provided for government orders today. I will signal him when he has one minute left.

The hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a bit upsetting that I will not be able to talk as long as I would have liked to about this bill, because I think this is an important time in our history.

I would like to begin by thanking the member for Wellington—Halton Hills. I have a great respect for this member because he believes strongly in representing his citizens. In this sense he is an idealist, and I respect that.

However, I also find it is a bit disingenuous, because he also represents his party, and there is a balance to be made there. As well, I do not necessarily agree with all of his historical analysis. I was confused when he referred to equality while guaranteeing seats for certain provinces; he seemed to say representation by population guarantees equality, but certain provinces would have guaranteed seats. I was a bit confused by his train of thought and argumentation.

I am new to this House. As members of the official opposition, every Wednesday we occupy a place called the Railway Room. This is where the NDP caucus meets. In that room there is a painting by Robert Harris depicting the Fathers of Confederation. The subject of the painting is the 1884 Quebec Conference, a conference held in the lead-up to Confederation.

There are two figures side by side, one standing and one sitting. They are John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier. These two figures, in the lead-up to Confederation, formed various coalitions to govern the United Province of Canada.

The member for Wellington—Halton Hills mentioned George Brown. George Brown formed a very short ministry during this union history. It was about nine months, I believe. George-Étienne Cartier spent his whole political life rallying against the concept of rep by pop in the worry that his people, the Québécois, would see a diminishing of their presence in the Canadian fabric.

Both figures, John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier, had a common fear of republicanism. John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier were afraid that eventually the American nation would take over Canada; as a result, they felt it was urgent to unite and form a new nation called Canada, a federal nation.

The traditions of this nation were based on peace, order and good government. Cartier was willing to go into building this new nation with John A. Macdonald because he believed that what is now Quebec would turn into Louisiana if the Americans were to take power here. Macdonald had similar concerns. He did not want Canada to become merely another American state.

The agreement they came to in Confederation, with all the other Fathers of Confederation, was not simplistically rep by pop. We see that in other provinces such as Prince Edward Island and other areas in the country. Those provinces were guaranteed a certain amount of representation that was not based upon population. George-Étienne Cartier had a similar belief that it was not just simply representation by population in this country; it was more complex.

That is what we are talking about when we refer to having 24.35% of the seats in this House for Quebec. It is in recognition of this historical reality and the compromise that was made.

There is a problem if we increase the seats in this House. I made reference to the fact that we balance representing our citizens with representing our parties.

A troubling development in our system of governance has been recognized, and it is this increasing power in the Prime Minister's Office. We could multiply lots of members in this House, but if the Prime Minister's Office remains as powerful as it is, it does not matter if we add 30, 40, 50 or 60 seats; the Prime Minister's Office has the power to determine the way members vote, what they are going to say in the House, what questions they are going to ask.

The member for Brossard asked the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, “Why don't you recognize what we did here in 2006?” Well, in fact that member did not recognize the idea that Quebec was a nation. He voted against his party. He was in cabinet, and now he is no longer in cabinet.

I ask Canadians why that happened. Why was he thrown out of cabinet for going against the wishes of the Prime Minister's Office?

I would like to end with a quote. It says:

In today’s democratic societies, organizations share power. Corporations, churches, universities, hospitals, even public sector bureaucracies make decisions through consultation, committees and consensus-building techniques. Only in politics do we still entrust power to a single faction expected to prevail every time over the opposition by sheer force of numbers. Even more anachronistically, we persist in structuring the governing team like a military regiment under a single commander with almost total power to appoint, discipline and expel subordinates.

Who said that? It was the Prime Minister of Canada.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 5:15 p.m., pursuant to an order made on Wednesday, December 7, 2011, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the third reading stage of the bill now before the House.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #103

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

December 13th, 2011 / 5:55 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

moved that Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant or nursing employees), be read the second time and referred to committee.

—Mr. Speaker, I am extremely proud to rise today in this House to speak to a bill that is so important to many women throughout Canada. It is important to women's groups and also to the union movement, the people who represent working women and are concerned with health and safety issues.

The purpose of this bill is to allow pregnant or nursing women who work in businesses that are under federal jurisdiction to avail themselves of existing provincial occupational health and safety legislation governing preventive withdrawal. This is a very reasonable and necessary bill.

