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House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was environment.

Topics

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I really enjoyed the Conservative member's speech because it brought back some happy memories.

That being said, I disagree with him. I am an agronomist and I worked on agricultural watershed projects to improve water quality.

I know that farmers are concerned about water quality, not only in waterways but also in ditches. They are looking for ways to improve it. Changing the legislation is not going to help them in this regard because water flows everywhere. It leaves a ditch and travels to a stream, which flows into a river that leads to the ocean. Everything is connected and interconnected. We have to find solutions to protect fish habitats—solutions other than those proposed by the hon. member.

We have to think about conservation and about compensating farmers.

I would like to know whether the hon. member has anything to suggest that will help farmers while protecting ditches and waterways.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

Mr. Speaker, the waterways that maintain our resources and aboriginal, commercial and recreational fisheries are of the utmost importance to us as a government.

The member opposite talked about farmers' fields. I have heard numerous stories across this country about some of the obstacles farmers face each and every day. A gentleman, the other day, was telling me that he had a drainage culvert that was plugged and he could not get DFO authorization to unplug it. It went on for years and flooded his fields. In the end, what did he have to do? He built a road down the middle of his farm and ditched it on both sides so he could drain the water away from his fields. Those types of things are happening across this country, on the east coast and the west coast and in central Canada.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for his speech as well as his service to Canada and Canada's fisheries. I know he works hard on behalf of all Canadians.

His speech was about the protection of Canada's fisheries in general. The committee, in recent weeks and months, has been looking at the Great Lakes fisheries, particularly the potential threat that aquatic invasive species pose to what is about a $7 billion or $8 billion fishery, both recreational and commercial. The witnesses have pointed out there are some gaps in both the law and the regulations about how aquatic invasive species are managed, their transportation and importation and those matters.

Can the minister tell us if the changes in the Fisheries Act that are in this piece of legislation would address that regulatory gap?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question because there is a major gap in the current fisheries legislation when it comes to aquatic invasive species. Whether it be Asian carp, zebra mussels, lampreys or others, we have to be very aware of it. There is nothing in our legislation now that allows us to address that. The changes in the act would address those issues. It would establish a list of aquatic invasive species and regulate the way aquatic invasive species are controlled to prevent their spread. It would also address the transport of live fish across borders. There is a huge market in Canada for Asian carp and we have to end that type of policy. Therefore, yes, the changes would address the regulatory gaps.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to Bill C-38. We New Democrats oppose the bill for content and process. I will get into both of those themes during my deliberations this afternoon.

I would like to carry on with a little discussion with regard to the Great Lakes. People in Windsor live along the Detroit River. There has been a lack of action by the government on the Great Lakes despite the U.S. Obama administration addressing some of the issues. The Americans recently made a $500 million investment into the Great Lakes, and in the budget prior to this one, put $800 million into it. In fact, because so little was put into our Great Lakes system, the fake lake in Muskoka got more per capita contribution than any of the Great Lakes did.

That is important, because we are deficient not only in terms of environmental practices but also in services. We do not have some recovery services for men and women in distress on the Great Lakes. Our Coast Guards do a very good job of responding when they can, but at the Ambassador Bridge, for example, there is no recovery immediately available there when work is being done, and something needs to be done about that in case somebody falls off, a worker in particular. We had another death recently when a worker fell off into the Detroit River.

I want to move toward some of the content of the cuts that are taking place with regard to the budget. I will start with the OAS and the GIS, and in particular the raising of the age from 65 to 67.

Just so the public is aware, individuals have to apply for the GIS, the guaranteed income supplement. It is not automatically provided, so if people do not know this—and we deal with this situation all the time—they would not automatically receive that additional supplement. I would encourage the viewing audience out there to look at their pensions and, if they are past the age of 65, to inquire of their members of Parliament as to whether they are eligible for the GIS. It is a very important supplement that does not always get moved through to them.

Similar to that is the disability tax credit. If people do not actually apply for it, they will not get it. Both the GIS and the disability tax credit could be retroactive. It is important to know that, and people should contact their local members of Parliament.

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to go across this country on what was called the seniors charter of rights. It was a motion that was put forth to this House for a number of years, and it built up enough support over that time that it was eventually carried by another member, the member for Hamilton Mountain. The motion was then passed, but sadly, this has not been brought to fruition.

Many of the elements of the seniors charter of rights called for increasing the government's contributions to the pensions. It noted that we had to look at this issue because many seniors were in poverty. It called for housing as an adequate strategy to deal with poverty and issues like that, and for more inclusion in society by making sure that seniors were not left out of government policy. It even looked at a seniors minister as a potential solution to making sure seniors' voices would be heard as the demographics of the aged increased. As well, there were provisions related to pharmaceutical and other costs that we identified.

We heard quite clearly across Canada that seniors were very concerned about all of these issues, and never would I have imagined at that time that the government would be looking at increasing its date for acquisition of benefits.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer and other experts have noted that we are not in a crisis with regard to that issue. With proper prudent fiscal management, we will be fine.

Second, we are opposed to a corporate tax cut. Right now, a corporate tax cut basically goes to the corporation. There is no guarantee it will actually be spent in Canada. In fact, some corporations are taxed on worldwide profits, so Canada does not actually benefit from some of the taxation on those corporations that takes place in other countries.

We still have continuation of subsidies to the oil patch. That is unacceptable and should be stricken right away. As well, the OAS and the GIS supplements, in the vast majority of cases and unless individuals leave the country with the money, are generally spent in the country, providing a multiplier effect much higher than the corporate tax cut.

I know it has been argued many times that the corporate tax cut is a job creation strategy; it is not. It could be used as one of several tools to try to spur investment, but the reality is that it has not. It is actually counter to what has been happening in the manufacturing sector. Over the years that the Conservatives have been reducing corporate taxes since coming to power in February 2006, we have lost around 365,000 manufacturing jobs. That is shocking.

It is shocking because it also speaks to the Conservative trade policy, which has failed this nation significantly and continues to do so. I especially want to note the auto industry. What we have seen, counter to that, is higher corporate taxes in U.S. states, as well as higher federal taxes, and the United States has been growing its manufacturing jobs. The Obama administration has a job strategy to win back jobs, including jobs from Canada, and we have done nothing on that.

The auto industry was again ignored in this budget. The automobile is the number one value-added item traded throughout the world. Sadly, the government is looking at some trade agreements that actually threaten the auto industry. I would note, on the Canada-European trade agreement, that right now the EU has a $20 to $1 trade surplus with us, so they are dumping autos into Canada.

South Korea has a potential trade agreement. South Korea sells literally hundreds of thousands of vehicles in Canada, and we barely sell any at all—maybe 50, I am told—in South Korea. They have tariff and non-tariff barriers. We also have the potential of a Japan agreement, where again we cannot enter their market.

Japan, Korea and Germany have state-supported auto industries. They are actually involved in crafting policy, providing resources and making sure the jobs are going to stay local. Some of these countries actually have shares in the companies.

The government originally ran away from the auto bailout, the auto loans that were needed. Thank goodness for the public pressure to reverse that decision. Now we have success, but it is still very fragile. The auto industry is very fragile right now.

I would point out the government's lack of interest in the auto industry and the fact that the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council has not met in years. Only the executive has met. There have been very few meetings, and they have not been very robust. It is very unfortunate, because that model brings in the suppliers, the auto workers, the companies, the tool and die mold makers and the dealerships. They crafted a plan that provided a benchmark system to cherry-pick the top items we could actually work on to create a robust auto strategy.

The government's response to the Bush administration's $25 billion auto and energy act was basically a $250 million fund over five years, which is virtually an empty tank right now. That is a big problem.

I do want to talk a little bit about process, as much of that legislation did not come to the chamber. One of those pieces of legislation is a shiprider program. A shiprider program is going to allow United States officers to participate and actually arrest and detain Canadian citizens. That is actually not going to go to committee. A similar bill went to the Senate. It was very extreme. It did not distinguish the new teams. We do not have the details on it. It is sad.

Right now 1,100 jobs at CBSA are being affected through the cuts that are taking place. It is $143 million cut from our Canada Border Services Agency. We are now going to be doing more work with less resources. It involves the investigators, who take drug smuggling, child pornography, human smuggling and all those things very seriously.

The government is actually cutting 25% of the dog teams; 19 dog teams are being eliminated. They cost $100,000 for the investment in training for the human and the animal. Those are going to be sunsetted. That is unfortunate, because they are very specific and get the things that got past the original set of border officers.

It is very important that those positions remain. By allowing this to happen, we are certainly going to see more guns on the streets and more drugs on the streets, and organized crime will benefit. It is terribly unfortunate, because the evidence is there.

The government is cutting a number of the investigators who work with U.S. and other officials to break these cases open. They are undercover, in many respects. They are going to be affected as well.

As I conclude here, it is rather unfortunate that this is taking place, because t is not acceptable for Canadians.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his dissertation this afternoon. I am not sure I understood most of it. He was all over the map.

My question for the member is based on his last few comments. The member is not in favour of the government finding the $5 billion in savings. The math is simple: to balance the books, we either raise revenue or cut expenses. In this case, that is what we are doing: cutting expenses.

What taxes would the NDP raise to be able to balance the books? Does the member have that answer?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry the member did not understand my speech.

There are many things that we could do to cut taxes. We could stop the corporate tax cuts to the oil and gas industry.

We have to improve our revenue stream. Under the Conservatives' rule, the manufacturing deficit has gone from $16 billion to $80 billion. That is costing our revenue stream. Those companies provided important value-added jobs and paid taxes. They were not just shipping out logs or oil and gas or other resources. Value-added jobs have been lost in these sectors, and those revenue streams need to be recovered.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Windsor West, with whom I serve on the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology

He spoke about the process for this bill. I would like him to comment on the importance of studying the different parts of this bill in committee, especially the parts that deal with the Investment Canada Act and the Telecommunications Act, which will bring about major changes.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, over the last number of years, starting with the Martin administration, the government started to add different pieces of legislation into budget bills. When that happens, the normal process does not take place. Those different pieces of legislation are not independent. They are not tabled in the House or debated in the House. They are not passed on to committee, where they would be studied and sent back to the House, possibly with amendments. They would be looked at again and possibly passed.

There is an improvement process. In the previous Parliaments the parties actually co-operated, and some amendments were made to certain bills that made them more important and better. The Investment Canada Act is a good example. That legislation was thrown into a budget bill, so the entire improvement process was missed. That act is coming back in another budget bill because it is still broken.

That is the problem. We are not going to hear witnesses with respect to this legislation and we will not have an opportunity to improve it.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, putting all of these bills into this one omnibus bill is an attempt by the government to speed up legislation and avoid scrutiny by elected officials. It moves Canada closer to a dictatorship.

I wonder what the member thinks about that.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the OECD has best practices for budgeting. It has suggested that a budget be tabled three months in advance of the beginning of the fiscal year so that people can debate it and digest it.