In the last election campaign, the NDP had the slogan “Travaillons ensemble”, meaning working together. We had a positive campaign, a campaign about ideas and people's real problems. In this regard, we said, and we still say, that parliamentarians have to work in the interests of the public, and so they have to work together. We also said that we had to help families. We said that in the NDP, but other parties were saying the same kind of thing. We said we had to listen to the needs of families. That is why I am proud today to speak to this bill again.

In Quebec, we often boast about how we are more progressive, but that is not always true and has not always been the case. Women won the right to vote only in 1940. And I would just note in passing that aboriginal people won the right to vote federally in 1960, and that is truly unbelievable. Since then, women have fought to have all their rights fully recognized. After many battles, they have achieved concrete recognition of their equality. In Quebec, it was not until 1979 that a maternity leave program for working women was implemented. In 2000, there was the Women's March, to send a loud and clear signal that the struggle for fairness and equality for women continued. That struggle still has to continue.

Perhaps members are unaware, but at present, when some working women in this country are pregnant and have to leave their workplace for their own safety or the safety of their fetus, their baby to be, they receive no compensation. They have to do it on their own dime, as they say. That is inconceivable. One might even say it is somewhat shocking.

We call ourselves an egalitarian society, we say that we recognize that women play an important role in the labour market, but at the same time, we penalize them when they are pregnant. We tell them that it is all very well for them to protect their health and the health of their fetus, but they will have to pick up the bill. Forgive me, but in our view, that seems a bit cheap.

In Canada, we have collectively provided ourselves with a social safety net of which we are rightly proud. It is in fragile shape today, but for many long years it has served our society, Canadian men and women, men and women in Quebec, well. It is a social safety net we must work to preserve today. In fact, it is this social safety net that protected us against the recent global economic crisis, because, as the IMF reminded us, a better distribution of wealth and lower levels of inequality allow for longer and more stable periods of economic growth.

So, we created a safety net for workers, because we recognized that, in certain situations, employees and wage earners in our country need to be protected. We recognize that, and occupational health and safety laws exist because dangerous situations are sometimes a reality. We also have an employment insurance program because sometimes—and these days it is more frequent than that, with 91,000 in two months—people lose their job.

However, when it comes to pregnant women, the government seems to be a little more stingy. Pregnant or nursing women have to do tasks or put up with working conditions that can be dangerous. The NDP does not accept that situation, and I am convinced that the majority of members in this House do not accept it either.

I am going to summarize the relevant Canada Labour Code provisions for those who are not familiar with them.

First, there are two levels of labour codes in Canada. We have the provincial codes and then the Canada Labour Code. The latter covers workers in several sectors, including the financial, air transportation, aerospace, telecommunications and transportation sectors.

In Quebec, 4.45% of women are covered by the Canada Labour Code, which means close to 75,000 women.

Under the bill that I am humbly submitting today, these 75,000 women would be potentially better protected if they experienced the joy of expecting a child.

In Quebec, we are very proud of the program that was put in place in 1981. It allows pregnant women who provide a medical certificate confirming that their work poses risks and dangers for their unborn child or for themselves to be reassigned to tasks that do not present these dangers.

Under this program, women receive 90% of their salary. The program recognizes that it is not right and that it is unfair to put on the victims the burden of occupational health and safety problems.

Unfortunately, the Canada Labour Code currently does not do that. With regard to preventive withdrawal, section 132 of the Canada Labour Code, which deals with pregnant or nursing employees, provides that when dangerous conditions exist, the employer may try to find an alternative. I insist on the term “may”. The employer is under no obligation to do so. If no alternative is found, these women must take a leave without pay. That is where the big difference lies. In these situations, the financial and economic burden rests on the shoulders of pregnant and nursing employees whose working conditions endanger their health, or that of their unborn child.

The question is, is this just? I wonder if it is an egalitarian policy and social vision. I wonder if it is consistent with our values, with the Quebec and Canadian values of equality between men and women, equality between workers, and of protection for people with health or safety problems.

Is forcing pregnant employees to work in dangerous conditions for both themselves and their fetuses the right way to treat them? The members of the NDP and I, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, do not believe so. I do not think that these women should be penalized. We in the NDP believe that the health of pregnant workers is important. I would go so far as to say that it is a priority.

If we want to encourage people to have children, and if we are serious about this, women must be provided with the best living and working conditions possible. They must have appropriate and safe conditions in which to work at all times.

I imagine that my colleagues from the Liberal and Conservative parties, and the other members who sit in this House share this opinion. At least, I hope so.

I am the father of a blended family with four beautiful children. I am lucky. I enjoyed good working conditions before having the honour of being elected to represent the constituents of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie in this House. My wife also enjoyed good working conditions. We both had a collective agreement that enabled us to take extended parental leave.