We do not do that here in Canada. In fact, we do not follow any of the OECD's best practices for budgeting.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 6:01 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from December 13, 2011 consideration of the motion that Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant or nursing employees), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand in the House today to talk about this issue of great importance. I want to congratulate my hon. colleague, who is new to the House, for bringing this forward. It is always nice to see members bring their private members' bills into this particular place to argue and debate. One of the greatest acts we can do as parliamentarians is to bring our own legislation into the House. I congratulate him for doing that.

By way of background, Bill C-307 is an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, which would allow pregnant or nursing employees in the circumstances of a preventive withdrawal and working for a federally regulated business to opt out of the Employment Insurance Act and receive benefits under the provincial regime. At the present time, this would only create equity between pregnant and nursing employees in Quebec working for federally regulated businesses or not. Quebec would be the only province benefiting from the provisions of the bill since other provinces rely on the Employment Insurance Act to obtain compensation.

However, the bill contains a provision in the eventuality that other provinces would want to mirror Quebec's regime and create a compensation scheme in the case of preventive withdrawals. Indeed, pursuant to subsection 132.1(5) of the bill, the Minister of Labour can enter into an agreement with the government of a province or its agent to determine the administrative and financial implications of certain measures. A province could probably refuse to enter into such an agreement because of the costs related to implement such a regime and since the provinces outside of Quebec have been relying for numerous years on the Employment Insurance Act for compensation for pregnant and nursing women in the circumstances of a preventive withdrawal from work.

The bill entirely mirrors the provisions of Bill C-380, which was an act to amend the Canada Labour Code for pregnant or nursing employees, that was tabled in 2005, in the first session of the 38th Parliament, by a member of the Bloc Québécois, Robert Vincent. At the time, the NDP and Conservatives voted in favour of the bill and, of course, the Liberals voted against it.

Taking a look at the Canada Labour Code, under subsection 132 of the code, a pregnant or nursing employee who is subject to the code may apply to be reassigned to another position if her work constitutes a danger to herself or her child. If the worker cannot be reassigned by the employer to another job, the employee can obtain leave without pay under the code. Compensation will then be granted under the Employment Insurance Act or the collective agreement.

In Quebec, the program for maternity without risk of La Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail offers benefits to women who must leave their jobs for that particular reason. However, employees working for federally regulated employers in Quebec are not eligible for this program. It is noted that no other Canadian province offers compensation as Quebec through its health and safety at work measures. Consequently, in provinces outside of Quebec and in the circumstances of a preventive withdrawal, the employee will have to refer to her current collective agreement to receive compensation, the Employment Insurance Act or the employer's private insurance plan.

Therefore, the rationale behind this is one that is meant to be in good measure. I understand that, as anybody in the House would certainly agree, the bill as presented certainly does seem reasonable. The same benefits that are available provincially, in this case mainly referring to Quebec, would be applied to women who work in the federal area under the federal Canada Labour Code if those benefits are better. The problem is that no other province has the kind of benefits available to pregnant women that are available to workers in Quebec. If the bill were to be adopted, only women in Quebec who work under the federal labour code would benefit from this particular legislation, as well intentioned as it may be.

The bill, therefore, creates two categories of workers: workers in Quebec and workers in other provinces. It creates a precedent, where an employee subject to the Canada Labour Code could opt out for the provincial program if she deemed it more generous, essentially cherry-picking the jurisdiction and laws that would apply in her case. The bill would allow employees to choose their effective jurisdiction, which is no way to run a federal country or administer a federal code.

Therefore, as well intentioned as it may be, because of the problematic nature of that in one province and not the others, we vote against the bill in its present form.

In effect, through the Canada Labour Code, the bill forces the federal government to live by present and future labour laws of the provincial governments without having any say in exactly what one has to live up to, even though the federal government has jurisdiction in its own area. In this case, the provinces would be dictating what is happening to the Canada Labour Code with respect to federal undertakings. This would be costly for the federal government, which would compensate the provinces under the terms of an agreement provided under proposed section 132.15 of the bill, which would create two payment systems under the provincial legislation and the Employment Insurance Act.

Again, I would like to remind members that when we bring private members' bills to the House and the principle is to help affected people, we believe that this should be looked at. However, sometimes we take the principle of a particular bill and vote accordingly. However, if we look at the bill and the flaws within it, sometimes they become too overbearing and we therefore vote whichever way we must. In this case, the flaws contained within it would certainly be overbearing to the system.

The bill would create a regional inequality in the Canada Labour Code that does not currently exist, which is what we put forward in 2005 when the bill first came into the House under Bill C-380 under the Bloc Québécois. It would create a separate system for employees under federal jurisdiction. The practical effect of Bill C-380 would create a separate system for employees, those working in Quebec, and those under federal jurisdiction who are working in other regions or other provinces and territories across the country. We certainly do feel that these arguments stand, as well intentioned as the bill may be.

If the proponent of the bill was concerned with pregnant and nursing mothers, the bill would have been drafted with those concerns in mind. As much as we compliment the member on the particular intentions within the bill, we certainly have to look at it on a national basis. In 2005 these were the arguments that we brought forward. These are the arguments that we adhere to in this situation. Therefore, we vote against it as a party.

As I mentioned earlier, under section 132.15 of the code, a pregnant or nursing employee who is subject to the code may apply to be reassigned to another position if her work constitutes a danger to herself or the child. If the worker cannot be reassigned by the employer to another job, the employee can obtain leave without pay under the code. Compensation will then be granted under the Unemployment Insurance Act or the collective agreement itself.

In Quebec, the program for a maternity without risk of the CSST offers benefits to women who must leave their jobs for that reason. It is also called preventive withdrawal. However, employees working for federally regulated employers in Quebec are not eligible for this program. We agree with the principles that I outlined before. It is noted that no other Canadian province offers compensation as Quebec through its health and safety at work measures. Therein lies the reason why the party votes against it.

Again, I congratulate the hon. member for bringing this into the House as it is certainly a pertinent issue. Hopefully, we can rectify these problems and get back to looking after the people who need it the most.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to support Bill C-307 sponsored by my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

Bill C-307 would amend the Canada Labour Code to allow a pregnant or nursing employee to avail herself of provincial occupational health and safety legislation.

More specifically, this bill would affect pregnant or nursing employees who work in a job that comes under the Canada Labour Code. It would allow these women to benefit from applicable provincial laws, making it possible for them to request preventive withdrawal, a transfer to another position, or financial compensation under provincial legislation. The last subclause of this bill makes a very important point: an employee who decides to exercise the rights conferred by this bill will not be subject to sanctions or reprisals of any kind. This subclause, which highlights the importance of the absence of prejudice, is an important addition, and I congratulate my colleague for thinking of it.

My colleagues on the other side of the House made a number of arguments for not supporting this bill. I listened carefully to the arguments. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour is concerned about the cost of these measures.

After giving the issue a great deal of consideration, I believe that the health of women, fetuses and infants is well worth the $11 million that this bill will cost. The sum of $11 million seems to me to be very little when you think of all that can be accomplished with this increased protection for Canadian workers. What my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie is proposing is to protect the health and safety of mothers and future mothers.

In fact, this bill tackles a major problem in our laws. Currently, a pregnant woman or a nursing mother must incur the costs of leave without pay in order to ensure her own safety and her child’s. The employment insurance program is not much help, either. Each week of leave taken before the birth of the child is a week that is not taken afterward.

This means that a woman must choose between spending less time with her baby while she is on maternity leave and ensuring her safety and her baby’s safety while she is pregnant. In my opinion, this does not make sense. We ought to support pregnant or nursing Canadians. Why should a woman bear the economic burden of her own safety at work? It is not fair.

In Quebec, there are provisions that entitle women to preventive withdrawal from the workplace and allow them to receive 90% of their salary. Since 1981, pregnant women are protected if their job entails dangerous tasks, such as carrying a weight of more than seven kilograms, interacting with people who might be potentially dangerous for her or her child, working in an environment that is too noisy or standing for more than seven hours.

These provisions can make all the difference between a happy pregnancy and a stressful pregnancy. In my riding, there was a report that one couple expecting a baby were surprised to learn that the pregnant woman was not entitled to preventive withdrawal. As a trucker, a job that is covered by the Canada Labour Code and therefore under federal jurisdiction, the woman was not entitled to the preventive withdrawal benefits which her counterparts covered by the CSST enjoy. This means that, despite the dangerous conditions, the long hours of work and the continuing vibrations, she is not entitled to preventive withdrawal. She must take unpaid leave and pay for it herself, or find a safer job, perhaps losing her seniority.

This situation is totally unacceptable. For this couple, a provision like the one proposed in my colleague’s bill would mean peace of mind for the future mother about her financial situation, her baby’s safety and her own well-being.

Another job that is potentially affected by this bill is that of flight attendant. I cannot imagine how a pregnant flight attendant must feel when she finds out that she must take leave without pay to ensure her own safety and that of her child.

Imagine being pregnant. As your pregnancy progresses, you realize that a job that involves standing for seven hours in a plane shaken by turbulence could have a negative impact on your health and that of your fetus. So you have to make a decision, and it is not an easy one: continue working, putting your pregnancy at risk, or make the financial sacrifice and take leave without pay to protect your health. That is totally unfair. Women should not be punished because they have chosen one career over another.

This bill is exactly what CUPE has been fighting for. Nathalie Stringer, a flight attendant and president of the Air Transat component of CUPE, said:

CUPE has long been demanding this equal treatment for Quebec female workers under federal jurisdiction. In the airline sector, for example, a number of flight attendants have had to make the difficult choice between their financial situation and health risks. Since it is the health of pregnant women and unborn children that is at stake, we are counting on all MPs in the House of Commons to support this excellent initiative and leave partisanship out of it.

This is about the safety of women, fetuses and babies. This is about women's equality and a social safety net that supports a just, fair and healthy society.

If the government really wants to help Canadian families, it has to walk the walk. It has to stop penalizing pregnant women. I encourage all of my colleagues to support this bill, make a real difference in the lives of millions of families, and make our society more just.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-307, which amends the Canada Labour Code to allow female workers to avail themselves of the provisions of provincial legislation regarding preventive withdrawal when those provisions are more beneficial.

I am very pleased to support the bill introduced by my NDP colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. This important bill promotes the full integration of women in the labour market as well as access to a healthy and safe working environment, which I believe is a fundamental right.

We also know that integrating women into the labour market is good for the economy. Consider access to child care, for instance. It is in everyone's best interest to ensure that women have access to a safe working environment that allows them to have children and to work.

At present, only Quebec has a preventive withdrawal program to protect pregnant and nursing women. Under the Quebec program, which was created in 1981, women receive 90% of their salaries if their working conditions are considered dangerous for them or their children, without having to give up their employment insurance benefits.

In 2008, 32,500 Quebec women benefited from the CSST program Pour une maternité sans danger, at a total cost of $208 million.

The problem is that while these women can use preventive withdrawal for medical reasons, thousands of Quebec women with jobs governed by the Canada Labour Code cannot take unpaid leave or go on employment insurance.