Today's topic is not parental leave. It is even more elementary than that. The subject is the health of thousands of workers and their right to be protected without paying for it. It is about pregnant women working in a standing position for over seven hours. It is about pregnant women lifting loads of over seven kilograms. It is about working environments that are too noisy. It is about ergonomics that put these women's pregnancy or the health of their fetus at risk. It is about being exposed to hazardous products. I could continue, as the list is long.

A study conducted in 2004 by Health Canada as part of the National Health Research and Development Program demonstrated the effectiveness of the provincial program in Quebec. The study showed that if exposure to ergonomic problems is eliminated early enough in pregnancy, the rate of premature delivery is the same as for women with no exposure. These and other such hazards have been eliminated. This is evidence that prevention works. For prevention to be successful, there should be no financial penalty. That is the current problem with the Canada Labour Code. It is the problem that this private members' bill seeks to address.

In the NDP, we believe that these women should not be penalized when their working conditions put their health or that of their babies at risk.

If we really want to help Canadian families, we must put our money where our mouth is. We must take concrete action. My bill does that and it is a good thing for Canadian and Quebec families. Its objective is to stop penalizing pregnant employees. It is a simple measure that will improve living conditions for these families and, therefore, for thousands of people.

The bill humbly does that. All we are saying is that pregnant women who work in a job that comes under the Canada Labour Code can avail themselves of the existing provincial occupational health and safety legislation if, of course, the latter is better.

That is not much to ask under the circumstances. My bill does that is six small subsections.

Subsection (1) provides that an employee may avail herself of “the legislation of the province where she works that relates to the applicable measures, including preventive withdrawal, transfer to another position and financial compensation to which she would be entitled under that legislation”. Subsection (2) defines the terms of the application, while subsection (3) refers to its processing. It provides that: “The agency referred to in subsection (2) shall process the application according to the legislation of the province applicable to pregnant or nursing employees in that province.”

Subsection (4) points out that employees may avail themselves of the remedies provided for in the provincial legislation. Subsection (5) gives to the federal government a mandate to enter into an administrative agreement with the provinces concerned. Incidentally, similar agreements already exist regarding health and safety. Employees who come under the Canada Labour Code are protected by the CSST in Quebec for workplace accidents, but not always for preventive withdrawal.

Finally, subsection (6) of my bill provides that the exercise by an employee of this right is without prejudice. The fact that an employee exercises a right must not result in retribution or penalties of any kind. This is a reasonable, modern, appropriate and necessary legislation. I hope there is unanimity for once in this House regarding the private members' bill that I am introducing today for second reading.

This is why I am asking all hon. members to support it, regardless of their political colours. I am asking that we recognize the contribution of women in the workplace, and that we recognize that they should never be penalized because they are pregnant or because they are nursing their child. I am asking for the support of my fellow parliamentarians to pass this bill, which will correct a major deficiency in the existing legislation.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech. Some of the members of the House know that I trained as a nurse and that I have begun occupational health and safety certification. I am therefore beginning to clearly understand these issues. I would like to say that the bill introduced by my colleague is excellent.

Are there any workers under federal jurisdiction who have been denied leave without pay or who have experienced major inconveniences because they do not benefit from the same legislative provisions as employees under provincial jurisdiction?

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her very relevant question. The measures contained in this private member's bill respond to the desires of women's movements and unions representing female workers under federal jurisdiction. This is something that flight attendants who work for airlines have been requesting for years. It has become a priority for them because they have been penalized in their workplace as compared to female workers under provincial jurisdiction. They see the difference.

When they want to take care of their health and the health of their children, they have to do so by taking leave without pay. They can take the time, but the problem is that they are not being paid. They have to pay for this time off out of their own pocket or they have to take weeks of maternity leave in advance, which reduces the duration of their maternity leave by the same number of weeks since those weeks are subtracted from the period of leave to which they are entitled. In both cases, they lose out. This bill closes a gap and fills a real need. Representatives of women's organizations and labour organizations have been calling for such action.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I really appreciated the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie' comments and I thank him for his bill.

Obviously, it is now time to help Canadian families. We are not talking about huge amounts, since benefits are already being paid. I believe this bill should get the unanimous support of the House, as it takes concrete actions.

Could our colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie tell us whether women's groups have taken position and recognized that this bill could change how women experience motherhood? Are there any organizations that support the bill? Has he received any emails about it?