Given that only 33% of women who contribute to employment insurance are eligible for benefits, often because they have not accumulated enough insurable hours of employment to qualify, most Quebec and Canadian women subject to the Canada Labour Code must use preventive withdrawal at their own expense.

The current program requires pregnant women subject to the Canada Labour Code to mortgage their weeks of maternity and parental leave because weeks used before the birth are deducted from their total weeks of benefits. Every week of benefits shortens their maternity leave by one week. Thus, preventive withdrawal is a form of unpaid leave.

In addition, the few women who are entitled to employment insurance benefits receive only 55% of their gross salary. By comparison, Quebec's CSST pays future mothers 90% of their net salary. That is a huge difference.

This bill is important because in Quebec, 250,000 people work under the Canada Labour Code.

In fact, female workers in Quebec who work in broadcasting and telecommunications, banking, postal services, airports and air transportation, marine transportation and navigation, and in other sectors, do not have access to a preventive withdrawal program. We can also mention other sectors where women do not have access to that type of program, for example, in penitentiaries, marine transportation and longshoring, in band council governance activities, in certain crown corporations, and in countless other sectors.

I could talk about hundreds of cases, but I would like to give a more concrete example, that of a woman who works in Quebec, whose name is Isabelle Landry. She is from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and earns her living in the trucking industry, which is a non-traditional job. In 2009, at age 26, she became pregnant. As hon. members can imagine, it is not possible to continue trucking for the entire duration of the pregnancy.

She thought she, like some other female workers in the goods transportation sector,could benefit from a preventive withdrawal through the CSST when her doctor asked her to stop working for the health and well-being of her baby. However, she learned that she was not eligible for the program because she was driving a truck between Quebec and California, which meant she was subject to the Canada Labour Code.

As strange as it might seem, if she drove a milk truck on Quebec roads, she would have been entitled to preventive withdrawal at 90% of her salary.

Isabelle's situation is deeply unfair. Pregnant women working in federally regulated jobs who have to stop working for health reasons must do so at their own expense, while workers in jobs under Quebec's jurisdiction can count on financial support from the CSST.

This disconnect creates two classes of workers in Quebec: those who get the help they need and those who are left to their own devices.

I would like the Liberal and Conservative members who oppose this bill to tell us how they can tolerate a system that is so unfair to women.

I listened to the debates in the House with great interest, and I heard many criticisms. Some members said that the proposal was not feasible, that it could not be done, that it was not possible.

However, in the past, the CSST has frequently been allowed to handle workplace accident claims for federally regulated employees.

All it would take is a simple agreement for pregnant women subject to the Canada Labour Code to be entitled to true preventive withdrawal.

In Quebec, probably because women realize how lucky some female workers are to have access to such a progressive preventive withdrawal program, support for this bill is unequivocal.

According to Nathalie Stringer, a flight attendant and president of the Air Transat component of CUPE:

CUPE has long been demanding this equal treatment for Quebec female workers under federal jurisdiction. In the airline sector, for example, a number of flight attendants have had to make the difficult choice between their financial situation and health risks. Since it is the health of pregnant women and unborn children that is at stake, we are counting on all MPs in the House of Commons to support this excellent initiative and leave partisanship out of it...

Furthermore, Alexa Conradi, president of the Fédération des femmes de Québec, supports my colleague's bill and reminds us that:

Preventive withdrawal, as it exists in Quebec, is a fundamental benefit that all women need. It is a cornerstone of the policies on workplace heath and safety and work-family balance, and it is high time that the federal government followed in Quebec's footsteps on this fundamental status of women issue...

The Conseil d'intervention pour l'accès des femmes au travail has also applauded the bill introduced by the NDP member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, stating that if this bill is passed, the working conditions of 10% of female workers will improve.

...this bill will make it possible to finally properly compensate, at 90% of their salary, women working as flight attendants, postal workers, truck drivers, armoured car service workers and dock workers who currently do not have the right to a proper preventive withdrawal measure...

It is also important to remember that Quebec's National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion in June 2010:

That the National Assembly ask the federal Government that all Québec women working under federal jurisdiction have the right to preventative withdrawal as provided in the Act respecting occupational health and safety.

Access to a healthy and safe workplace is a fundamental right for women in the labour market. If it is impossible to offer a pregnant or nursing woman suitable working conditions by modifying her duties, adjusting her workstation or temporarily assigning her to another position, then that woman should be entitled to paid leave. In our opinion, this is a fundamental right.

As we speak, many pregnant women who work for employers that are subject to the Canada Labour Code are continuing to work during their pregnancy in potentially hazardous working conditions because they cannot afford to take unpaid leave.

That is tragic. It is unacceptable. They are putting their pregnancy, their health and the health of their unborn child at risk. This practice must stop.

I hope that we can correct this injustice to the women of Quebec and that other provincial governments will be inspired by these progressive measures to promote women's equality and their integration into the labour market.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to speak to this bill. As a number of my colleagues know perhaps, I am a nurse by training. At the end of my nursing degree, I wanted to specialize my training. I started working toward obtaining a certificate in occupational health and safety. I chose to pursue this area of expertise because I found it to be especially important.

Also, as a young woman of childbearing age—as most of my colleagues have probably figured out—this bill affects me personally. Many of my friends have experienced or are experiencing pregnancy and childbirth. To me, having the opportunity to speak to this type of bill was especially important.

I want to point out that the purpose of this bill is to amend the Canada Labour Code to allow a pregnant or nursing employee to avail herself of provincial occupational health and safety legislation.

Some jobs may present risks to a pregnant woman or her unborn child. From a medical standpoint, this can occur in several sectors: some jobs are not recommended for pregnant women. This can also depend on the person's health and the state of her pregnancy.

Right now, in Canada, some female workers have no choice but to temporarily leave their jobs because of the risk to their health and that of their unborn child. The problem is that, if they have a job governed by the federal legislation, they must do so without any compensation. They leave their job because of risks to their health or that of their baby without the right to any sort of compensation. It is not right. It does not respect gender equality at all. I think men would agree. Would a man accept being told that, for the good of his health, he has to leave his job but that he will not be given anything in exchange? It does not make any sense.

Right now, in Quebec—and unfortunately only in Quebec—women who are subject to the provincial legislation have recourse that is much appreciated by Quebec women: the Loi sur la santé et la sécurité du travail du Québec's preventive withdrawal provision for pregnant and nursing women, which states:

A pregnant worker who furnishes to her employer a certificate attesting that her working conditions may be physically dangerous to her unborn child, or to herself by reason of her pregnancy, may request to be re-assigned to other duties involving no such danger that she is reasonably capable of performing.

Of course, this provision in the law also applies in the case of an employee who is breastfeeding her child. For example, where dust or chemical emissions might be passed into the mother’s milk, a woman could claim the protection of the same provision. There is also provision for stopping work if reassignment is not possible. When a woman is pregnant, the first thing that is done is to see whether she can be reassigned elsewhere, or whether a method can be found for her to be able to do her work safely. The first thing that is done is not to send the woman home; it is to try to find solutions. If, unfortunately, there is no solution possible that would enable the woman to have a pregnancy that is free of risk for herself and her child, the employee will be allowed to take preventive withdrawal and still receive 90% of her wages.

What this means in concrete terms is that she will be able to continue to eat nutritiously and take care of herself during her pregnancy. This is entirely reasonable. When a woman is pregnant, she has to look after herself and take care of the child she is going to have. It is therefore entirely reasonable for women to be compensated financially so they are able to continue in the role they have chosen.

The NDP and I think this is reasonable. Protecting pregnant and nursing women when there is danger on the job allows them to stay afloat financially until they are able to resume their work in the usual way; this is a reasonable, justified and entirely appropriate measure.

The problem is that this provision of Quebec's occupational health and safety legislation does not apply to women working in federally regulated jobs, such as those in government, air and rail transport, banks, ports, and armoured car services. In such cases, the Canada Labour Code applies and it is much more restrictive.

Subsection 132(4) of the Canada Labour Code states the following:

the employer may, in consultation with the employee, reassign her to another job that would not pose a risk to her health or to that of the foetus or child.

So, it can happen if there is a solution. It is an option, but it is not an obligation.

Also, according to the federal legislation, the only period of leave with pay the worker is entitled to is the period between the time she ceases to work and the time a doctor gives her a medical certificate. As soon as she receives a medical certificate stating that she can no longer carry out her duties, she stops getting paid. That makes no sense. Families have changed over the past few years. More and more women are single parents and go through their pregnancies alone.

What is a woman to do when she is the only breadwinner in the household? Either she jeopardizes the safety of her baby by continuing to work, or she goes without an income, again jeopardizing her baby's safety. Without money, she will no longer be able to buy food and will have trouble paying for rent and electricity. Personally, I find that incredibly illogical.

Turning back to the medical situation. If a doctor considers the work to be dangerous for the health and safety of the future mother and of the fetus, the employer can reassign the employee. However, if reassignment is not possible, the employee in question has two choices: she can take leave without pay or remain in her position and risk the health and safety of her future baby or, indeed, her own health and safety.

As I mentioned earlier, the family's financial situation is often such that there is only one choice, and that is to continue to work and risk the baby's health. There is no justice in this.

In these situations, the Canada Labour Code places the financial burden of the pregnancy on the pregnant or nursing woman and her family. When a child is expected, the financial burden automatically becomes greater—I think that everybody understands that.

Right now only Quebec has a program of preventive withdrawal to protect pregnant and nursing women. However, women who work in federally regulated companies, who are governed by the Canada Labour Code and are not subject to provincial laws, have only the choice of continuing to work or requesting leave without pay.

This bill is intended to correct the injustice that separates those employees in Quebec who can take advantage of the aptly named preventive withdrawal from everyone else.

I listened to the speech by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour when this bill was introduced. Two sentences caught my attention.

She began by speaking about the relatively lower health and safety risks presented by most jobs under federal jurisdiction. In my opinion, there is something here that does not make sense. It is true that certain jobs do not pose much of a risk. The women in these jobs will not get a medical certificate, and will not be affected by this legislation. In other cases, there is a risk associated with the work performed. For example, in the case of postal workers, truck drivers, people who transport valuable goods or those who work in air transportation, it is clear that there is some risk associated with these jobs. It is important to encourage these women to have children and to help them juggle those responsibilities with their work.

In the second sentence that caught my attention she said that employees could try to take advantage of either their federal or provincial rights or remedies, choosing whichever system seemed to be the most advantageous under the circumstances.

I hope that everyone understands that our goal is not to toss money to pregnant women, but rather to restore justice. Women simply want to be able to keep their jobs and not have to make that decision. This is an important point to understand.

I would like to conclude by quoting Alexa Conradi, president of the Fédération des femmes de Québec. Personally, I think what she says makes a lot of sense.

Preventive withdrawal, as it exists in Quebec, is a fundamental benefit that all women need. It is a cornerstone of the policies on workplace heath and safety and work-family balance, and it is high time that the federal government followed in Quebec's footsteps on this fundamental status of women issue...a situation that strips employers of any responsibility and forces too many women to stay in jobs to the detriment of their health or that of their child.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his bill.

I also thank my colleagues for so brilliantly expressing their opinions about this bill to allow pregnant or nursing women who are subject to the Canada Labour Code to avail themselves of provincial preventive withdrawal provisions when they are more beneficial.

The Quebec program known as “Pour une maternité sans danger” allows a pregnant or nursing worker who believes that her job poses a risk to her pregnancy or the health of her child to ask her employer for another assignment. She must obtain a doctor's note, which is submitted to her employer. If it is impossible for the employer to eliminate the risk or to assign the worker to other duties, she can use preventive withdrawal and receive compensation.

Quite by accident, I recently came across an article indicating that all pregnant American women have many chemicals, including some that have been banned in Canada since 1970, such as DDT, in their system. I am talking about the United States, which is not very far from us. We know that pollution has an impact on the environment and that it crosses borders.

Chemicals are used to manufacture non-stick cooking utensils, in industrial foods and in beauty products. Think of all the women who work in hair salons, spas and nail salons. They are constantly in conditions where they are breathing in chemicals. We know that these women who work for minimum wage cannot afford to leave their jobs.

This was the first time anyone had counted the number of different chemicals that can be present in the body of a young woman, one who is pregnant to boot.

The purpose of the study was not to link chemicals and their effects on health, but a number of chemicals were measured in concentrations that have been proven to be harmful to children, causing reproductive problems in boys, delayed neurological development from mercury poisoning, altered neurological development and thyroid problems.

These chemicals are able to pass across the placenta and reach the fetus. They can be found in the amniotic fluid, the umbilical cord blood and the meconium. Exposing a child to chemicals during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage and premature birth and also has an impact on the child after birth, not to mention the mother.

The point here is to protect pregnant and nursing women. People are perhaps not aware, but I live in a province, the only one in the country, where women have access to this kind of program. I can give many examples where this program has been extremely useful and has protected a pregnant woman and her baby. I am thinking of a particular woman who was expecting not just one, but two babies. For a first pregnancy, twins are already quite difficult, but in addition, this young woman worked in a rehabilitation centre for violent adolescents. So there was an additional potential danger that she might be hurt when one of the adolescents was aggressive. I can tell you that this was a familiar scenario.

In this kind of situation, there are two options: either the person withdraws from her employment because of the danger that it represents, or she is reassigned to other duties, for instance, administrative duties where she is not in danger.

There was another woman who had to spend the last four months of her pregnancy on bed rest. I am giving examples that I have come across in the various jobs that I have held. That decision was not particularly exciting, but it was necessary in order to prevent the woman from giving birth at a stage when the fetus’s vital organs, such as the lungs, are not fully developed.

I could also talk about all the women who work standing up in banks or other businesses, and God knows there are a lot of them. They have to stand up all the time. Their legs are tired. Being pregnant is tiring.

For these women and hundreds of others in Quebec, the special provisions on preventive withdrawal have enabled them to carry their pregnancy to term in a safe environment. This is a provincial program, administered by Quebec's occupational health and safety commission, the CSST.

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 can request reassignment, if the medical practitioner determines that a risk exists. While waiting for the medical report, the employee continues to receive the wages and benefits that are attached to that job. If reassignment is not possible, the employee can take an unpaid leave of absence. I took these notes from a speech that was given previously by a member of the Bloc Québécois.

This bill is fair for all pregnant and nursing women in Canada whose workplace could be hazardous to the proper development of their fetus. For now, only Quebec has a preventive withdrawal program to protect pregnant and nursing women. This program allows women to receive up to 90% of their salary if their working conditions are deemed hazardous for them or their babies. Other Canadian women are only entitled to unpaid leave. We believe that this situation is unfair to women who do not live in Quebec.

This is a good example of a two-tiered system. It is completely unfair to nursing and pregnant women in Canada who live outside Quebec. The NDP is of the opinion that the federal government must meet its responsibility toward these pregnant and nursing women by offering them the same conditions as women in Quebec.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Continuing debate, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. However, I must inform her that I will have to interrupt her at about 6:55.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to support Bill C-307, which will allow pregnant and nursing women who work under the Canada Labour Code to avail themselves of provincial legislation providing for preventive withdrawal. I would like to thank my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for this excellent bill. All legislation that improves the balance between work and home life will have a favourable impact on the status of women in Canada.

In 2006, Quebec assumed jurisdiction over the parental leave program. The province has given mothers more money, more flexibility and easier access to preventive withdrawal. The other parent also receives five weeks of parental leave, which is non-transferable. Less than two years later, the poverty rate among women in Quebec has declined by 15 points. This is not a coincidence. The most effective way to reduce inequality between the sexes is to make both motherhood and economic security possible, and put the emphasis on parental leave. This is our role as parliamentarians, and it is our duty, not only for women and mothers but also for men and fathers, and for children’s well-being and the economic future of Canada.

This bill is of crucial importance for two reasons. First, it ensures employment equity for women who work in an environment that may be dangerous to their pregnancy. Second, it promotes the idea that women must not be threatened by poverty if they decide to have children.

Bill C-307 protects women who work in jobs that are completely safe in ordinary circumstances, but may be dangerous to a pregnant or nursing woman. Bill C-307 gives women in those occupations the fundamental right to have children if they want to. Why would a woman truck driver or postal worker or flight attendant, or a woman firefighter or plant worker, have to choose between her and her child’s health and poverty or the option of not having a child? The answer to the question is obvious: she should not have to make that choice. No one should have to do that.

Reproductive justice is more than simply having access to safe, legal abortion. It is also a woman's right to decide whether or not to have a child. I therefore oppose any element that would systematically prevent women from exercising that choice, including poverty, discrimination and, in this case, barriers that women face in the workplace.

It makes no sense that this government recognizes that certain working conditions are dangerous to pregnant or nursing women, yet it refuses to recognize their need to receive their salaries when they cannot work. Women in these situations are forced to go on leave without pay. This is the height of hypocrisy.

Quebec is the only province that has a preventive withdrawal program to protect pregnant and nursing women. It allows these women to receive 95% of their salaries if working conditions are considered dangerous for them or their children.

However, women who work under the Canada Labour Code do not have the same luck. I therefore call on this House to support the bill for the well-being of all these women.

Mr. Speaker, how much time do I have left?

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

You have five minutes.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thought I had a total of five minutes. In that case, I can present many more arguments.

I will take this opportunity to say that several aspects of the parental leave program do not make sense. This House should dispense with partisanship and improve the program.

First of all, parental leave benefits are inadequate with respect to income. Almost all other industrialized countries pay women much more than 55% of their income. In Europe, depending on the country, benefits range from 70% to 90%, and some countries even pay 100%. It is not surprising that the gender gap is significantly smaller. Common sense tells us that a woman with a young child needs more income to meet her needs and those of her child, not less.

The current parental leave system in Canada sends a message to women. It says that if they have a child, they must be supported by someone richer, and that if their family is having financial difficulties, she should not have children.

This message reinforces the model of a traditional family, which does not work for everyone and which is not always desired. The number of single parent families has been on the rise since the 1970s, and 80% of these parents are women. The current system discriminates against non-traditional family units and the bill introduced by my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie will ensure that Canadians living in these situations get better support.

The other inconsistency with the current program is that it includes parental leave of up to one year. However, most child care centres only accept children over the age of 18 months. Moreover, child care services are prohibitively expensive and difficult to access in most of Canada.

What is a woman without an income to do for six months, assuming that her employer is generous enough to keep her job open? Does she have to be wealthy enough to employ a nanny, or live for six months without an income? That is why I said that it is absolutely crucial that we fix the parental leave system in this country.

This bill will ensure that women working under the Canada Labour Code, who are pregnant or nursing, and who are in unsafe working environments, will have access to provincial programs. This is important because women and men are different—primarily due to the fact that women are mothers.

Consider the statistics: 60% of poor Canadians are women and 52% of single mothers with young children live below the poverty line. Statistically, women with children earn half what men do. Not only are these statistics regrettable, they have remained stagnant for a long time.

That is why we need a bill like the one introduced by my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. Bill C-307, along with other parental leave measures, will help to close the gap between the sexes in Canada. The proof is in the pudding: consider Quebec and Europe where such parental leave programs exist.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his right of reply. The hon. member has five minutes.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to take a few seconds to thank my NDP colleagues for their eloquent speeches in support of the bill that I had the honour to introduce in the House. I use the term “eloquent” because these members were all young women, and I do not think that this was a coincidence. I would therefore like to thank the hon. members for Berthier—Maskinongé, Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Abitibi—Témiscamingue, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles and Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for their excellent speeches.

I would like to continue—my voice is scratchy today—by saying that, basically, this bill seeks to protect pregnant or nursing women and their children. It seeks to put an end to an injustice, an inconsistency that exists simply because these women are working in jobs under federal jurisdiction.

When a women accepts a job, she does not necessarily think about this, but then she gets a nasty surprise when she realizes that the provision of the provincial legislation does not apply to her and that she thus does not have the same rights. This is therefore a matter of justice, rights, equality and consistency in our society. It will allow women in every province of the Canadian Confederation to avail themselves of the best provincial provisions available.

Quebec is at the forefront, but I urge all of the other provinces to step up because the safe maternity program works. It helps women. It helps workers. It saves lives. It prevents premature births. It is good for fetuses and future babies. It protects our children. This measure is necessary and should be completely normal in 2012 because we respect pregnant and nursing women. We respect their safety and health and that of their babies.

This issue will reveal how serious the parties are about supporting families. All of the political parties in the House say that they support women and families. This is an opportunity to really help them. Those who support family values will support Bill C-307. Those who want to help pregnant women will support Bill C-307. If the Conservatives and the Liberals are really serious, they will vote for this bill to protect women and children.

I urge all my colleagues in the House from all parties to support this bill because we can take action, make a difference and truly help people. This is not a far-fetched idea. It takes a doctor's note. There are criteria for determining whether the health of the woman or her baby is in jeopardy. The woman just has to go the doctor and get a note. Then she negotiates with her employer to see whether the employer can find her another job, another position in the company where she could continue to work without jeopardizing her health.

This is entirely reasonable and consistent with occupational health and safety. Practical measures can be taken in the field. We have to move forward. This is not unreasonable.

If a woman's job puts her health and safety at risk, why should she have to take leave without pay? That is what currently happens under the Canada Labour Code. The financial burden rests on the shoulders of the female employee and not on society as a whole. That is the problem and that is what this bill seeks to change.

To us, it is impossible to ask female workers to take on that burden. There are concrete examples. I was happy that members talked about trucking, young women who drive ten-wheelers, big trucks. It is unusual. It is not traditional, but these women are out there and they are not getting the support they need. They are basically not entitled to anything. It is the same for flight attendants. Members spoke a little bit about CUPE flight attendants, about Ms. Stringer, whom I worked with before. If you are a flight attendant, you do not become a mechanic or a pilot overnight. Pregnant women cannot be expected to be on their feet for hours in an airplane with a big belly.

If the members in this House want change and if they want to help the women and families of this country in tangible ways, they will unanimously support Bill C-307.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

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